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 ellen.clifford@inclusionlondon.org.uk 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. https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/

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).

People with hidden disabilities to benefit from Blue Badges

Blue Badge scheme to be extended to hidden disabilities, including autism and mental health conditions.

  • Blue Badge scheme to be extended to people with ‘hidden’ disabilities
  • Biggest overhaul to the system in 40 years, offering accessible parking for people who find travel difficult
  • part of the government’s drive to build a society that works for all

People with hidden disabilities, including autism and mental health conditions will soon have access to Blue Badges, removing the barriers many face to travel.

The Blue Badge scheme already means those with physical disabilities can park closer to their destination than other drivers, as they are less able to take public transport or walk longer distances.

In the biggest overhaul to the scheme since the 1970s, this will now be extended to those with less visible conditions early next year.

Transport Minister Jesse Norman said:

Blue badges are a lifeline for disabled people, giving them the freedom and confidence to get to work and visit friends independently.

The changes we have announced today will ensure that this scheme is extended equally to people with hidden disabilities so that they can enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted.

The new criteria will extend eligibility to people who:

  • cannot undertake a journey without there being a risk of serious harm to their health or safety or that of any other person (such as young children with autism)
  • cannot undertake a journey without it causing them very considerable psychological distress
  • have very considerable difficulty when walking (both the physical act and experience of walking)

The changes follow an 8-week consultation and are part of the government’s drive for greater parity between physical and mental health conditions.

Blue Badge

Although people with non-physical disabilities are not excluded from receiving a Blue Badge, the current rules are open to interpretation. The new criteria will give clear and consistent guidelines on Blue Badge eligibility for the whole of England.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton said:

It’s absolutely right that disabled people are able to go about their daily life without worrying about how they will get from one place to another.

We’re taking an important step forward in ensuring people with hidden disabilities get the support they need to live independently.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said:

Today’s Blue Badge announcement will make a massive difference to the lives of many of the 600,000 autistic people in England, and their families.

Just leaving the house is a challenge for many autistic people, involving detailed preparation – and sometimes overwhelming anxiety about plans going wrong. And some autistic people might not be aware of the dangers of the road or become overwhelmed by busy or loud environments. The possibility of not being able to find a parking space near where you’re going can mean you can’t contemplate leaving the house at all.

The National Autistic Society and our supporters have been highlighting problems with the current rules to the government for many years. We’re thrilled that they have listened to the concerns of autistic people and their families, taking into account their needs for certainty and safety. Now it’s important to make sure that these changes are implemented fully and quickly.

The consultation, which ran from 21 January 2018 to 8 March 2018, received more than 6,000 responses from across the country.

The Department for Transport will now work with stakeholders to develop new guidance to help them administer their Blue Badge schemes when these changes come into force.

The government recently set out its plans to improve accessibility across all modes of transport in the Inclusive Transport Strategy which launched on 25 July 2018. The strategy aims to make the UK’s transport network fully inclusive by 2030.