The Work and Pensions Select Committee has today (Tuesday 24 March) published a report 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.”  

Case study

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.” 

-ENDS-

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or media@mencap.org.uk.

Notes to editors

About Mencap

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.

Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email help@mencap.org.uk.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.

Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.