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newslatestMore than 100,000 disabled people had their unemployment benefits removed in just one year as a punishment for not complying with strict new government rules, according to official figures.

The figures show that 104,200 disabled claimants of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) were “sanctioned” at least once between the introduction of the new rules in October 2012 and 30 September last year. In all, nearly 530,000 JSA claimants were sanctioned.

The figures also show that 164 disabled people had their JSA removed for the maximum of three years after receiving a third “high-level” sanction.

Even the lowest of the three levels of sanctions leads to claimants losing all of their JSA for four weeks for the first “failure”, and then 13 weeks for subsequent failures within a year of a previous sanction.

During the year, nearly 42,000 disabled people received just one low-level sanction, while nearly 40,000 received one mid-level sanction, and more than 8,000 received one high-level sanction, which saw them lose their JSA for 13 weeks.

The most common reason for a JSA sanction (36 per cent) among all claimants was a failure to “actively look for work”, while nearly a third were for failing to take part in a jobs programme, and one in five because a claimant “didn’t have a good reason for missing a meeting at the jobcentre”.

Philip Connolly, policy and communications manager for Disability Rights UK, said the figures raised serious concerns about the impact of the sanctions on disabled people.

He said: “My suspicion is that there are a lot of people being sanctioned who have cognitive, mental health or sensory problems that make it difficult for them in communication.

“What we really need is an explanation of whether these factors have been looked at.”

He said it was also now important to look at the financial impact of the sanctions on disabled people,  for example, whether they could afford to heat their homes or eat, and whether they were being forced to borrow money from loan sharks or payday lenders.

The disability charity RNIB said it had prepared five legal cases against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and was looking into another 50, over the failure to send benefits letters in an accessible format to blind and partially-sighted people.

Some of these cases involve people on out-of-work benefits who were then sanctioned.

Steve Winyard, RNIB’s head of campaigns and policy, said: “Every week RNIB receives complaints about DWP failing to provide correspondence and other benefits information in Braille or other accessible formats.

“As a result, [some of] these people are at direct risk of sanction and a number have had the benefits they rely on to live withdrawn.”

He said sanctions had led to blind and partially-sighted people being forced to rely on food banks while they waited for the government to correct its mistakes.

Evidence submitted by other charities to an independent review of JSA sanctions for the government has revealed wider concerns for disabled claimants.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) calls in its evidence for DWP to “proactively identify” disabled JSA claimants – particularly those with impairments that may affect their capacity to understand the requirements placed on them – in order to comply with its duties under the Equality Act.

One Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau dealt with a client with learning difficulties who faced lengthy sanctions because she struggled to comply with the regime, and was told by staff that she was “lazy and not trying”.

Joint evidence from the homeless charities Broadway and St Mungo’s details a pregnant 19-year-old with learning difficulties who received several appointment letters she was unable to understand, “so she put them into a drawer and forgot about them”, leading to a string of missed appointments and sanctions.

The government figures also show that nearly 15,000 claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – all in the work-related activity group – were sanctioned in the 10 months to September 2013, for failing to attend a mandatory interview or to participate in work-related activity.

Although sanctions for failing to attend a mandatory interview have remained steady at about 400 or 500 a month, those for failure to participate in work-related activity have risen steadily from 775 in December 2012 to 2,627 in September 2013.

But the month in which the highest number of sanctions has taken place since ESA was introduced in 2008 – at nearly 3,700 – is still March 2010, two months before the last general election.

20 February 2014

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