moneyThree quarters of threats of sanctions to people with mental ill health who claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are incorrectly issued, data from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has found.

Data obtained by mental health charity Mind from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act also revealed a huge and disproportionate number of sanctions imposed on people with mental health problems who aren’t currently able to work.

Mind found that in 2014-15 39,190 people with mental and behavioural disorders received either an adverse, non-adverse or cancelled decision, which equates to about 16% of all people who receive ESA primarily due to their mental ill health. 

Worryingly, nearly three in four (73% - 28,624 people) were incorrectly issued, despite the negative impact of such threats on someone with a mental health problem. 

Other data obtained by Mind showed that more than 10,000 people with mental health problems received an ‘adverse decision’ in 2014-15, meaning that their benefits were cut for a period of time. This represents 4% of people receiving the benefit, four times more than the Government previously claimed in May 2015.

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “The system is in chaos with three quarters of referrals for sanctions wrongly issued to people with mental health problems. Despite having been found not well enough to work, these individuals are being threatened left, right and centre, often unjustifiably. There is a complete lack of evidence to show that stopping, or threatening to stop, someone’s financial support is an effective approach. In fact, pressurising people with mental health problems to engage in activities under the threat of losing their benefit is counterproductive, causing additional anxiety, often making people more unwell and less able to work. Continuing in this vein won’t help the Government halve the disability gap.

“Despite claiming to have safeguards in place to protect vulnerable people, the statistics show that the DWP is too eager to assume the worst and threaten to remove somebody’s financial support before they have the full picture. Even if sanctions are overturned – as in three in four of these cases – the damage has already been done. Every day, people tell us how frustrating it is to be treated with suspicion, rather than helped with positive support. We’ve heard from people who have been threatened with sanctions after missing a meeting because they’d been hospitalised, were attending a job interview, or weren’t ever notified of their meeting in the first place.

“Instead of threatening to punish people for failing to do certain tasks, we want the Government to take a more positive approach. Programmes that provide more personalised support are much more effective in getting people with mental health problems back into employment. We need a system that takes into account their skills, ambitions, and the real barriers they face in getting and staying in a job.”