Urgent reforms needed to give people with mental health problems fair access to Universal Credit
4 March 2019
- People with mental health problems are enduring serious psychological distress as a result of unnecessary obstacles they face in accessing benefits.
- The government should fix these problems ahead of the continued rollout of Universal Credit, especially for people with severe mental health problems.
This is according to a report published today (4 March 2019) by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which examines the difficulties that people with mental health problems face when applying for and accessing benefits.
The report, The benefits assault course, shows that nearly half (47%) of working age people receiving out-of-work benefits in England have a common mental health problem such as depression and anxiety (1). It warns that people in this position can struggle to navigate the benefits system because of symptoms such as reduced concentration, increased impulsivity and memory problems — challenges which are even more acute for people affected by severe mental health problems.
Worryingly, the report also reveals that these difficulties are being compounded by overly complicated and bureaucratic processes in the benefits system, which are causing significant psychological distress for people already struggling with their mental health.
In a survey by the charity of over 450 people with mental health problems who receive benefits (2), over 94% reported symptoms of anxiety as result of engaging with the benefits system, and nearly half (45%) displayed signs of severe or extreme anxiety.
The problems are evident at every stage of the benefits system:
- Complex application processes: Four in five (82%) survey participants said they struggled to gather the right information and medical evidence when applying for benefits.
- Stressful assessments: Nine in ten participants (93%) said their mental health deteriorated in anticipation of attending a benefits medical assessment.
- Lack of mental health awareness in the system: Less than one in five participants (19%) felt their benefits assessor understood the impact of their mental health problems.
- Difficulties challenging benefits decisions: Four in five people (81%) said they were unhappy with the final decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about their benefits entitlement, but many did not feel able to challenge the system because of their mental health.
The report recommends a number of practical steps the government can take to make the benefits system more accessible for people with mental health problems:
- Introduce a range of reasonable adjustments to ensure anyone experiencing mental health problems can navigate the benefits system. These could include offering a wider range of communication channels through which people can engage with the benefits system, or giving people with mental health problems advance sight of the questions they will encounter in benefits interviews.
- Put in place specific support for people with severe mental health problems who are accessing benefits. For example, people who are receiving out-of-work benefits through Universal Credit are required to look for jobs and attend ongoing assessments. But this can be an impossible task for someone experiencing a mental health crisis. The government should exempt people in this position from these rules, to protect them from benefits sanctions – just as similar protections exist for victims of domestic abuse, and people receiving treatment for drug or alcohol dependency.
Commenting on the findings, Helen Undy, Chief Executive of Money and Mental Health, said:
“Accessing the benefits system can be a difficult task for anyone, but if you’re struggling with your mental health it can feel almost impossible. The obstacles that people with mental health problems face at every stage of the system not only cause unnecessary distress, they’re also resulting in people missing out on crucial support they are entitled to, or falling out of the system entirely.
“This urgently needs to change, as it’s ruining lives. The government’s decision to pilot Universal Credit migration before continuing its rollout offers an ideal opportunity to fix these problems. Making the right changes now could make a huge difference to the millions of people across the country with mental health problems trying to navigate the benefits system”.
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Notes to Editors
- Source – Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2014), NHS Digital 2016.
- Between 26 October and 16 November 2018, Money and Mental Health conducted a detailed survey of 455 people who have claimed Personal Independence Payment, Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Council Tax Reduction in the last two years. Subsequent stats quoted here are based on responses to this survey. The total number of survey responses varied from question to question. Where questions related to experiences claiming a specific benefit, or part of the claiming process, only the responses of those who report claiming that benefit or having experienced that part of the process are included in the base. To understand the impact on our mental health of interactions with the benefits system, we adapted questionnaires developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), to assess the severity of anxiety that people experience when dealing with the benefits system.
About the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
- The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute was set up by Martin Lewis in spring 2016, registered charity number 1166493.
- It conducts research and develops policies for essential services firms, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.
- Helen Undy is a passionate mental health campaigner and became the Institute’s Chief Executive in 2018, having previously led the Institute’s impact and communications work.
- Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award winning campaigning broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author. He founded MoneySavingExpert.com in 2003 for £100 and remains its full time Editor in Chief. It is now the UK’s biggest money site, with more than 14 million monthly users. Martin has his own prime time ITV programme – The Martin Lewis Money Show – and is resident expert on This Morning, Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Consumer Panel, among others.