Haylie Page, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

Three changes the government should make to the benefits system to support people through the pandemic

15 February 2021

The benefits system has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, which has exposed the fragility of our mental and financial health. Though the welfare system has received unprecedented additional funding from the government, in many ways, it is still falling short —  and it’s the most vulnerable in society who are feeling the impact. Our latest report, ‘Closing the gap’, outlines the urgent changes the welfare system needs to better support the income of people experiencing mental health problems, and to help to close the mental health income gap. 

Increase Statutory Sick Pay — and extend it to more people

If you can’t work due to illness and earn above £120 per week on average, the government provides Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is currently £95.85 per week – but there is a waiting period, which means this is only usually payable after three continuous days off work. Many experiencing mental health problems rely on this payment to financially support themselves through periods of poor mental health when they cannot work. 

During the pandemic, many people who have previously never experienced mental health problems, have found themselves newly unwell, while others with pre-existing conditions have experienced worsening symptoms. The pandemic has taken a massive toll on our ability to work. More people have had to take time off from work to help manage their mental health and, where they cannot rely on more generous contractual sick pay, have had to rely on SSP.   

However, rates of SSP were insufficient for people with mental health problems to afford essential outgoings pre-pandemic and the three day waiting period puts people at risk of financial hardship. Many people are therefore unable to afford taking the time off from work that they need, which can worsen symptoms, cause burnout and put their emotional wellbeing at risk. 

“Receiving SSP was a lot lower than I was expecting, so with that in mind you have to return to work long before you are ready.” – Expert by Experience

Maintain benefits uplifts

Suspend benefits sanctions and conditionality during the pandemic