logo_colour_400x244The Work and Pensions Select Committee published a report this week, Tuesday 23 March, calling for a full independent review of benefit sanctions.

In the report Dame Anne Begg MP highlights many failings and that the system must “be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with… learning disabilities” 

James Bolton, policy officer for Mencap and co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said:

“Findings from today’s Work and Pensions Committee report reinforce what we already know – the current sanctions regime is grossly unfair and traps many people in an endless cycle of poverty. Simply put, the current sanctions system is failing people with a learning disability every single day.”

 “We strongly support the Select Committee’s comments regarding hardship payments: They should be available from the first day of a sanction, not the 15th as it is now. However this change alone will not help those people with a learning disability who do not know that they have been sanctioned until their payments just stop; causing  completely avoidable panic, confusion and yet more financial hardship. This often happens because nobody explains their sanction to them in a way they can understand, or because no-one gives them information they can read themselves

 “We know people with a learning disability have been sanctioned again and again for not completing required tasks which they were simply unable to do, due to their learning disability. In all our cases, unfair sanctions were only overturned and reasonable adjustments were only made once Mencap got involved. This is not right. What is asked of people with a learning disability must be fair, appropriate and achievable, with proper support provided. Until this happens, they will continue to be failed by an unfair system.”

Denise, who has a learning disability and had her benefits sanctioned said:

“I have a learning disability and mental health problems. I also have a little one – he is six-years-old. I can work and I want to work, but nobody will give me a chance anymore. I am on Jobseekers’ allowance.

“A few months ago I signed something I shouldn’t have and lost half my benefits. I didn’t understand what I was doing – nobody explained it to me properly.

“Even though I always tell people about my learning disability, I don’t think they get me right. It’s just like talking to a brick wall.”