People with mental health problems made more unwell by benefits system
Mental health charity Mind has today revealed that a high proportion of people with mental health problems are being made more unwell by the benefits system. In particular, the process of being ‘sanctioned’ – having financial support cut or stopped altogether – is worsening people’s mental health.
Nearly 3,000 people responded to the survey, of whom 300 said that they had been sanctioned, and a further 317 had been threatened with a sanction. The data showed that nine in ten of those who had received out-of-work benefits and been sanctioned said that this experience had negatively affected their mental health. Even the threat of having their support reduced or stopped is enough to cause a deterioration in someone’s mental health, with 89 per cent of those threatened with sanctions saying this had worsened their mental health. The data further showed that three in five (60 per cent) people with mental health problems who’d been sanctioned said that this punitive measure had made them less likely to get a job, with a further 23 per cent saying that sanctions had made no difference to how likely they were to get employment. An additional 16 per cent said that they didn’t know or didn’t respond to this question.
Although people receiving the out-of-work disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been through a fit-for-work test and been found unable to work, those placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) are still required to do certain things in order to receive this financial support. If they fail to do these, they can be ‘sanctioned’ - have their benefits cut or stopped entirely for a certain length of time. As part of our six point manifesto, Mind is calling on the next government to overhaul the benefits and back-to-work system so that it focuses on support rather than sanctions.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
“These statistics provide further evidence to show how the benefits system is not just failing people with mental health problems, but actively working against them. We’ve long been calling for a stop to punitive measures such as sanctions, which only serve to push people with mental health problems even further into poverty and further from their hope of finding work. Treating people with suspicion and stopping their financial support when they’re unable to do the things that are asked of them is cruel and ineffective. Instead we want to see more voluntary, tailored support which works with people to identify their unique skills, ambitions and barriers to getting and staying in work.
“In the run up to the general election next month, we’ll continue to help ensure the voices of those we represent are heard. One of our key manifesto asks is that the next government ensures anyone with a mental health problem who requires financial support from the welfare system can access that support to help manage the extra costs of having a mental health problem, in order to stay well and live independently, free from the fear of sanctions and having their benefits removed if they are too unwell to work.”
Kerry Rush, 31, lives in Edinburgh and has depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Kerry relied on support from benefits a few years ago while living in London.
“The problem started when I changed benefits. I’d been receiving ESA in the Support Group for about a year, and thought I was well enough to try to get back into work so should move onto Jobseekers’ Allowance. At the time I didn’t know anything about the work-related activity group which probably would have been more appropriate for me. As it turns out, I wasn’t anywhere near well enough to return to work, suffered a massive relapse, and ended up in hospital.
“I had my benefits stopped because I missed two appointments at the Jobcentre. I had sick notes and tried to explain to my advisor that I was very unwell and should be on ESA. Unfortunately the member of staff was very rude – telling me she couldn’t make special rules just for me and said ‘I can stop your benefits right now’. Little did I know that this had already happened.
“I didn’t realise I’d been sanctioned until I took a phone call from a solicitor asking me if I wanted help with my eviction notice. It turns out my rent was in arrears by £440. I found out the DWP had sanctioned me for three and a half weeks, amounting to £440, because of the missed appointments. The shock and the stress made me even more unwell.”