Our benefits system is failing those with mental health needs
For people with mental health difficulties, the benefits system can be a devastating process. The government must no longer ignore their needs, writes Angela Crawley
Without a doubt, the highest number of people that seek my support are those who have been denied government assistance when making a benefits claim, and in most cases incorrectly.
Time and again, constituents have complained that their mental health needs have been ignored during Work Capability Assessments (WCA) for Universal Credit (UC) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
This has led to people in genuine need being assessed as fit to work when they are not, and require to go through a gruelling appeals process.
Other constituents have complained of receiving a grilling from the Healthcare Professional (HCP) in relation to their mental health conditions, with some even bluntly asked to justify why they have not committed suicide if they are severely depressed.
For people with depressive illnesses, this process can be devastating, and can exacerbate their symptoms. For some, the process is so intimidating they simply go without the support they need.
The government has been found to have discriminated against mentally ill people in the 2018 High Court ruling on regulations which meant people who were unable to travel for reasons of psychological distress were debarred from the enhanced rate of mobility for PIP.
This regulation was introduced in March 2017 without any stakeholder consultation, and epitomises the government’s perspective on people with mental health problems.
The PIP system, contrary to government rhetoric, was designed so that fewer people would be eligible for the benefit than under DLA. A quarter of people claiming DLA for mental health conditions did not qualify for PIP when reassessed, and so lose the support they need.
Nearly every case for which I have advocated has been overturned either at Mandatory Reconsideration stage or at appeal. Not only does this represent a waste of resources for the DWP and our courts systems – correct assessments and levels of benefits awarded at the first stage would save time and money for the government – but it depletes the mental resources of people who do not have the energy to spare.
The current system requires people with anxiety disorders, depression, bi-polar disorder and many other debilitating conditions to justify their illness in paperwork, and attend an assessment, which is hard enough. For those unsuccessful they must criticise an incorrect decision and often approach an MP, Citizens Advice or another advice agency, and face the extremely difficult process of a legal appeal in a court of law.
As part of the appeals process, my team will go through assessment reports with a fine-tooth comb. The same mental health indicators appear to be used in the majority of cases: was the person rocking in their chair; were they trembling; were they sweating? HCPs will make wide-reaching assertions on mental health based on whether the person they are assessing makes eye contact, is appropriately dressed, has showered, or is wearing make-up. They are institutionally stereotyping those who suffer from poor mental health.
These stereotypes are wildly out of date with current best practice on mental health and contrary to guidance from mental health organisations.
I will be calling on the government in my Westminster Hall debate to rethink the current approach to the needs of people making benefit claims, to be more cognisant of the effects of mental ill health and for assessments to be more in line with current best practice on mental health.
Angela Crawley is SNP MP for Lanark and Hamilton East. MPs will debate mental health and the benefits assessment process on Tuesday 22nd January
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