A report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), The Benefits Assault Course, has found that the benefits system exacerbates claimants’ mental health issues.
MMHPI was set up by Martin Lewis, of Money Saving expert website fame.
The Institute interviewed over 450 people with mental health conditions who claim benefits. They found that ‘overly complicated and bureaucratic processes in the benefits system’ 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, 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 Institute found problems 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 changes 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.