New Mind research blows away myth of "stress benefits scroungers"
Posted Wednesday 10 March 2004
Study of mental health benefits claimants reveals two thirds get £52 less than their entitlement.
New research released today (10 March 2004) by leading mental health charity Mind reveals that, far from using mental health problems as an easy means to get state benefits, two thirds of people with mental health problems are not getting the benefits they are entitled to.
In a study of 153 people with mental health problems, carried out over three years by Mind in Croydon, and published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, only one in three were getting all the benefits they were entitled to. The remaining 66 per cent were missing out on an average of £52 per week.
As a result, Mind in Croydon took on the cases of 87 people who were under-claiming, and managed to win additional benefits for every one. However, it took, on average, two claims forms, nine letters, five interviews and 10 telephone calls on behalf of each person to rectify the problem.
Mind has been campaigning for a fairer benefits system for people with mental health problems for the past nine months. The charity argues that the disability benefits system is weighted towards people with physical health problems and disabilities, and is extremely difficult to navigate for people experiencing mental ill health. Last July, the charity wrote an open letter to the Department of Work and Pensions offering to re-write its benefits claims forms. So far, discussions have not led to any major changes.
Richard Pacitti, Chief Executive of Mind in Croydon and one of the authors of the Croydon study, said:
"We found a large proportion of people with mental health problems living in poverty because they simply didn't know how to navigate the system. Some people were afraid that if they started to make inquiries, they'd lose what benefits they had. Others were afraid of having to go through gruelling interviews, and some people - particularly older people - were reluctant to seek help because they didn't like the idea of asking for hand-outs. This shows a completely different picture from the popular myth of people claiming to be stressed in order to live an easy life on benefits."
Richard Brook, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
"This study shows very clearly that benefits are far from an easy option for people with mental health problems. We would like the Government to address this issue head-on, but we would also like to see a climate of more understanding towards people with mental health problems in the general population."
Key findings of the study include:
- of 153 clients included in the study, 66% were not getting the benefits they were entitled to
- only one in three were receiving all the benefits they were entitled to. None were over-claiming
- all 87 of the under-claiming clients who accepted all the help offered were eventually awarded the extra benefits. Of those, 11 were initially refused (wholly or in part) but these decisions were reversed on appeal
- on average, those who were not receiving all the benefits they were entitled to were missing out on £52 per week
- it made no difference how long people had been on benefits or how much help they had received in the past - they remained equally unlikely to be receiving the correct benefits at the time of the study
- people under 65 were less likely to be getting the correct level of benefits - people of state pension age were more likely to be getting correct benefits, though many were not.
Reasons why people were not getting the correct level of benefits included:
- not knowing how to navigate the system
- fear of losing existing benefits if they requested a review
- fear of existing payments being delayed if they requested a review
- dislike of "charity" - particularly among older clients
- language barrier
- fear of having to attend review tribunals.
Mind will be giving awards for good practice to exceptional Department of Work and Pensions staff nominated by service users across England and Wales at its annual conference in Harrogate later this month.
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The three-year study A welfare benefits outreach project to users of community mental health services by Mary Frost-Gaskin, Rory O'Kelly, Claire Henderson and Richard Pacitti is published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Vol. 49(4) December 2003.