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Psychological bodies call for suspension of sanctions system

The front of a job centre plus building with a person approaching the door

Publication date: February 20, 2017

Leading psychological therapy bodies have today called on the Government to suspend its benefit sanctions system, saying it fails to get people back to work and is damaging people’s mental health.

The call came in a joint response to the Government’s consultation, ‘Improving Lives’, from the British Psychological Society, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, the British Psychoanalytic Council, the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

The five bodies highlight evidence that sanctions, or the threat of sanctions (benefit cuts following a claimant’s failure to comply with jobcentre conditions, such as missing an appointment with their work coach) can result in destitution, hardship, widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment.

Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show that there is limited evidence the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective. The bodies argue that the Government needs to change focus from trying to make unemployment less attractive, to trying to make employment more attractive.

BPS President Professor Peter Kinderman said: “We call for the benefits sanctions regime to be suspended until the completion of an independent review of their impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing”

“While there is evidence that the sanctions process is undermining mental health and wellbeing, there is no clear evidence that it leads to increased employment.  Vulnerable people with specific multiple and complex needs are being disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.”

In order to improve mental health, the bodies have also called for:

  • Jobcentres to care about the quality of work they provide – citing evidence that bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment.
  • The development of statutory support for creating psychologically healthy workplaces.
  • Increased mental health awareness training for jobcentre staff.
  • Review and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.