Rethink Mental Illness calls for immediate end to benefits sanctions for disabled people as 'cruel' penalties soar

16 August 2022

Charity raises alarm over damaging mental health impact of benefits sanctions, with DWP penalties soaring as cost of living crisis bites

Rethink Mental Illness is calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to put an immediate end to benefits sanctions for those living with mental illness and other disabled people as ‘cruel’ penalties that damage people’s mental health soar amid the cost of living crisis.

New data released today by the DWP and analysed by the charity shows that sanctions have skyrocketed to reach record highs in 2022. Between January and April of this year, 186,594 sanctions were handed out by the DWP, more than double the 74,354 penalties issued during the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

Benefit sanctions – where someone’s payments are reduced or stopped if they are deemed by the DWP not to be meeting certain conditions – can cause extreme stress and prove hugely damaging to people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

The charity is warning that soaring sanctions at a time of increasing hardship represents staggering negligence and a catastrophic failure to safeguard the wellbeing of vulnerable people. Given the government previously halted sanctions during the first national lockdown in 2020, this represents a ‘deliberate political choice’. Since sanctions were reintroduced, they have sky-rocketed above pre-pandemic levels. But, as the action taken during the pandemic shows, government does once again have a choice now to safeguard people from this catastrophic harm.

The charity is alarmed by this dramatic increase, calling on the DWP to acknowledge the harm this policy can cause, and to stop issuing sanctions to people living with mental illness and other disabled people, many of whom report the devastating impact of sanctions on their health and wellbeing.

Recent statistics from the ONS showed that disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to be cutting back on food and essentials as costs rise, while in tandem money worries keep many people living with mental illness stuck in a worrying cycle, potentially triggering further deterioration in their mental health.

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“Huge increases in the number of sanctions, at a time when so many people are experiencing financial hardship, is a cruel political choice. It undermines the government’s attempts to soften the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, with more people subject to punitive measures at the worst possible time.

“Benefit sanctions are incredibly damaging to people’s mental health, whether they’re living with the fear of being hit by penalties, or dealing with the massive financial and psychological impact of losing money that they rely on more than ever as the cost-of-living crisis bites.

“We’re calling on the government to stop subjecting disabled people and those living with mental illness to these devastating sanctions, and to be more transparent about how they are working to create a benefits system which supports people’s mental health.”

Experts are also calling for the DWP to be more transparent in the data it shares, to help assess the true extent of the harm that benefits sanctions can cause to disabled people.

Sanctions expert Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, said:

'It is very concerning that benefit sanctions have risen so much. A Universal Credit claimant is now more likely to be under a sanction than to have Covid - and this at a time of the worst cost of living crisis in living memory, when many people are already destitute. And we have far too little information on how these sanctions are affecting people. Six years after the rollout of the full Universal Credit service, DWP is still publishing far less information about Universal Credit sanctions than about those on JSA, ESA and Income Support, even though few people are now left on these legacy benefits.'



Notes to editors 

The data published by the DWP is available here:

Media enquiries: For further information or more detail from case studies, please contact Jamie Morrell, Senior Media Officer, via or call 0207 840 3138. 

About Rethink Mental Illness 

No matter how bad things are, we can help people severely affected by mental illness to improve their lives. We’re Rethink Mental Illness, a leading charity provider of mental health services in England.  

  • We support tens of thousands of people through our groups, services and advice and information.  
  • We train employees, employers and members of the public on how best to support someone affected by mental illness.  
  • We campaign for the rights of people living with mental illness and their carers.  

Working alongside the people we support, we are saving lives.  

Help us raise funds to support us to reach those most in need: 

Find out more at