Sick And Disabled Hit By 70,000 Benefit Sanctions – Despite Being ‘Unfit For Work’


The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has published new figures, showing a huge rise in the number of sick and disabled people hit by controversial benefit sanctions.

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have been subjected to record levels of sanctioning, with more than 70,000 sanctions imposed since tougher rules were introduced in December 2012.

This is despite of the fact that this group comprises of people who have been deemed ‘unfit for work’, not only by their own doctors but also following a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The statistical release also shows that over a third of sanction decisions (over 23,000) were successfully challenged.

The sanction decisions are from December 2012 to June 2015, with a total of 70,452 imposed during this time.

Reasons for referring claimants for sanctioning include:

  • 11,238 for failure to attend a mandatory interview; and
  • 59,219 for failure to participate in work related activity.


  • 49,269 decisions were reviewed with 21,831 decisions withdrawn;
  • 2,109 decisions were reconsidered with 1,288 decisions overturned; and
  • 568 decisions were appealed with 185 appeals being successful.

These figures suggest that sanctions are still being applied unfairly and unreasonably, with almost half later rescinded.

Under the new sanctions system, introduced by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, people can lose their lifeline benefits for up to three years if they fail to meet tough “requirements”.

However, the government’s own ESA eligibility criteria is at odds with the reasons provided for sanctioning: “You may get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if your illness or disability affects your ability to work”, including “work-related activity.”

The Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) –  the group for people found ‘unfit for work’ but thought to be capable of “preparing for work” at some point in the future – was never designed to treat the long-term sick and disabled as if they had a bad cold. These are people who the DWP agree are unable to work.

Declan Gaffney, who analysis the labour market and social security, has pointed out that the person who first introduced the WRAG – Paul Gregg – said the typical duration of people claiming this component of ESA was always estimated to be at least two years.

However, whilst you’re in this group of ESA, the DWP can still consider sanctions if:

  • you don’t go to a work-focused interview
  • you go, but don’t take part in your interview
  • you don’t take part in a compulsory work-related activity that you’ve been asked to do

For many, sanctions are a cruel state punishment designed to bring about “behaviour change” on vulnerable people who the DWP admit are unable to work.

Sanctions remove or reduce lifeline benefits, which were originally calculated to meet only basic needs – such as food, fuel and shelter.

It is my opinion, that punishing people for being ‘unfit for work’ is cruel and perverse. You cannot “help” people into work, or improve the health, by removing vital financial support. Or as Abraham Maslow says, if we are reduced to struggling to meet our basic physical needs, we can’t be “incentivised” or motivated to meet higher level psychosocial ones.

Sick and disabled people generally face higher living costs than non-disabled people. This is why ESA is paid at a higher rate than Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). However, the Government is considering cutting ESA for claimants in the WRAG by around £30 a week, reducing it to the same level as JSA.

To place sick and disabled people in a situation where they are struggling to meet basic needs will invariably have an adverse impact on a person’s health and/or disability.

Tags : ArticleBenefit SanctionsBenefitsDisabilityDisabledESAGovernmentHealthNewsPoliticsSocietyToriesUK newsUnemploymentWCAWelfare
  • Erm, these bits, about how many people are sanctioned for what, are wrong;

    “11,238 for failure to attend a mandatory interview; and
    59,219 for failure to participate in work related activity.”
    They’re sanctioned for ALLEGED failures, not failures established after a trial involving a judge, a jury, a prosecutor and above all a defender. what happened to the rule of law in this country? What happened to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?

    • Nic

      On the one hand, I agree with you on the morality of the situation, and the fact that we should be “considered innocent until proven guilty”.

      Unfortunately, you’re talking about concepts found in criminal law – but the sanctions regime is taking place under civil law, which doesn’t work under the same constraints of needing judge, jury, etc, and it doesn’t work from the same assumptions or require the same burden of proof. Which means the article is correct.

  • Levinas

    Sick and disabled claimants of JSA would be eligible for a disability premium roughly equivalent to what is being removed from ESA. Advocacy told me some years ago that when ESA was being put together the disability premium was disallowed for ESA as it was pointed out that the figure proposed for ESA was already high enough to equal JSA plus the DP, with the additional enhanced and severe DP’s being paid for both benefits. Now we have the perverse situation whereby two sufferers of the same disorder will receive differing amounts in benefits, with the worse affected eligible for lower funds. Thats some incentive for a financially desperate ill claimant to switch benefits simply to access enough funds to get by rather than starve.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      “Sick and disabled claimants of JSA would be eligible for a disability premium”

      Evidence? (I haven’t seen it proposed, and given the wide definition of disability today…)

    • Celia LL

      Only those in receipt of DLA or PIP.

  • Jenny Dent

    Another example of what the hell why not line us all up against a wall and have us shot.