New research published this week by Inclusion London has shown that existing benefits sanctions have a “significantly detrimental” effect on the mental health of disabled people, acting less as encouragement to find work and more a series of threats which induce a constant state of anxiety or chronic fear in claimants.

The research was undertaken in partnership with the University of Essex and investigated the effect of being placed in ESA’s Work Related Activity Groups after a Work Capability Assessment.

Evidence collected by the study shows that the impact of benefits sanctions can be “life-threatening” for some disabled people, and while intentions are to push them towards the world of work, it, in fact, does the opposite: the impact the sanctions have on disabled people’s mental health acts as a catastrophic barrier which de-incentivises work-related activity in many cases.

The study notes that the method of encouragement – the use of sanctions as a result of failing to meet the criterium imposed upon the claimant  – is tantamount to threats, and ineffective for disabled claimants as a way to encourage them to seek work.

One of the participants in the study, Charlie, attempted suicide after he returned to the Jobcentre for an appointment with the same advisor who had sanctioned him, resulting in him having no money for food over Christmas.

He said: “I’ve thought about what that sanction meant to me. I always thought I was a strong man but in a few short weeks after being sanctioned I fell apart and my mental health and self-esteem has never been the same. We hear about how a sanction impacts on mental and physical health but to me it went further than that, it has had a deeply negative impact on my whole sense of identity.”

The study recommends the government works with more disabled people’s organisations and charities, in order to find an effective and less damaging method of encouragement.

Ellen Clifford, Campaigns and Policy Manager at Inclusion London, said: “This important research adds to the growing weight of evidence that conditionality and sanctions are not only harmful to individuals causing mental and physical negative impacts, but are also counter-productive in their aim of pushing more disabled people into paid work.”

Dr Danny Taggart, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Essex, said: “The perverse and punitive incentives outlined in this study rendered participants so anxious that they were paradoxically less able to focus on engagement in vocational activity.

“This study adds further evidence to support any future research being undertaken in collaboration with disabled people’s organisations who are better able to understand the needs of disabled people.”

Read the study in full here.

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Image: Flickr/Izzy Prior

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