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Difficuties in accessing the benefits system are causing “significant distress” to people suffering with mental health issues and could potentially push them “out of the system entirely”, according to a damning new report published today.

The report, ‘The benefits assault course’, from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, examines the difficulties that people with mental health problems face when applying for and accessing state benefits, such as disability benefits and Universal Credit.

Nearly half (47%) of working-age adults in England who are currently in receipt of some form of out-of-work benefit are living with mental health problems.

Photo: MIND.

But the report warns that the “overly complicated and bureaucratic processes” involved in applying for state support can often cause “significant psychological distress for people already struggling with their mental health”.

A survey of 450 people with mental health problems who receive benefits discovered that 94% have experienced anxiety when trying to engage with the benefits system, whilst almost half (47%) displayed signs of “severe or extreme anxiety”.

The report also found that 82% struggled to gather the right information and medical evidence when applying for benefits, and 93% said their mental health deteriorated whilst awaiting a face-to-face benefits medical assessment – otherwise known as the Work Capability Assessment.

Only 19% of participants felt their benefits assessor understood the impact of their mental health problems on their ability to work, and four in five (81%) were unhappy with the final decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about their benefits entitlement.

Jobcentre Plus sign.

However, despite this, many of those surveyed felt unaable to challenge the system because of the the potential negative impact of the stressful and complicated appeals process on their mental health and well-being.

The report calls on the Government to introduce “a range of reasonable adjustments to ensure anyone experiencing mental health problems can navigate the benefits system.”

This could include “giving people with mental health problems advance sight of the questions they will encounter in benefits interviews.”

It also calls for “specific support for people with severe mental health problems who are accessing benefits”.

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

“The government should exempt people in this position from these 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.”

DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

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. 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”.