Changes to disabled benefit sanctions

The Government plans to withdraw £71 (out of a maximum allowance award of £99.15 a week) from sick and disabled claimants who fail to adhere to back-to-work agreements with effect from 3 December 2012. 
Publication Date: 05.09.2012
A report published in the Guardian, based on a leaked draft of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) letter template, warns sick and disabled claimants they will lose 70% of their weekly employment support allowance (ESA) if they refuse to take part in work-related activities. This is more than double the current fine.

At present, those claiming ESA who have also been deemed fit to eventually return to work can only be docked a maximum of £28.15 a week if they break their agreement with their job advisers without "good cause". 

Claimants are separated into into two groups: the support group, who are deemed to be much further away from the workplace and have few conditions placed on their benefit claim; and the work-related activity group (Wrag), who are assessed to be capable of taking steps towards moving into work immediately. Current figures show there are just over 340,000 people in this Wrag group.

Which group claimants are designated to is determined by controversial health assessments run by the private firm and Paralympic sponsor Atos. Last week, Atos's London headquarters was targeted by hundreds of protesters claiming that Atos’s sickness tests were an inadequate means of filtering out those who are more seriously incapacitated. They cited examples of people diagnosed with terminal cancer, victims of strokes, those with mental health issues and people paralysed from the chest down being designated to the Wrag group. 
The plan to increase the penalty for the sick and disabled follows earlier revelations that the government wants to bring in unpaid and unlimited work experience placements for those in ESA Wrag group. The DWP has now told the Guardian the department has yet to finalise plans on unpaid work experience for the sick and disabled but did not rule out their introduction by 3 December.

The Guardian cited Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, who warned that the increased sanctions could devastate people's mental health.
"It is important to remember that people in the work-related activity group have been assessed as unfit for work – they are not at full health and are still very vulnerable," he said. "They face significant barriers to return to employment and need support rather than the threat of sanction.

"Whatever an individual's health problems, slashing their benefit is only going to exacerbate the strain they are already under. The additional stress and anxiety incurred by the sanction – worries about paying for bills, rent and even food – risks devastating their mental health."
Gillian Guy, the Citizens Advice chief executive, said "With much harsher sanctions being brought in it's urgent that the government starts monitoring how sanctions are used and the impact on claimants and their families".
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