Benefit sanctions and conditions are pushing disabled people further from employment

Disabled people are facing punitive sanctions and perverse incentives when trying to claim allowances which are damaging their health and placing barriers in the way of their efforts to seek work.

Researchers at the University of Essex have published their findings after working in partnership with the Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation, Inclusion London, to investigate the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system.

Their findings will be launched at an event in Parliament hosted by the disabled cross-bench peer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.  You can download the report here: ESA-WRAG Report

Benefit Sanctions

The researchers explored disabled people’s experience of being placed in the ESA’s Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) after a Work Capability Assessment. WRAG claimants are deemed suitable for some work related activity and failure to engage can lead to ESA payments being cut or ‘sanctioned’.

The research team found all participants experienced significantly detrimental effects on their mental health.

The impact of sanctions was life threatening for some. For many, the underlying fear from the threat of sanctions meant living in a state of constant anxiety. This state of chronic fear can make it harder for people to engage in work-related activity and was made worse by the unpredictable way conditionality was applied, leaving some participants unsure of how to avoid sanctions.

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.

“Universal Credit, which is set to affect around 7 million people with 58% of households affected containing a disabled person, will extend and entrench conditionality. This is yet another reason why the roll out of Universal Credit must be stopped and a new system designed based on evidence based approaches and co-produced with disabled people and benefit claimants.”

The results also showed that participants wanted to engage in work and many found meaning in vocational activity. However, the WRAG prioritised less meaningful tasks.

In addition, rather than incentivising work-related activity, conditionality meant participants were driven by a range of perverse and punitive incentives, being asked to engage in activity that undermined their self-confidence and required them to understate their previous achievements.

Dr Danny Taggart, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Essex, said “Based on these findings, the psychological model of behaviour change that underpins conditionality and sanctioning is fundamentally flawed. The use of incentives to encourage people to engage in work related activity is empirically untested and draws on research with populations who are not faced with the complex needs of disabled people. 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.

“More research needs to be undertaken to understand how to best support disabled people into meaningful vocational activity, something that both the government and a majority of disabled people want. 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.”

Charlie’s case

Charlie (not his real name), one of the study participants, attempted suicide after having to return to the Job Centre for an appointment with the same adviser who had sanctioned him, leaving him with no money for food over Christmas.

Charlie 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.”

For more information contact: Ellen Clifford at or on 07505144371.

Notes for Editors

1)      Inclusion London is a London-wide Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation (DDPO) which is part of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, a network of grassroots DDPO and disabled people led campaigns across England.

2)      People seeking support through Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) must go through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). After assessment, eligible claimants are assigned to either the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) or the Support Group (SG). WRAG claimants are deemed suitable for some work related activity and failure to engage can lead to ESA being cut or ‘sanctioned’. This sanction can involve losing up to 100% of ESA if work related activity is not completed to the satisfaction of the Job Centre Plus worker. Under Universal Credit, the ESA WRAG is called the Limited Capability for Work group (LCW).

Hate Crime on The Rise in Time of Political & Social Extremism

Most recent figures from the Home Office* showed a 29% increase in hate crime in England and Wales and these figures have consistently grown. We are going through a time of extremism, politically and socially on both domestic and international fronts and as a result hate crime attacks are sadly on the increase.

In the UK the Brexit issue has led to increased attacks on non-British people and the recent antisemitism row in Labour emboldens people to feel empowered to attack Jewish groups. The current US president seems to thrive on being combative and aggressive, #Metoo has created greater awareness and inequalities in wealth and power have grown. Leading psychotherapist Noel McDermott believes that when people feel they are excluded they look for scapegoats and more crimes like this are committed.

Hate Crime

What is a Hate Crime?

Hate crimes are linked in the UK to the 9 equality strands – age, disability, gender, race and ethnicity, religion and belief, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. If a crime happens and there is evidence that this happened because of one of these issues e.g. an assault happens on a male homosexual couple, it would not just be an assault but a hate crime.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: “Sadly these equality strands are groups of people in society who are institutionally targeted and seen as being “less than” by hate crime perpetrators – they are regarded as “the other” rather than “us” – with the white heterosexual able-bodied male seen as the template for the most privileged individual”.

Why do people commit hate crimes?

Unsurprisingly we know there are high risk groups of people who commit crime such as those who feel marginalised in some way (often economic or cultural marginalisation) or those who feel socially isolated. For these perpetrators we must look at what is happening to the human being inside to understand them. A loving connection is missing and often these individuals have trauma issues and will need specialist treatment to help to deal with this or they will become more isolated or dangerous.

We have only to look at gang crime and the crime-ridden estates in London. These young people have been brutalised and groomed some even from as young as 9 years old, their initiation rites will involve shooting a stranger or assaulting a friend as part of the recruitment procedure. Often these kids will have high levels of trauma and will have flashbacks to their own abuse whilst committing their crimes. Untreated PTSD creates aggression, and this is a huge factor in violence and the rise in hate crimes.

Traits of a hate crimes perpetrator

  • Previous exposure to and involvement in violence is the biggest single predictor of current risk of perpetrating violence
  • Poverty or extreme wealth where people may exist in closed sub groups can lead to extreme views of the other not being challenged
  • Isolation from the mainstream
  • Anger management issues

Generally, people who are likely to go on to commit a hate crime will be vocal about their prejudicial views and be prone to creating an image of themselves as somehow victimised by the groups they hate.

Noel is as a great advocate of awareness weeks such as National Hate Crime Awareness Week (13th-20th October). He believes it is essential that we have public education. The damage of a hate crime to the individual who is targeted is huge and impacts on our society and these public education campaigns challenge this behaviour.  He says: “This week highlights the issues to the public to get the conversation going, the more open we are about these issues the better. Additionally, they will encourage victims to come forward. The campaigns can focus on issues of current concern and combat misinformation with fact”.

What to do if you are a victim of a hate crime

As with any crime it should be reported it to the police. With hate crime there is increased monitoring so it’s helpful to report small things such as verbal abuse in public. If it’s abuse about one of the protected characteristics, it is considered a hate crime. Additionally, the victim may want to seek specialist counselling for the experience. In general, this type of crime exists within the context of larger issues of discrimination that will have been faced by the victim in their lifetime and as such they may have an ‘aggravated’ response. It is possible that victims will have experienced this kind of discrimination before and a hate crime can be very damaging for the individual’s mental health.

Be aware that if after two weeks the victim experiences things such as intrusive thoughts about the incident, a general sense of wariness, a tendency to be jumpy, being short tempered, emotionally labile, trouble with sleep, changes in diet and habit, avoidance of activities or things that remind them of the event, then they are showing signs of anxiety and will need help to overcome this. Long term stress can kill and in some cases victims can suffer extreme reactions such as self-harming and a fear of leaving the house, this needs to be taken very seriously.

Noel McDermott is a pioneering health and social care professional with over 25 years of industry experience. He is passionate about bringing high quality care and support to those who are vulnerable. Noel’s areas of expertise include social care, mental health, child care, refugees, trauma, addiction and recovery, distance therapy, personal development and emotional health and wellbeing.