Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs and Income, Money and Mental Health

General Election 2024: The next government must protect disability benefits for people with mental health problems

2 July 2024

  • Having a mental health problem can make it tougher to earn money and to navigate the welfare system.
  • Ahead of the upcoming general election, we have been calling on parties to protect mental health and boost financial inclusion.
  • When it comes to the welfare system and disability benefits, that means protecting Personal Independence Payments, ensuring no-one is cut off when moving to Universal Credit and making it easier to get help with a claim.

If we were to choose one topic that inspires particularly strong responses from our Research Community – a group of 5,000 people with lived experience of mental health problems – it would be the welfare system.

The welfare system offers a critical safety net for many people with mental health problems, for whom annual median income is £2,376 less than the wider population, and who are more likely to be in low-paid work or out of work altogether.  

But many people’s experiences of the benefits system are incredibly stressful and negative – from the arduous processes and admin you have to undertake to get the support you’re entitled to, to the fear of facing sanctions or falling out of the system if you make a mistake or aren’t well enough to engage. 

Our ideas for improving the welfare system

Recently, we published five steps the next government can take to boost financial inclusion and protect people’s mental health. One of our key asks is that the next government protects the critical financial lifeline that disability benefits offer for people with mental health problems.

In particular, we want the government to:

Protect Personal Independence Payment for people with common mental health problems

For many people with mental health problems, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) helps with the additional costs of disability – like paying for help at home when your symptoms leave you exhausted, or using taxis because public transport is too overwhelming.

This can make the difference between having a clean and habitable home, being able to call on support when you need it, or living in disarray and increasing isolation. It’s vital that the next government protects PIP and meets the additional costs of living with a disability, regardless of whether that’s a mental or physical health problem.

Commit that no one will have their benefits cut off for struggling to navigate the move over to Universal Credit

Under current plans, by the end of this year the remaining 2.6 million households currently receiving ‘legacy’ benefits are expected to have moved onto Universal Credit. More than 850,000 people who are set to go through this ‘managed migration’ are known to have a mental health problem. 

Moving onto Universal Credit requires people to take several steps to set up their new account. But common symptoms of mental health problems – such as reduced concentration, increased impulsivity and difficulty communicating – can present huge barriers to people completing those steps, risking their benefits being cut off entirely. 

We want the next government to ensure that no one is left going hungry or living on high-cost credit because their mental health makes it impossible to navigate an inaccessible and bureaucratic system.

“I’m terrified of having to move over and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the horror stories I’ve heard and the suicides that have happened after being left for weeks without no money, so no heat or food etc. I’m not the world’s quickest person at responding so I’m scared I will run over time limits and I will get sanctioned before I’ve even made a claim.” Research Community member

Make it easier for people with mental health problems to get help with managing their Universal Credit claim

At least 1.6 million people in receipt of Universal Credit have a mental health problem. At least half of those people say they need help to manage their account, but less than 10% have actually managed to give permission for someone else to do so. To nominate someone else to help with a Universal Credit claim involves jumping through so many needless administrative hoops that people with mental health problems are essentially set up to fail. This system risks people having their benefits reduced or stopped altogether as a result.

The next government should fix the system, making it easier for people to get support from friends and family to maintain their benefit claim.