Benefit sanctions are damaging people’s health and must be suspended, say psychologists

Psychologists say sanctions regime is "undermining mental health and wellbeing" and causing destitution, hardship, and widespread anxiety.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has joined forces with other psychological bodies to call on the UK Government to suspend its cruel and degrading benefit sanctions regime.

BPS says the benefit sanctions regime, where vulnerable people can have payments docked for weeks or months at a time for failing to adhere to often unreasonable requirements, does not help people back to work and damages their mental health.

The call comes in response to the Government’s ‘Improving Lives’ consultation and following a recent report from the National Audit Office, which found there is little evidence to prove sanctions encourage people to look for work or offer value for money to taxpayers.

Benefit sanctions can also result in destitution, hardship, widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment, the psychologists say.

In a joint response the BPS, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, the British Psychoanalytic Council, the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies and the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the bodies argue “the Government needs to change focus from trying to make unemployment less attractive, to trying to make employment more attractive”.

The bodies have also urged the UK Government to review and reform the controversial work capability assessment, otherwise know as ‘fit for work’ tests, which they say “lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness”.

They have called on Jobcentres to “care about the quality of work they provide”, drawing on evidence that suggests “bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment”. There should be “statutory support for creating psychologically healthy workplaces and increased mental health awareness training for jobcentre staff”.

BPS President Professor Peter Kinderman said: “We call for the benefits sanctions regime to be suspended until the completion of an independent review of their impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing”

“While there is evidence that the sanctions process is undermining mental health and wellbeing, there is no clear evidence that it leads to increased employment.

“Vulnerable people with specific multiple and complex needs are being disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.”

Last updated at 07:15 (GMT) on 21 February 2017.