Soaring numbers of sick or disabled people are being punished by having their benefits taken away in a Government crackdown that experts say is pushing the most vulnerable in society to destitution.
The use of sanctions against those on sickness benefits has gone up by 350 per cent in a year as part of an aggressive drive to push more people into work. Those with serious health conditions can have their benefits removed for up to three years because of minor mistakes, such as missing an appointment at the Job Centre or forgetting to attend skills training.
Lone parents are also having vital benefits withdrawn for months – and even years – for failing to jump through the relevant hoops to prove they are seeking work. Of the 1.2 million sanctions meted out to those on jobseekers’ allowance in the 18 months to March 2014, more than 52,000 were single mums or dads. More than 3,000 of these lone parents were in the highest category, which means the removal of benefits for between 13 weeks and three years.
Almost 16,000 sanctions were handed out to those on the sickness benefit Employment Support Allowance between January and March of 2014 – more than triple the number in the first quarter of 2013. In March 2014 alone more than 7,000 ESA claimants were sanctioned – the highest number on record and more than seven times higher than the same month in 2013.
Following controversial fitness-to-work tests, more than 500,000 people on ESA have been classed as well enough to start work-related activity – and can therefore be sanctioned. In some cases those with learning disabilities are being sanctioned even when they are unable to understand requests they are sent to attend appointments.
Many are left with no money for food after their benefits are taken away for trivial mistakes and misunderstandings. Some have lost their income for a month or more after missing appointments they were never told about, not searching for a job on Christmas day, or rearranging a job interview that clashes with a funeral.