Benefit cuts fuel 50% surge in mental illness among unemployed

Welfare cuts 'putting claimants under terrible mental and financial strain', say psychologists.

Jobcentre Plus sign.

Tory welfare cuts have been blamed for soaring numbers of vulnerable benefit claimants who are struggling to cope with severe mental health problems, including debilitating anxiety and depression.

Independent research has found that the number of unemployed people reporting mental health issues has rocketed by around 50% in the last four years, as The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) warns that cruel austerity measures “are having a toxic impact on mental health”.

UKCP analysis of NHS data shows that the number of benefit claimants suffering with mental health problems increased from 10.1% in June 2013 to 15.2% in March 2017.

Meanwhile, the rate of mental illness reported among the general public has also increased, but far more slowly – from 3.4% to 4.1%.

Janet Weisz, UKCP’s chief executive, told The Independent: The devastating impact of the benefits cap for families with children, the freezing of benefits at a time of inflation, and the cutting of benefits for the disabled are putting claimants under terrible mental and financial strain”.

She added: “The constant threat of benefit sanctions only adds to the pressure.”

Financial support for benefit claimants has been drastically reduced over the last seven years, with the benefits freeze alone costing many of the poorest and most vulnerable UK citizens £13bn by 2020 – well above the Government’s £9bn forecast.

The controversial benefit sanctions regime has also harmed vulnerable people – pouring yet more pain and misery onto the fire – including those with disabilities and long-term medical conditions.

Figures published by the National Audit Office in 2016 found that one in four people on Jobseeker’s Allowance had their benefits cut or stopped completely due to sanctions between 2010 and 2015.

Some of those affected by sanctions are left in abject poverty and dependent on the generosity of loved-ones and foodbanks.

The Trussell Trust foodbank network says the two most common reasons for people having to rely on emergency food parcels is low-income and benefit delays, followed by welfare changes.

The charity handed out 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies in 2016-17.

Source: Trussell Trust

Strict and “unbending” conditionality under the Government’s flagship welfare reform, Universal Credit (UC), which also targets low-income working households, is also said to be causing distress to claimants.

Laura-Jane Rawlings, from the charity Youth Unemployment UK, said unreasonable demands placed on UC claimants to spend 35 hours a week looking for work, plus volunteering and other work-related activities, will only make existing mental health problems worse.

Turn2Us, a national advice charity, told the Independent that “those seeking our help regularly tells us that being unemployed impacts on their mental health”.

A spokesperson added: “They also tell us that changes to the welfare benefits system, particularly reductions in benefits and sanctions, have not only made it harder to cope financially but psychologically as well.

“It can be very difficult for someone who has been unemployed for a while to find a new job, and struggling with their mental health makes it all the harder for them.”

Ms Weiz concluded: “We as therapists are doing our best to help those affected – but the NHS is currently only resourced to provide therapy to 16.8 per cent of people with anxiety or depression.

“While investing in treatment is essential, we must also tackle the societal causes.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our welfare reforms are restoring fairness to the system and incentivising work, and there are now record numbers of people in employment.

“We continue to spend around £90bn a year on a vital welfare safety net, and the number of JSA sanctions have fallen substantially – halving over the last year alone.

“Sanctions are only ever used as a last resort after people don’t do what is asked of them in return for benefits.”