Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Green Party, has labelled the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)’s sanctions regime “a fucking disgrace” at a meeting in parliament:
“The co-leader of the Green party, Jonathan Bartley, was even more outspoken, telling the meeting that the system of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people, and Mitchell’s experience, was “a fucking disgrace”. https://t.co/K1TZtuEGiz
— Steve Campkin (@green_steev) October 19, 2018
As Disability News Service reported, Bartley was at a meeting for the launch of a study examining the impact on disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – particularly those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) who’ve been sanctioned.
The meeting also left one peer in tears after a claimant described how the sanctions regime had made him suicidal.
“Where your mental health disappears overnight”
The study written by academics at the University of Essex and Inclusion London. As The Canary previously reported, it’s subtitled Where your mental health disappears overnight. It describes the sanctions regime as “perverse and punitive” [pdf 5]. Other key findings include:
- All participants in this study that engaged with the ESA WRAG had significantly detrimental effects on their mental health.
- Despite wanting to engage in work-related activity, many participants found WRAG prioritised less meaningful tasks.
- People were asked to engage in activity that undermined their self-confidence and required them to understate their previous achievements. This included a claimant told to take their degree off a CV or face being sanctioned to avoid looking overqualified.
- The impact of sanctions was life threatening for some participants. The underlying fear instilled by the threat of sanctions meant that many participants described living in a state of constant anxiety.
- The incentives designed to encourage people to engage in work related activity are based on psychological theory from the field of Behavioural Economics. The study concluded that these models of behaviour change are not applicable for disabled people accessing benefits.
The personal accounts in the report are heartbreaking. One claimant described the impact of sanctions at Christmas:
Then they finally made a decision that I was going to be sanctioned… And there was this image which will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. On Christmas day I was sat alone, at home just waiting for darkness to come so I could go to sleep and I was watching through my window all the happy families enjoying Christmas and that just blew me away. And I think I had a breakdown on that day and it was really hard to recover from and I’m still struggling with it.
He continued, speaking about having to see the same member of staff who sanctioned him:
I now have a problem going into the Job Centre because I literally start shaking because of the damage that the benefit sanction did to me… So yeah that was part, the sanction was one of the reasons that triggered the mental health and problems I’m having now… it was awful and I ended up trying to commit suicide… to me that was the last straw and I went home and I just emptied the drawer of tablets or whatever and I ended up in A&E for a couple of days after they’d pumped my stomach out.
Bartley was unapologetic about his swearing:
Not going to apologise for swearing at this event in Parliament. Anyone who is more taken aback by bad language than the sanctions regime needs to have a long hard think about what’s truly offensive. https://t.co/9F0CW4C2TU
— Jonathan Bartley (@jon_bartley) October 18, 2018
People were supportive of his comments:
“A fucking disgrace”
Bartley is right. The way the government and the DWP treat disabled people is a fucking disgrace. It’s gut-wrenching and fucking heartbreaking.
Strong words are necessary. People’s lives and their mental health are literally at stake. No one needing help from what should be a safety net should have to suffer in this way.
Even more necessary is strong action. And it’s needed now.
– If you’re having a mental health crisis you can contact The Samaritans on 116 123.
– Support Disabled People Against the Cuts.
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