The number of disabled people on the main out-of-work disability benefit who are being sanctioned by the government for failing to meet strict conditions has fallen close to zero, following years of criticism of the harsh regime.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures published this week show that only 122 employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants were subject to a sanction in June last year, although the average (median) sanction being faced by those claimants last June was still as long as 98 days.
Such sanctions only apply to those ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) who have failed to attend a mandatory interview or take part in work-related activity.
The figure of 122 claimants (0.04 per cent) under sanction compares with a peak of 5,565 claimants (1.04 per cent) being sanctioned in April 2014.
The June 2019 figure could be even lower, as the new data includes those sanctions that are subsequently overturned.
Despite the apparent loosening of the regime, the DWP figures fail to provide any information about how many disabled claimants of the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) were being sanctioned.
The figures also show that the proportion of all universal credit (UC) claimants under sanction (2.38 per cent, in November 2019) had fallen sharply from its peak in March 2017 (9.3 per cent).
But there are no figures to show the proportion of disabled UC claimants in the limited capability for work group (the equivalent of WRAG) who were being sanctioned.
DWP yesterday (Thursday) refused to comment on the new figures, or to explain why it was now sanctioning fewer ESA claimants.
It also refused to comment on its apparent failure to publish figures showing how many disabled claimants of JSA and UC are being sanctioned.
But a DWP spokesperson said: “Sanctions are only used when someone fails to fulfil their benefit commitments and people are given the opportunity to explain why they had not done so before any decision is made.”
Last July, Disability News Service revealed that the JSA system had been discriminating against disabled claimants throughout most of the previous decade, as disabled JSA claimants were more likely to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people in all but two of those years.
Campaigners have also warned that it is impossible to tell how many disabled people are being sanctioned on UC.
A House of Commons briefing paper from September 2018 said that sanction rates under UC appeared to be “several times higher” than under the benefits they were replacing.
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