Behind the figures: what do today’s sanctions figures mean for disabled people?

New figures out today show the scale of the Government’s new sanctions regime. In total, over 90,000 disabled people have had their benefits suspended for anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 years. Here’s four things you need to know:

How many disabled people do sanctions affect?

Since November 2012, when sanctions were tightened, 90,004 disabled people have had their benefits suspended.

This breaks down as 82,860 disabled people on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – the out-of-work benefit available to everyone – and 7,180 disabled people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is meant to be for those who face the biggest barriers to work.

This means that 1 in 7 of the total number of JSA claimants who’ve been sanctioned are disabled people, and 4 in 5 of the total number of ESA.

How does this compare to previous years?

It’s hard to say exactly, because DWP haven’t published figures specifically for disabled people before last year.

But looking at the figures for those on ESA – the majority of whom are disabled people – we can get a sense of how many more people are being sanctioned under the new regime. The increase is pretty shocking.

Since December 2012 the number of ESA sanctions was 11,400. For the same period in 2011/12, the number of people sanctioned was 5,750. This is an increase of 50%.

Compare this with an 11% increase for JSA sanctions year on year, and it’s clear that the regime change has had an even more dramatic effect for those who face the most barriers to work.

Why are people being sanctioned?

What the stats show is people being sanctioned for things like missing interviews with advisers, or not engaging with the Work Programme, or sending enough job applications.

What they don’t show is the reality for disabled people: interviews with advisers clashing with medical appointments; inaccessible transport; advisers without specialist understanding of conditions and impairments; a lack of jobs with the flexibility disabled people often need.

Do sanctions work?

No. Disabled people face a wide-range of barriers to work. Lack of available jobs, fewer qualifications and even negative attitudes from some employers can make the workplace daunting.

So simply taking away benefits from a disabled person really doesn’t help – as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have repeatedly pointed out. In fact, suspending benefits can make things worse: stats from the Trussell Trust show that increasing use of food banks is linked to the tightening of sanctions.

Instead of simply suspending benefits for no reason, we need a system that actually works for disabled people, that supports them to find a job they want, and that takes seriously the barriers they face.