Universal Credit ‘causing hardship and emotional distress’, says mental health charity

A new report from the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), released on Tuesday 12 March, warns that the Government’s flagship Universal Credit reform is causing hardship and emotional distress for people with mental health problems.

The mental health charity says that no one should be transferred to Universal Credit until the issues it identifies have been addressed.

SAMH has made a set of recommendations to the UK Government, including rethinking the assessments process, better guidance for Work Coaches, and scrapping Digital by Default.


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

Carolyn Lochhead, Interim Head of Communications and Public Affairs at SAMH, said: “Research shows that good and fair employment can help your mental health, so we support efforts to simplify the social security system.

“However this report clearly shows that this aim has been undermined through the structure and delivery of Universal Credit, and has instead added new barriers for people with mental health problems.

“Universal Credit is likely to affect many of the people we support across Scotland, so we hope the UK Government will implement our recommendations, which aim to positively change policy and practice.”

John (not his real name) manages Universal Credit on behalf of his son, who has brain damage following a stroke, and struggles with depression as a result.

He told the charity: “The Job Centre staff see him as disabled, yes, but the impact it’s having on him and me… no, they don’t.

“There doesn’t seem to be that understanding of mental health problems.

“He needs people to come in and help care for him, but I can’t arrange this because I don’t know how much money he’s going to get. I haven’t a clue. So I have to do it all myself.

“His rent gets paid directly from Universal Credit, but the Council keep sending me letters and phoning me saying that he’s in arrears, but there’s nothing I can do because Universal Credit pays it.

“The system doesn’t work.”

Photo Credit: “15.09.2012 – Inner Conflict”, © 2012 Jlhopgood, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

The report’s findings are based on a review of existing literature on Universal Credit, both in Scotland across the UK, and has been shaped by three Scottish case studies of people engaged with the Universal Credit System, including a young person and a carer.

They are also informed by other charities who took part in a SAMH policy workshop on Universal Credit in December 2018.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) does not provide statistics on the number of people who receive Universal Credit because of a mental health problem.

However, SAMH says mental health difficulties are the most common reason for people to receive income-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): one of the benefits which will be replaced by Universal Credit.

Currently, over 80,000 people receive income-based ESA in Scotland due to a mental health problem.

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