A Former Health Minister has criticised the Government for ignoring repeated demands for an inquiry into how benefit cuts are affecting mentally ill claimants.
Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat Minister for Care Services in 2011-12, told the Daily Mirror that the Government “don’t seem to care” how benefit cuts are affecting mentally ill people.
He said that more than 100,000 people with mental health problems have been found ‘fit for work’ and later “forgotten about” on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Mr Burstow told the Daily Mirror: “We know almost half of people taken off incapacity benefit, assessed, and found apparently ‘fit to work’ have mental health problems, and the Department responsible have absolutely no idea what’s happened to them.
“We have heard time and again that assessors had no real grasp of mental illness and its impact.
“We know that people with mental health problems need support and encouragement to get back into work and there is overwhelming evidence that people with mental health problems face discrimination in the job market.
“But over 100,000 people with mental health problems have been summarily put on Job Seekers Allowance and forgotten about.”
Research from a coalition of major UK Churches found that claimants with mental health problems are having their benefits removed (sanctioned) at a rate of 100 per day.
The benefit sanctions regime affected nearly 100,000 children in 2013/14 and new research suggests that one in five jobseekers have seen their benefits removed.
Despite the Government denying the existence of targets, there is growing evidence that DWP staff are being forced or coerced into imposing benefit sanctions.
Mr Burstow said: “We don’t know if they have got jobs, we don’t know if they have been sanctioned, and we don’t know the impact of sanctions on their mental health.
“All we do know is that the Department don’t know and don’t seem to care.”
Mental health charity Mind has joined calls for an inquiry into the impact of benefit sanctions on mentally ill people. Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind said:
“It’s really worrying that you are more likely to receive a benefits sanction if you have a mental health problem than another health condition but we don’t have access to all the information about how often and why this is happening.
“The DWP are not taking this issue seriously enough – over 80 days ago Mind requested information on the number of people with mental health problems who had been sanctioned and they have yet to respond – four times the 20 day limit for replying to Freedom of Information requests.
“People with mental health problems make up nearly half of those supported by Employment and Support Allowance, but we know that the current support provided through mainstream programmes to try to help people into work is not tailored enough and doesn’t properly take into account the problems people may face in finding and keeping a job.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “It is not acceptable for people to be written off to a lifetime on benefits simply because they have a health condition or impairment, as happened in the past.
“Many people with health conditions are able to thrive in employment and it is our responsibility to give them the support they need to do so. We continue to explore new ways that we can better support people with mental health conditions.”
The PCS union revealed in February that the value of jobseeker’s allowance payments sanctioned in the year to September 2014 was £355 million.