In the last newsletter we revealed that ESA sanctions had increased fourfold in the space of a year, up to December 2013 and are particularly targeted at claimants with mental health conditions . Whilst we had no doubt that the reason for this was to cut the cost of ESA we had no evidence to support this. Now, however, the first shred has appeared with Polly Toynbee claiming in the Guardian that she has had discussions with an anonymous jobcentre manager: “She told me how the sick are treated and what harsh targets she is under to push them off benefits. A high proportion on employment and support allowance have mental illnesses or learning difficulties. The department denies there are targets, but she showed me a printed sheet of what are called “spinning plates”, red for missed, green for hit. They just missed their 50.5% target for “off flows”, getting people off ESA. They have been told to “disrupt and upset” them – in other words, bullying. That’s officially described, in Orwellian fashion, as “offering further support” . . . In this manager’s area 16% are “sanctioned” or cut off benefits”
Members can download a detailed guide on how to prevent and overturn ESA sanctions from the ESA section of the members area – it might be a good idea to have a quick look through it in the near future, particularly if you are in the WRAG.
The manager also claimed that: “Tricks are played: those ending their contributory entitlement to a year on ESA need to fill in a form for income-based ESA. But jobcentres are forbidden to stock those forms. These ill people’s benefits are suddenly stopped without explanation: if they call, they’re told to collect a form from the jobcentre, which doesn’t stock them either.” Although we have found copies of the ESA3 form online, there does not appear to be a downloadable version of the current form, suggesting that the DWP is indeed making it as hard as possible for people to make a claim. These targets and tactics come as no surprise. What Toynbee claimed that was new to us, however, was the manager’s allegation that:
“As all ESA claimants approach the target deadline of 65 weeks on benefits – advisers are told to report them all to the fraud department for maximum pressure.” The idea that all ESA claimants are now being reported to the fraud department when they have claimed for 65 weeks seems preposterous and almost inconceivably discriminatory. Yet the ugly lawlessness that now characterises the DWP’s attempts to cut claimant numbers means that an accusation like this has to be considered seriously.
We are now working to try to establish the truth of this claim – we’ll let you know what we discover. Meanwhile, we’ve begun compiling a collection of ESA sanction examples taken from various online sources to illustrate how easily, and unfairly, ESA claimants can be sanctioned.
Even more troubling than any of the issues above, however, is the report that the DWP are now considering changing the law to oblige ESA claimants in the work-related activity group with mental health conditions to undertake treatment or have their ESA sanctioned. Reports in the Telegraph claim it will be part of the next Conservative manifesto.
The paper quotes a Tory source as saying they hope to reduce the number of claimants with a mental health condition in the WRAG by 90% with this measure. We’ll keep you posted about any developments with this shameful idea, which would no doubt involve bargain basement group CBT sessions provided by some multinational outsourcing company.


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