More than 100 people per day with mental health conditions are having their benefits sanctioned – more than any other group of people on sickness benefit.

The information was obtained by policy advisers for the Methodist Church using freedom of information requests to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and featured tonight on BBC documentary File on Four. It looks at sanctions for people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit for people with health conditions that cannot work, and covers the period between January 2009-March 2014.

In the first quarter of 2014, 15,955 people were sanctioned, 9,851 of whom had a mental illness - working out to more than 100 per day over three months.

The impact of benefit sanctions vary: in the most extreme cases a person can lose their benefits for three years. Reasons for withdrawing benefits can range to being late for a meeting, failing to turn up on time, or leaving several jobs voluntarily.

The DWP says the primary reason for sanctioning someone is lateness. But Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church, pointed out this was punishing someone for their illness.

Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping. The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed.

  • Paul Morrison

Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said: "It’s unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being sanctioned disproportionately compared to those who have another health problem."

The data only looks at people on ESA. Many more people on Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) have their benefits docked, with data showing there were 25,011 sanctions for ESA between Jan-Jun 2014 compared to 380,028 sanctions for people on JSA in the same period. However the DWP does not collect information on whether they are mentally ill.

A DWP spokesman told "Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work, and where claimants don’t do the right thing they risk having their benefits suspended.

"These decisions aren’t taken lightly, and less than one per cent of ESA claimants have their benefits suspended each month for not taking up the jobs support that is offered to them."

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