No explanation from ministers for soaring ESA sanctions


newslatestMinisters have again refused to offer any explanation for the soaring use of sanctions against claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

Figures published this week by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of decisions to sanction claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) reached 5,132 in June 2014.

This compares with 4,770 the previous month, 3,230 in January 2014, 2,698 in December 2013 and 1,091 in December 2012.

This means the use of sanctions – all applied to those in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA – has risen by 370 per cent in just 18 months.

About nine in 10 sanctions were for a failure to participate in work-related activity, with the others imposed for a failure to attend a mandatory interview.

Claimants lose at least a week’s benefit for missing a single appointment or session of work-related activity.

A DWP spokesman said that sanctions were “nothing to do with saving money and the number of sanctions is entirely dependent on how many people do or do not fulfil all their obligations”.

He said: “Sanctions are only used as a last resort if people fail to take up the support which is on offer. There are no targets for sanctions.”

He said that about 99 per cent of ESA claimants do not receive a sanction, while the “vast majority” of ESA sanctions only last for a week.

And he said that those ESA claimants who are sanctioned still keep the additional WRAG component of £28.75, and can also apply for hardship payments.

But he has so far failed to explain why the number of ESA sanctions has risen so sharply in the last 18 months.

The DWP spokesman offered an explanation for why previous figures – released three months ago – showed there had been as many as 7,507 sanctions in March 2014, when this week’s updated figures show there were 4,266 that month.

He said the difference between the two figures was due to the high number of ESA claimants appealing against being sanctioned, or asking for a reconsideration, after the publication of the last figures.

He said: “The outcome of that appeal would be recorded in a different month on the next publication.

“It does not mean they won the appeal; the sanction would just be recorded in a different month.”

Meanwhile, the number of people claiming ESA and incapacity benefit (IB) has continued to rise.

New figures – also released this week – show that there were 2.470 million claimants of ESA and IB in May 2014, compared with 2.459 million in February and 2.456 million in November 2013.

Early estimates for the following four months show this number rising even further, reaching 2,515 million by September.

Many disabled campaigners believe this rise is at least partly due to the huge delays and backlogs in the system for assessing ESA claimants.

13 November 2014