End benefits sanctions: Katie's Story
Katie lives with several mental health conditions including an eating disorder and anxiety. She’s relied on benefits most of her life but - instead of supporting her through her illness - the welfare system has exacerbated her condition and made her afraid to seek support to go back to work. Read on to find out how sanctions have impacted her and why we need you to sign our petition.
The first time I was sanctioned it forced me to stop eating. I was claiming Jobseekers Allowance at the time and had decided to move from Kent to Yorkshire so I could be closer to my family. I knew the move would be much better for my mental health and that there were more jobs in Yorkshire at the time – but the DWP said I broke my claimant commitment, so they sanctioned me for six months.
This plunged me into huge financial difficulty forcing me to choose between spending the little money I had on rent or food. I chose to spend it on my rent because I didn’t want to become homeless, but as a result, my eating disorder got much worse.
On another occasion, when I had decided to volunteer for a week with the girl guides – something I knew would help my mental health - the jobcentre swiftly told me they were going to have to sanction me because volunteering would make me ‘unavailable’ for work. But the irony is that I went for an interview while I was volunteering that week, and I ended up getting the job. They still sanctioned me.
Each time I was sanctioned, it dramatically affected my mental health. Thankfully now, I am on a different benefit called Employment Support Allowance, where I am not required to look for work anymore because my disability was finally recognised by the jobcentre. However, the fear of sanctions doesn’t just go away.
“Every time I spend money it’s like they are still breathing down my neck and it makes me feel guilty because I think they might be checking what I’m buying and then take my money away” - Katie.
Sometime in the future, I’d like the job centre’s support to help me return to work – but the fear of sanctions really puts me off from telling them. Because if I do, I know they will change my benefit back to being subject to meeting job-seeking requirements again, that if I don’t fulfill, will leave me vulnerable to sanctions again. I don’t want to have to choose between rent and food again.
I am now in recovery from my eating disorder, but any kind of stress can trigger it.
Please take a moment to sign our petition calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to end benefit sanctions. Now is the time to support people’s mental health by taking the pressure off people like Katie who need benefits.
To protect Katie's identity, we have used a stock image to illustrate this story.