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  • 49,269 decisions were reviewed with 21,831 decisions withdrawn;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These figures suggest that sanctions are still being applied unfairly and unreasonably, with almost half later rescinded.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.

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