Benefits claimants with mental health issues face ‘unnecessary distress’

Excessive red tape in the benefits system is causing “unnecessary” distress for people living with mental health issues, a report argues.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which was set up by consumer champion Martin Lewis, said overly complicated and bureaucratic processes in the benefits system are causing significant psychological distress for people already dealing with their mental health.

The Institute, whose report is called The Benefits Assault Course, pointed to figures showing nearly half (47%) of working age people receiving out-of-work benefits in England have a common mental health problem such as depression and anxiety.

It said people in this position can struggle to navigate the benefits system because of symptoms such as reduced concentration, increased impulsiveness and memory problems.

Helen Undy, chief executive of Money and Mental Health, said: “Accessing the benefits system can be a difficult task for anyone, but if you’re struggling with your mental health it can feel almost impossible.

“The obstacles that people with mental health problems face at every stage of the system not only cause unnecessary distress, they’re also resulting in people missing out on crucial support they are entitled to, or falling out of the system entirely.

“This urgently needs to change, as it’s ruining lives.”

She continued: “Making the right changes now could make a huge difference to the millions of people across the country with mental health problems trying to navigate the benefits system.”

The charity also carried out a survey of more than 450 people with mental health issues who receive benefits.

It found 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.

Four in five (82%) said they struggled to gather the right information and medical evidence when applying for benefits.

And nine in 10 (93%) said their mental health deteriorated in anticipation of attending a benefits medical assessment.

Just under a fifth (19%) felt their benefits assessor understood the impact of their mental health problems.

And four in five (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 said steps should be taken to make the benefits system more accessible to people with mental health issues – which could include offering a wider range of communication channels through which people can engage with the benefits system.

It said more specific support is needed for those with severe mental health problems.

It said that, for example, people who are receiving out-of-work benefits through Universal Credit are required to look for jobs and attend ongoing assessments – which can be an “impossible task” for someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

It said people in this position should be exempted from the 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.

A DWP spokesman said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, and where challenges remain we will continue to make improvements.

“We are committed to supporting the most vulnerable claimants and our new partnership with Citizens Advice will provide further tailored help.”

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