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Employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) are being subjected to a massively increased sanctions regime that deliberately targets the most vulnerable. Sanctions, primarily aimed at claimants on the work programme who have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, have quadrupled in the course of a year, even though referrals to the programme have fallen by 43%.

The number of sanctions rose from 1,102 a month in December 2012 to 4,789 a month in December 2013, the most recent date figures are available for.

The vast majority of sanctions are imposed for failing to participate in work-related activity whilst on the work programme, which thousands of ESA claimants are forced to join every month in spite of overwhelming evidence that it does not improve their chances of getting a job.

The massive rise in sanctions, however, cannot be explained by a sudden huge surge in the number of claimants in the WRAG.

In fact, the number of claimants in the WRAG increased by just 21% between November 2012 to November 2013, from 460,160 to 558,960.

Indeed, between August and November 2013 the number of claimants in the WRAG actually fell slightly, from 562,620 to 558,960. Yet the number of claimants sanctioned in this period shot up by a staggering 75% from 2,193 to 3,837.

Nor can the rise in sanctions be explained by a corresponding increase in the numbers of ESA claimants being forced onto the work programme.

In fact, the rate at which ESA claimants get pushed onto the work programme has fallen dramatically over the same period. 8,290 claimant were put onto the work programme in December 2012. This fell to just 4,700 in December 2013, a drop of 43%.

Yet sanctions increased fourfold.

And the main targets of those sanctions are claimants with mental health conditions or learning difficulties. Back in April we pointed out that the proportion of this group receiving a sanction had risen from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to a massive 58% by June 2013.

That figure has now increased again to 62% in December 2013, even though claimants with these conditions make up just 50% of the work-related activity group.

Also back in April the DWP told us:

“It’s only right that people should do everything they can to move off benefits and into work if they are able. Sanctions are only used as a last resort and we have robust procedures in place to protect vulnerable people, with a number of safeguards built into the system.

Yet many people will wonder, if sanctions are only being used as a last resort, what possible explanation there can be for the sudden massive increase in the number being handed out?

And if safeguards are built into the system, why are claimants with mental health conditions increasingly over-represented on the roster of sanctioned individuals?

The DWP also told us in April:

“Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision if they disagree with it.”

Which is entirely true. But a Citizens Advice Scotland report on sanctions released yesterday reveals that “many people who are hit by a sanction are not told the reason for it, or how to appeal against it”.

The DWP have good reason to keep people in the dark about their appeal rights. According to the ‘Fulfilling potential? ESA and the fate of the work-related activity group’ report released last month by Mind, tribunals now uphold almost nine out of ten ESA and JSA sanctions appeals.

Such a huge proportion of overturned decisions is ample proof of the savagery of the sanctions regime. But for many people, especially vulnerable claimants suddenly struggling to survive on drastically reduced benefits and no longer able to get legal aid for help with tribunals, coping with the complex new appeal system is an impossibility.

According to the Mind report, written by Catherine Hale, – herself an ESA claimant:

“ . . . findings suggest that the regime of conditionality and sanctions has left participants in the WRAG fearful , demoralised and further away from achieving their work-related goals or participating in society than when they started.”

The report also found that in 87% of cases of claimants failing to participate in a mandatory work-related activity, the reason was related to their health condition, including 19% who had missed an activity because of a medical appointment.

Such cynical targeting of vulnerable claimants is clearly counter-productive in terms of moving them off benefits and into work.

But there is one very likely explanation for the increasing use of sanctions.

Leaked documents obtained by the BBC last month revealed that the DWP expect the cost of ESA to rise by almost £13bn by 2018/19. The documents warn that the increase is "one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government" and could cause it to breach its self-imposed benefits cap.

One of the documents also warns that, in terms of cutting costs, there is "not much low-hanging fruit left".

ESA claimants with mental health conditions are, however, one remaining low-hanging fruit that IDS and his increasingly vicious and shambolic department are determined to pluck as heavily and as quickly as they possibly can.

Comments  

#10 esa pip and dla 2014-07-22 17:58
Head Chef 18 have had a phoned call from the DWP why did i not make the appoiment i said having just cum out of hospital why i never did the said the wil get back to me me 8 weeks i said is that with a face less man asking stupid questions the line went quiet for a few seconds er yes.She said it was in my best interest no contact no money to go i said can i take my own recording machine no she said no do they have their own no oh such fun at lest if have been before
#9 micksville 2014-07-17 14:02
Wow...Has this actually happened to you Matata? I posted on this topic in forum yesterday. I personally would call dwp,JC+ and demand a callback from a senior manager or suchlike and request clarification that I am not legally required to attend due to being in support group. No use talking to the JC+ call centre staff as they're semi competent at best. I would then follow my request up in writing and ask in both instances for written clarification that I am not duty bound to attend.
I would call the work adviser company too and seek out a senior manager there making it known to all parties I am making a formal complaint. Trouble is not everyone would do hat if it happened to them, I.e. people with learning difficulties, mental health issues etc but sounds like these are the people they'd like to target.Do you know of anyone ho actually attended one of these things?
+2 #8 Matata2011 2014-07-17 08:26
Hi micksvile you asked for evidence its,Streatham area Job centre Plus, unknown contract work provider most probably Ingeus,Rees & Maximus on behalf of the Manager Job Center , letters are nameless & targeted towards Suport Group & on ESA others are advised they do not have to inform their Doctors!Their invitation is to a "Work Focused Interview"or "phone them for an explanation, the trouble is there is no name on the paperwork of who to speak to just a signature" thats if you can speak at all or stammer,Their Probable True intentions are harvesting for victims to torment for contract payouts, it is very distressing & alarming & makes one feel like life is not worth trying to live & manage with a multiple chronic illnesses & wonder when this abuse, hounding,harass ment will end because even being in the Suport Group after thorough & harshly dished out mental & physical assessments there is still no peace for the disabled, "Coffin Group" starts to feel like paradise & peacefull
#7 micksville 2014-07-16 18:09
Quote:
DWP Work Programme Providers on behalf of managers have started sending nameless undetailed letters to people in the Suport Group ordering to attend Work Focused Interview!?Do they actually know why a person is placed on to the Suport Group in the 1st place?These activities of DWP & Co really sink to their lowest level of hate & greed, to the unknown the vulnerable have become cash cows for Gov Contracts successful bidders
matata I'm interested to read this...can you point me in direction of any evidence this is happening to claimants in support group? It ties in with something I was commenting on today
+2 #6 Matata2011 2014-07-09 01:14
DWP Work Programme Providers on behalf of managers have started sending nameless undetailed letters to people in the Suport Group ordering to attend Work Focused Interview!?Do they actually know why a person is placed on to the Suport Group in the 1st place?These activities of DWP & Co really sink to their lowest level of hate & greed, to the unknown the vulnerable have become cash cows for Gov Contracts successful bidders
+1 #5 Louise Bachelor 2014-07-03 11:56
How discusting how low can the government go!!I am CAB adviser in my local bureau I suggest they involve some of our figures as to how real people are effected daily by their outrageous rules.We have hundreds through our door per week and I am sure ours would be a more realistic picture.Makes my blood boil!!
Louby lou
+1 #4 buster 2014-07-02 23:05
So there we have it - recorded data that show a disproportionat ely high number of very vulnerable people with mental health and learning disabilities - being sanctioned. I was talking to someone only a few days ago, about anecdotal evidence suggesting that this was happening. Consequently, these are worrying times indeed for the vulnerable and their families, who are being circled by these "vultures". Equally alarming - from my own experience as a carer, is how seemingly "naive" many professional practitioners are; most I've met seem completely unaware of what vulnerable people have to content with right now - at the hands of callus Job Centre Plus staff. I would describe it as being akin to "lambs being led to the slaughter". Thank god my learning disabled adult child has me and my wife to guide him. I am fearful at what will happen to those who are only being led and "guided" by the state and its agents.
+2 #3 Mike K 2014-07-02 16:36
I always thought that charity begins at home!
+6 #2 Paul Richards 2014-07-02 16:29
What is interesting is the fact that this coalition Government is demonising sick and disabled people - the unfortunate thing is that the now 'working poor' are more inclined to think that anyone who is claiming any kind of benefits, albeit sick or disabled, or otherwise, are all 'workshy' and/or 'shirkers'.
The truly 'disabled' have, for the most part, worked all of their lives until they cannot carry on with it and, my wife, for instance, feels that on the rare occasions that she leaves the house, she feels discriminated against by these people (and 'working') people in general. The programmes on TV definitely do not help - they are portraying a few people, who, in really no way represent the many who are claiming benefits - especially the sick and disabled.
Shame on the television company.
As for more people getting sanctioned, we have (allegedly) heard that if the DWP (Job Centre Plus) staff doesn't sanction anybody, that they will be sanctioned themselves and on a reduced wage, but unfortunately, unless these DWP/Job Centre Plus staff speak up, then this information will not be known to the general public.
Cameron should grow a little moustache under his nose and then he will resemble a person from the past who discriminated against disabled people, amongst others. DISGUSTING!!!
+2 #1 Blackcat 2014-07-02 15:25
For legal reasons names cannot be named, but I have an idea who is the top organisation. Is there a league table anywhere?

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