Has anybody pointed out that the number of deaths in the UK’s benefit system has risen, year on year, along with the number of sanctions applied to claimants?
The ever-relevant Frances Ryan, writing in The Guardian, makes excellent points about the continuing devastation wreaked by a benefit system that focuses on penalising, rather than helping, the vulnerable.
But, two years after This Writer forced the government to admit that nearly 100,000 sickness benefit claimants died between January 2011 and February 2014, it seemed worthwhile to compare the number of deaths per year with the number of sanctions.
Fair warning: This is only using the figures for ESA.
In 2011, the number of people on ESA who were adversely sanctioned totalled 4,462 – 33 per cent of the 13,490 who died that year.
In 2012, there were 12,710 adverse sanctions – 64 per cent of the 19,940 who died that year.
And in 2013, there were 22,560 adverse sanctions – 82 per cent of the 27,370 who died that year.
It’s not enough evidence to demonstrate a link between sanction and death.
But it is enough to warrant further investigation.
Shall we have another Freedom of Information request?
More than 70,000 people on the out-of-work sickness benefit (employment and support allowance) ESA had their benefits stopped between December 2012 and December 2016. More than 5,000 had them stopped for at least six months. That’s wheelchair users and people with learning difficulties left with bare cupboards and cold homes.
The vast majority of recent ESA sanctions – more than 90% since December 2015 – have been a punishment for people failing to take part in “work-related activity”: anything from skills training or drawing up a CV to community work placements. Disabled people going through the system repeatedly report this can mean being sanctioned for not going to a meeting despite being in too much pain to get out of bed.
This is not a coincidence but, rather, reflective of a political culture that has fetishised getting disabled people into work at any cost.
It’s the same thinking that from April resulted in many people on ESA permanently losing £30 a weekunder the guise that it would give them an “incentive to work”.
Two years ago, there were warnings sanctions were unfair, excessively punitive, and causing destitution. Whitehall’s official spending watchdog has found there is no evidence sanctions actually work. Yet barely any modification has been made. In July, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that people with mental health conditions who have their jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned will now be eligible for immediate access to hardship payments – as if not leaving a young mum with depression without food for two weeks is vast progress.
Social policy reform based on the premise of removing the money people need in order to live is always shameful. But to do this to disabled people – who are receiving benefits because they are not well enough to work – is a stain on the national conscience.
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