Some of the most vulnerable people on benefits are being sanctioned at alarming rates - even when they're in hospital.
David (not his real name) suffers from schizophrenia and receives two types of income support to help him live while he deals with his illness. He was sanctioned twice in 2013 for not attending work focussed interviews and appointments due to his deteriorating health.
He was even sanctioned while he was very ill in hospital, and forced to rely on his family for food.
Caught in a bureaucratic nightmare without any guidance, David was too ill to speak to advisors.
His family explained his situation but received little compassion. They didn't know who to turn to.
The sanctions on his Disability Living Allowance and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were only lifted once Citizens Advice Bureau got in touch and intervened on his behalf.
It's now all too common to hear tales of frustrated vulnerable people unable to access the financial help they need and are entitled to. Too many of them are sanctioned for not fulfilling basic tasks which they just can't do because of their disability.
People with mental health problems are FAR more likely to be sanctioned than someone with a physical injuryIf you have depression, you're much more likely to lose your benefits than if you've got a physical condition like a broken leg or bronchitis.
This is what new data released by a consortium of church groups and charities shows.
They looked at the number of sanctions given to ESA claimants with different conditions. Claimants with mental health or behavioural problems have been penalised the heaviest by the new sanctions.
The most common reason for being sanctioned is being late or not turning up for a Work Programme appointment, according to the data released by the Methodist Church, Church of Scotland, Church in Wales and mental health charity Mind.
Yet some of these people have issues like crippling anxiety that prevent them from leaving the house, never mind getting to appointments on time.
Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, said: "Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping.
"The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed."
The reality of being sanctioned, behind the figures:
- One single male said that he was sanctioned for SIX WEEKS
for not attending a meeting that would take him off ESA and onto JSA.
He didn't attend the meeting as he didn't know about it - he never
answered unknown numbers for fear of harassment from debt collectors.
He said: "I was given no direction over where to go for help. I felt so angry, insecure, negative, depressed and beaten. I felt like finding solace in drugs and drink.”
- Another ESA claimant suffering from severe anxiety and IBS cannot always leave their home. They were asked to attend training sessions despite giving doctors' letters to support their claim, and were threatened with sanctions for non-attendance. Frightened they would be left destitute, they attended the training and while there, had an anxiety attack. They had to make their way home while very unwell and frightened: an situation that could have been easily-avoided.
- In one particularly tragic story from 2013 one single mother was sanctioned for not attending a meeting. She wasn't able to find help and the stress became too much for her. She was found hanged in her home two days before Christmas.
62% of people sanctioned have mental health problemsPeople on ESA with mental health problems are over-represented when it comes to being sanctioned.
Since 2010, the gap between the percentage of claimants with mental health problems and the percentage of sanctions for those who have mental health problems has widened.
Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said: “We’re very concerned about the number of people having their benefits stopped. It’s unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being sanctioned disproportionately compared to those who have another health problem.
"Stopping benefits does not help people with mental health problems back into work. In fact, it often results in people becoming more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely."