William Eichler 04 March 2019

Benefits system causing ‘serious psychological distress’

The benefits system is causing people with mental health problems ‘serious psychological distress’, a charity has revealed.

A new report from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has found that 47% of working age people receiving out-of-work benefits in England have a common mental health problem such as depression and anxiety.

The report, entitled The benefits assault course, warns that people in this position can struggle to navigate the benefits system because of symptoms such as reduced concentration, increased impulsivity and memory problems.

These symptoms are made worse, the report adds, by the ‘overly complicated and bureaucratic processes’ in the benefits system.

The charity surveyed 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.

Four in five (82%) survey participants 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.

According to the charity’s findings, less than one in five participants (19%) felt their benefits assessor understood the impact of their mental health problems.

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.

‘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,’ said Helen Undy, chief executive of Money and Mental Health.

‘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. The government’s decision to pilot Universal Credit migration before continuing its rollout offers an ideal opportunity to fix these problems.

‘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.’

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