Richard Machin 18 October 2021

Personal Independence Payment for people with mental health problems: Implications for local government

Personal Independence Payment for people with mental health problems: Implications for local government image

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was introduced in April 2013, replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as the main non-means tested disability benefit intended to assist with the additional costs associated with disability or long-term health conditions.

Changes in benefit policy such as this are challenging for many claimants, but through interviews with service users we found that this major welfare reform caused significant problems for people with mental health problems, and that policy implemented in a climate of austerity is particularly problematic. Our findings also reveal the impact it has on local government services.

All participants in our research reported increased anxiety as a result of the benefit change, problems with the PIP claims process and medical assessment, and difficulty communicating with staff from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). They also expressed difficulty in accurately reporting complex health problems on the PIP claim form.

There was also strong discontentment about the medical assessment which claimants must attend, and which are delivered by private contractors Atos and Capita. Participants felt that the medical assessments were inflexible and impersonal, and failed to acknowledge the true extent of mental health problems experienced.

They often expressed a feeling of being judged: 'It doesn’t seem right that the medical assessment is done by the same people if you have mental problems or not. I’m not sure they really got what I was trying to say to them.'

The communication difficulties centred on the DWP failing to provide clear and understandable information about the new criteria for PIP, and the practicalities of the medical assessment.

More positive experiences were reported. Research participants emphasised that PIP is a vital source of income, not only for disability-related expenditure but also for more general living costs such as food, utility bills, and transport. All respondents stated that they valued the support of professional welfare right advisers to help them to navigate through a complex process. For many, the experience of claiming PIP was associated with forging new links in the community with people experiencing similar challenges, often through online networks.

Our findings present several significant implications for local government. In broad terms, this research demonstrated that people with mental health problems can find periods of reform and transformation overwhelming. Language, messaging, and clarity around timescales were all identified as being important to people with mental health problems.

Local government staff should be mindful of avoiding a ‘test and learn’ approach when introducing new policies or initiatives which affect people with mental health problems. Too often people with mental health problems felt that their views were ignored or overlooked, and timely and meaningful equality impact assessments are crucial.

This research clearly demonstrated that for people with mental health problems the additional income provided by PIP is crucial. Where this source of income is lost or interrupted, claimants will, of course, often turn to local government for support. Whether this is through social services, housing support or discretionary funds such as the new Household Support Fund. Ensuring people with mental health problems are claiming the correct disability benefits is important to local residents and local government services.

Over the last decade we have witnessed significant cuts to both in-house local government advice services and voluntary sector agencies. This research demonstrates that people with mental health problems rely on expert, independent welfare benefits advice. Within the challenging landscape where local government has been hit with austerity measures and new COVID-19 pressures, it remains crucial that people with mental health problems are clearly signposted to local welfare rights services.

Finally, this research demonstrated that significant policy change is often underpinned with outsourced and digitalised services. These can work, but often people with mental health problems feel they are lost in systems which lack personalised support. Providing tailored services for people with mental health problems has always been important for local government, and this remains the case as we continue to see the long-term impact of a decade-long programme of welfare reform.

Richard Machin is Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Health at Nottingham Trent University

This research was carried out in conjunction with Fiona McCormack, Centre for Health and Development, Staffordshire University. Read the full paper here.

Photo: Graeme Lamb / Shutterstock.com

Social care reform: what lies ahead? image

Social care reform: what lies ahead?

Sally Warren lays out four principles that should be at the centre of a ‘radically realistic’ White Paper on social care reform and asks if its vision will be the right one?
A bold local route to better mental health image

A bold local route to better mental health

Local Living Well sites put people with complex mental health needs in control of their support and encourages them to set their own recovery goals. The programme is proud of its success, says Tally Daphu.
SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Independent non-executive members of proposed NHS Integrated Care Boards

NHS
Competitive
Do you have the vision to shape the future of health and care for people in your area? Nationwide
Recuriter: NHS

Lead Community Protection Officer

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£37722 - £40869 per annum + value award of £2,472 per annum
2 x Lead Community Protection OfficersCommunity Protection Team(PO3 plus an incremental value award of £2,472 per annum) Permanent Our Community Prote England, London, Woolwich
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

School Organisation Project Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£41,952- £48,663
We’re giving a platform to people inside and outside our community. Because, we’re not just home to the UK’s fast-growing economy. Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Service Manager (Referral and Assessment)

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£60,426 to £74,202 per annum
Can you inspire, encourage, and develop excellent social work practice to make a real difference in the lives of children and young people? Wandsworth, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Asset Management Team Administrator

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
£26,544 - £30,618 per annum
The role is what you make it, and the more you put in, the bigger the difference you can make to... Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Public Property

Latest issue - Public Property News

This issue of Public Property examines how how flexible workspaces can lead the way in regeneration for local authorities, Why local authority intervention is key to successful urban regeneration schemes and if the Government’s challenge of embracing beauty is an opportunity for communities.

The March issue also takes a closer look at Blackburn with Darwen Council's first digital health hub to help people gain control over health and care services.

Register for your free digital issue