Charities call for urgent action to protect access to benefits for people with mental health problems during coronavirus outbreak
26 March 2020
A coalition of leading mental health charities and campaigners has called on the government to take urgent action to ensure that people with mental health problems do not miss out on vital benefits support during the coronavirus outbreak.
In recent weeks, the government has put in place a number of measures to help vulnerable people access benefits without being exposed to the risk of contracting the virus. These include a three month suspension of face-to-face assessments for people claiming sickness and disability benefits, and the introduction of telephone and paper-based assessments.
In a joint open letter to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Secretary Thérèse Coffey MP, the coalition of charities (1) — which includes Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute and the Royal College of Psychiatrists — welcomed these steps.
However, it also highlights serious concerns that despite these measures, people with mental health problems still face “significant barriers” to accessing the critical vital support offered by the benefits system during the pandemic.
For example, research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that many people with mental health problems struggle to undertake telephone interviews or complete paper-based forms — as required by the DWP to access benefits during the coronavirus lockdown — due to common symptoms such as reduced memory or concentration.
Moreover, many people with mental health problems rely on family, friends and professionals to help them manage benefits – but are currently cut off from this support due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
As a result, the charities warn that people with mental health problems are at risk of missing out on the benefits payments they are entitled to during the coronavirus outbreak, or falling out of the system entirely.
The charities are calling on the government to make small changes to the benefits system which could make a big difference in ensuring that people with mental health problems can access benefits support in the coming weeks and months. These include:
- Relaxing the rules around Universal Credit and other benefits for a three month period — so that people will not face sanctions if they cannot meet current requirements to look for jobs or keep appointments with the DWP.
- Ensuring that people identified as vulnerable receive interim payments while they are making benefits claims, or appealing against DWP decisions about their claims.
- Improving support for people making Universal Credit claims, by boosting the number of telephone advisors available and introducing new communication channels such as webchat for people to contact the DWP.
Katie Alpin, Interim Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:
“Now more than ever, it’s absolutely vital that vulnerable people can get the support they need from the benefits system. But people with mental health problems tell us that they are terrified they could miss out during the coronavirus lockdown, and that they could face severe financial hardship as a result. We know the government is under huge pressure, but taking small steps now to fix these issues would make a huge difference in ensuring that people with mental health problems don’t miss out on the benefits they need.”
Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, said:
“During this uncertain time, it’s crucial that people can access benefits easily if they need them. People with mental health problems are telling us that the process of navigating the benefits system has been made even harder because of the impact of coronavirus.
“We need the Government to guarantee anyone at risk will receive emergency payments to make sure that no-one faces the possibility of having their benefits cut off because they are too unwell to engage with the process. Otherwise, there’s a real danger that far too many people will fall through the net when they need it most.”
Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive Officer of Rethink Mental Illness, said:
“At a time when we are all coming together in a time of crisis, it is crucial that people living with mental illness are not left at a disadvantage or at risk of being cut off when they need support more than ever. People living with mental illness were already struggling to navigate the welfare system before the pandemic placed unprecedented demand on the system. We believe that the DWP can and should adapt their policies and processes to better support vulnerable people and ensure they do not endure avoidable hardship.”
Lee Healey, Founder and Managing Director of IncomeMax (a social enterprise that offers independent personal money advice), said:
“In these extremely challenging times it’s really important vulnerable people – especially those with mental health issues – are supported through the process of making a new claim to benefits. We’re confident DWP are doing everything they can to support vulnerable people at this time, but we believe it would be helpful to adopt the additional measures we are putting forward to ensure accessibility and to make sure vulnerable people experiencing mental health illness do not miss out on the benefits they need to survive the Coronavirus crisis.”
For more details, and for any other media enquiries, please contact Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at Money and Mental health, on 07935 216 804 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
The guide, written by Money and Mental Health and the Money Advice Trust, is aimed primarily at staff working in debt collection teams in essential services firms (3). It features detailed information about how specific mental health conditions may affect a customer’s ability to manage and earn money.
- The full list of signatories to the letter is as follows: Katie Alpin, Interim Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute; Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind; Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive Officer of Rethink Mental Illness; Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health; Jeff Smith MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health; Lisa Cameron MP, Shadow Scottish National Party spokesperson for Mental Health; Lee Healey, Founder and Managing Director of IncomeMax.
About the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is an independent charity set up by Martin Lewis, and committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems. We conduct research, develop practical policy solutions and work in partnership with both those providing services and those using them to find what really works. www.moneyandmentalhealth.org