100 people too mentally ill to work get their benefits sanctioned each day

A new report exposes the human cost of the punitive benefits sanctions system


A new report on benefit sanctions, commissioned by a coalition of UK churches, has been released today, and it raises disturbing questions about a system which seems to punish the most vulnerable members of society.

Benefit sanctions, which are imposed when a claimant fails to meet one or more of the very specific conditions laid out for finding work, can last for months and even years. The report, produced by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, estimates that 6.8 million weeks of sanctions were handed out in 2013/14 and that over time one-fifth of all Jobseekers will be sanctioned.

The study collects stories of individuals whose punishment far outweighs their failure. The stories are frustrating, sometimes harrowing: a young man who was left homeless after sanctions were imposed when he missed an appointment, despite the fact that the letter had not been sent to the new address he had given the Jobcentre; a woman who was unable to fill out her job search online so did so in a booklet, as agreed by the centre, and was then sanctioned; a single mother who hanged herself, unable to cope with the financial hardship.

The stress and shame of being reduced to using food banks and sleeping on sofas for what in many cases is a simple administrative error is, the report finds, the result of one of the most severe systems of sanctions in the developed world, and undermines some of the core philosophies of the welfare state.

Although there is a ‘hardship payment’ system in place for those who have been sanctioned, it is withheld for two weeks after payments are stopped in order not to undermine the deterrant effect of sanctions. This, say the churches, amounts to punishing people with hunger.

Disturbingly, ‘the DWP guidance repeatedly acknowledges that the sanctions it administers are expected to cause deterioration in the health of normal healthy adults.’

The scale of the harm caused is vast; the report finds that at least a hundred people who are medically recognised as too mentally ill to work are sanctioned each day, and that around 100,000 children were affected by sanctions in the UK last year. Sanctions seem to be administered liberally and without much scrutiny, because six in 10 are overturned if challenged.

Furthermore there is nothing to suggest that sanctions help to get people into work. Recent data cited by the report shows that for every 100 sanctions imposed, 42 people will leave benefits but only seven will enter work.

Of what happens to the remaining 35 there is ‘not a clear picture’. It seems unreasonable to expect there to be a link between sanctions and increased employment; a system which expects this link believes that most people are jobless out of choice.

According to the report,

“No research has ever shown positive job outcomes of a sanction system that is as severe as the UK’s”

The controversial Universal Credit scheme will mean that sanctions affect more people including those who work; people earning below a threshold level of £11,300 and receiving UC will become subject to conditionality and sanctions.

Commenting on the report, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Something has gone badly wrong when 100,000 children are innocent victims of benefit sanctions. Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions.”

“Even those who have contributed for years and are working hard to get a new job can find themselves sanctioned, and driven to food banks.”

The report recommends that sanctions are stopped for those with children or those suffering from mental illness, and that the two-week delay before a claimant can received hardship payment should be removed.

It also suggests a full independent review to ascertain whether this punitive system has any positive effect whatsoever.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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36 Responses to “100 people too mentally ill to work get their benefits sanctioned each day”

  1. JohnRich

    What a load of old bo!!ocks.

  2. Ian


  3. Ian

    So why are Labour keeping quiet about this – cowardice? Do you expect Labour will be any better with that useless no-mark Rachel tougher than the Tories Reeves in charge, especially considering she wants to stop unemployment benefits after a year for younger claimants and two years for older?

    The Labour Party is every bit as nasty as this shitty coalition, though probably as much out of cowardice as neoliberal idiocy and that is why they won’t get my vote in what is going to be a close run election.

    Fuck Miliband and fuck Reeves. Spineless, grandstanding degenerates the pair of them.

  4. Guest

    No surprise you love the sanction regime and won’t hear a word about it’s failings – or rather, you LIKE them.

    A good Tory is you.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    Because they don’t disagree with the system, basically.

    And same, Labour is not getting my vote where I live. Which looks to be a Labour/Tory marginal.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    Same reason he makes up lies about the 1% being the real workers, says the UKIP are the only party which reprisent “real” Brits and makes up nonsense about pensions – his right wing views, he can’t *accept* the facts here.

  7. Ian

    Well the right never were good at facts and other such trivialities, all they have is lies and misdirection. If a substantial portion of the electorate weren’t spiteful and terrified the Conservatives wouldn’t get a vote.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    Let’s be fair here – if we had PR, Labour would also likely get PASOK’s treatment.

    (And Labourites can cry me a river for it, for all I care now)

  9. Ian

    Any vaguely left wing party would do well under PR, the main reason I suspect it wn’t be offered, unless it’s a rehash of the last time it was on the table which was a rubbish jumble of still-undemocratic bilge, IIRC…

    (10 constituencies of 50 seats each, every 2% of the vote per constituency wins you a seat… That’s what I’d like)

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Uh, when was it on the table?
    AV is *not* PR.

    And, er, you seem to be proposing a rather odd (something like local list?) single-vote party list system which isn’t really that strictly proportional! You can’t divide the regions of the UK neatly into one of 10 blocks (not even Scotland), either.

    I’d copy Germany’s MMP for the commons, wholesale. It’s a proven, working PR system.

  11. littleoddsandpieces

    Sanctions hit able bodied and disabled, all ages, heavily pregnant mothers, young mums with new babies, families with small children and people even up to 73 denied state pension under the new University Credit benefit rules.

    Sanctions are months long when medicine knows it takes about a month to starve to death.

    Foodbanks in the UK are not like in other EU nations (and getting EU grants) of daily free cafes, open 7 days a week and providing a free hot cooked meal and hot drink,
    equally to the working poor, poor pensioners and unemployed, without all the conditionality of only a few vouchers a year.

    Fareshare, the supplier to the foodbanks, does not get state subsidy and so only gets 5000 tonnes of surplus food fromt he food industry, instead of the 400,000 tonnes available.

    No money saved because there has been an around 70 per cent rise in malnutrition hospital admissions to NHS hospitals and GPs’ budgets for the hunger sympton that permanently effects bone development in kids called Rickets.

    One lady in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme of this subject March 2, showed a lady who had suffered the disability of Bells Palsy to the face from the stress of being sanctioned just before due to give birth, gave birth premature from the worry and still has the worry of how to buy milk for the new baby.

    What on earth are pregnant women and new babies doing on Jobseekers Allowance and then sanctioned into starvation.

    To end all this cruelty and to change the Labour party from a PASOK to a SYRIZA, there is a way to gain a multi party coaliton that would end starvation and for whom the poor could vote, as they do hold the balance of power. Never again will the so-called big parties get sufficient votes to rule by themselves.

    See how on

    You might care to share the website on your social media Facebook and Twitter,
    because no newspaper is giving any coverage, even to TUSC, who are running 100 candidates in the general election, and should get TV coverage as running in 1/6th of the seats in England at least.

    We only hear about The Greens and all they will do is keep the 1 MP they already have.

    We canot have another 5 years of starvation, because the next hung parliament could fall as often as they do in such as Italy.

  12. Ian

    Parliamentrary Labour needs a cull of all those elected post ’97 and anyone who can be seen as sympathetic to New Labour ideals. We cannot afford this modern Labour party for much longer. Something has to give now that elections aren’t functioning as a pressure release any more. We tolerate so much because we know – knew – we could get rid in a year or two, now we can still get rid but can only realistically replace like with very similar, giving no relief whatsoever. If we aren’t offered a means of change – real change – we will eventually have to take it, physically if necessary.

    Labour waited for someone to step up and oust Ed M, nobody did and now we’re stuck with them. With any luck the Tories will win (never thought I’d say that in a million years) and drive the public to revolt within months and Labour will receive such a poor showing at the polls they have no other choice but to radically change direction.

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    I’ve given up on Labour entirely myself, I’m afraid.

    I support voting reform *instead*.

    Also, no, the Tories have shown a distinct tendency to lock-in their changes and I think the UK would rapidly become somewhere I’d not want to live, period. Won’t get me to vote for a pro-austerity party, mind you, but still.

  14. Ian

    I think I’ve given up on Labour now but if it shows signs of change… Who knows?

    I agree with you about the UK becoming somewhere I’d not want to live, there’s only the NHS allowing us a veneer of decency, IMO. I might be gone in three years at this rate.

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    They seem to be moving right from my POV ><

    And well, I have the right to live in another country, and I hope I won't need to use it.

  16. Lesmond Nyjacks

    “And well, I have the right to live in another country, and I hope I won’t need to use it.”

    I’m quite sure you wouldn’t Leon, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea isn’t so nice at this time of year, well it isn’t such a nice place to live at any time of the year, way too much “Austerity” for the likes of you, that’s real actual austerity Leon not your imaginary kind.

  17. Guest

    And you’re screaming hate at the Jew again, I see.

    You know all about the DPRK, I’m sure, as you claim that the last five years in the UK didn’t happen because you demand it be so, because you’re Lord Blagger and “PENSIONS R EVIL blah blah”.

    …Or whatever other excuse you have today. Keep trumpeting in how you love seeing British peons in poverty though, from your nice little Monaco mansion.

    You, as usual, come in here to **** on a discussion, because that’s what you do.

  18. Lesmond Nyjacks

    Laurie/Guest/Leon, I am not “screaming hate”, I simply do not agree with your very poorly hidden Totalitarian impulses.
    I know nothing of your, obviously quite close friend, Lord Blagger.
    I am a big fan of pensions, and hope to be the beneficiary of one myself at some point, I would imagine this would be to your deep disappointment.
    Stop your mistrust of other people, you need to realise that you cannot possibly know the best interest of millions of people in this country, they, themselves do.
    Go back to North Korea, you are at home there, your mental health will improve.

  19. Lesmond Nyjacks

    “And you’re screaming hate at the Jew again, I see.”

    Leon/Guest/Laurie Penny, I am not “screaming Hate” you deluded fantasist, I do not care for one moment how many medals you have won at the “inter-sectional” oppression Olympics, I do not care if you are a Jew, I am more troubled by the fact that you are a vile totalitarian leftist.

  20. Guest

    You’re confused, as usual, Lord Blagger, as you make up people.

    You are just shouting at the top of your voice, right, what other people call screaming, as you demand I have your views and issue your totalirarian demands that i be your friend.

    You then start spouting nonsense lies, as you gloss over your wealth and once more make up nonsense about me, as you demand I be the sort of credulous fool you want me to be, as you spout off about how you know better than the mere Jew.

    Then you scream nonsense about NK, and the same old mental health crap – your standard Lord Blagger tactics, totalitarian, far right and social darwinist.

    Pay tax.

  21. Guest

    Keep making people up, Lord Blagger, as you double down on screaming at the stop of your lungs, as you say that you’re entitled to, that everyone else is deluded as you spew garbage about the oppression you want to inflict onto others and some crap about how you’re happy with the costs of the Olympics or something.

    You evidently care deeply and strongly about your anti-Semitism, as you scream I must have your totalitarian principles, and spew that not wanting your anti-Human policies is vile, that you can’t stand the concept of leftists and do doubt want a nice little genocide there too.

    Matches your ****ing in threads to destroy discussion.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    As a note. let’s carry on this discussion. no need to let Lord Blagger’s hidden-history attack account “Lesmond Nyjacks” disrupt the actual conversation.

  23. Lesmond Nyjacks

    Oh dear! You really are off your dial aren’t you Laurie?

    I think you are the one who might “want a nice little genocide”
    You infest these forums, posting every day, multiple times, with your thinly disguised vile communist propaganda.

    I have found you out.

  24. Guest

    Still screaming hate at imaginary people, I see, Lord Blagger.

    Then noting you don’t think, as you talk about your policy. As you make up nonsense about forums, as you post about magical communists on your constantly changing stable of accounts. How dare this Jew post, multiple times even, as you spout off not-disguised at all totalitarian Jewhate, this time to hide your approval of government vindictive sanctions.

    And I’m sure you want to murder me. But you can’t, because you’re a windbag on the internet. Or are you saying otherwise?

    Pay tax.

  25. Ian

    Well that went weird pretty quickly…

  26. Angela Sullivan

    A court of law cannot deprive anyone, however heinous the offence they committed, of all money for 4 weeks.(Not even after a police investigation, followed by a trial, has determined their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.) Is failing to actively seek work worse than committing a serious crime?

  27. Faerieson

    Iain Duncan Smith tries to hide behind yet another pseudonym. It’s the powerful logic that lets you down every time, Iain.

  28. Guest

    He does this with post-hidden alt-accounts periodically.

    Noticed how the “people” yelling abuse at me come and go? That there’s 1-2 active at any time? How the insults are basically the same, just using a different copy/paste template?

    Yea, it’s sad.

  29. RoughSleeper

    Checkout my post on the parrallel story to this:

    Crisis warns of benefit sanction ‘hotspots’:


  30. Lesmond Nyjacks

    Shut up Leon, you evil paranoid Marxist. Uncle Joe was just the same, he could not trust, so he murdered. Millions.

  31. gaz

    Sick people very sick people being put through he’ll so wrong people never asked to so ill they need time help not ian ducan smiths ways this man should be sacked it’s wrong I’m so worried about it all I feel like I’m at the end

  32. Keith M

    The DWP is unfit for purpose – It needs new leadership and an ethos of decency.

  33. frank x

    And every new UC claimant is given a sharp taste of sanctioning.
    You are left without money for at least five weeks.
    Five weeks without money for rent, utilities, and food.
    The reason they give for this is to “simulate the world of work”,
    (since it is common practice to have people work a month in arrears).

    Why do a lot of the reasons they give for what they do sound like jeers?

  34. frank x

    Its a bloody good job that the poor dont count then!

  35. Leon Wolfeson

    Thanks for that lovely demonstration of the problem.

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