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David Gauke.

These are empty words from David Gauke. Tories will happily look at people with mental health problems suffering under their sanctions regime and do nothing.

Work and pensions secretary David Gauke has admitted that the system of benefit sanctions often fails to work and can instead cause harm to claimants, particularly those with mental health conditions.

The long-awaited admission was yesterday described by one leading disabled campaigner as a “significant step forward” in the battle to scrap sanctions.

Gauke, who was speaking during a fringe event at this week’s Conservative party conference in Manchester, said he would try to find a way to make the sanctions system – in which benefit recipients have their payments temporarily stopped if they fail to meet strict work-related conditions – less damaging to people with mental health conditions.

He was speaking only weeks after the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called for a review of the “detrimental impact” of the conditionality and sanctions regime associated with the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).

Gauke insisted that any “successful” welfare system had to be dependent on conditionality and that this “does ultimately have to be backed up by a system of sanctions”.

But in response to a question from the audience, he said he was “very conscious of the point that there are people, particularly with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, whereby you can have a vicious circle, where the stress of sanctions doesn’t result in more compliant behaviour, but… less compliant behaviour”.

He added: “Trying to find a way to tackle that I am not going to pretend is easy, because there are all sorts of risks if I was to say there is no sanctions regime for people with mental health conditions.”

But he said that “finding a way we can increasingly understand the personal circumstances and have a sanctions regime that reflects that has got to be the right direction.

“I am not going to pretend there is an easy solution to that but I think that is where we need to look at.”

Source: Tory conference: Gauke admits sanctions can harm mental health claimants

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