Welfare reform anxiety making people ill
Posted Sunday 3 April 2011
Mind warns that the national rollout of benefits reassessment is causing widespread distress amongst Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants with mental health problems.
In a new survey 87% of people told the charity that the prospect of reassessment had made them feel anxious and over a third said that this has led to them increasing their medication. 1
1.6 million people are due to go for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) by spring 2014 to establish whether they are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or be moved onto Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and expected to find work.
However, Mind is concerned that the current WCA is not fit for purpose, and is calling for a slowdown of the reassessment process until the test is working fairly and effectively.
Mind polled over 300 people currently claiming IB for mental health problems about the upcoming reassessments 1 and found that:
- 75% said concern about the WCA had made their mental health worse
- 51% reported it had made them have suicidal thoughts
- 45% have visited their GP or psychiatrist and 32% have increased their medication as a result of the anxiety caused by the prospect of reassessment
- 78% did not feel well informed about forthcoming changes to IB
- Only 20% stated that they had got information about the changes from the Department for Work and Pensions
- The most common source of information was TV or newspapers - 62%
- 95% do not think that they will be believed at their assessment.
- 89% believe that they will be forced back to work before they are ready or able.
Mind believes that the WCA is too rigid and unsophisticated to recognise people’s mental health needs and is concerned that it is delivered by people with insufficient mental health training.
Since the test was introduced in 2008 for all new ESA claimants, approximately 40% of people declared ‘fit for work’ have appealed and around 40% of these appeals have been successful. Much of the focus of reform has been around ‘weeding out benefits scroungers’, when in fact IB only has a fraud rate of 0.5% (2), the lowest of all the benefits.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
The changes to welfare reform have been designed to root out "the feckless" and "the workshy", but people with mental health problems are neither. In fact, many actively want help in finding work but face many barriers, including stigma and discrimination, and inadequate support into employment.
We believe that the welfare system should support everyone – with dignity – who is unable to work or requires additional support because of a mental health problem. If someone is able to return to work, there should be personalised assistance and support to help them do so. As things stand though we remain extremely concerned about the mass reassessment of people on incapacity benefits, as despite some changes to the process it still lacks the sensitivity to understand conditions such as mental health problems.
The survey’s findings are backed up by data from the charity’s MindinfoLine which has seen calls about benefits treble since 2005 and a spike in calls in October and November last year when the Government undertook WCA pilots in Burnley and Aberdeen.3
The charity is preparing for a sharp rise in enquires as up to 11,000 people a week will be called for reassessment from May 2011.
One of the line’s advisors said:
People are contacting us in a state of panic. Some of them want to work but can’t get a job because no one will employ them with their medical history. Some can’t work. All have seen the news and coverage of welfare reform where claimants are being portrayed as lazy scroungers. They’re terrified that they’re going to be cut off, next week, next month and they’ll be left with no income and no way to cope.
Cecilia has rapid cycling bipolar disorder, and receives IB. She said:
I read about welfare reform everywhere, and I’m terrified about the changes they’re making. I know I’ll have to do the WCA, and I’m so scared I’ll be found fit for work, when I’m just not. I may look fine, but I had to give up volunteering a while ago as I can’t even manage that. If they stopped my benefits, I don’t know what would happen to me - and worrying about it is making me ill. 4
- Survey based on the responses of 316 people with mental health problems receiving IB, conducted between Friday 18 March and Monday 28 March 2011.
- DWP: Fraud and error in the benefit system.
- Mind’s press release on the trials.
- To see other comments from people with mental health problems around welfare reform anxiety please see our blogpost.
Notes to editors
- The Hardest Hit : Many disability charities share Mind’s fears that spending cuts and welfare reform will disproportionately impact on people with disabilities. On Wednesday 11 May, thousands of disabled people, their families and supporters from all over the country will come together to protest with one voice outside the Houses of Parliament and make their feelings known. http://tinyurl.com/6acj4w9
- Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. We work to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress. www.mind.org.uk
- For more information, interviews or case studies please contact the Mind media team on T: 020 8522 1743 M: 07850 788514 E: firstname.lastname@example.org ISDN line available: 020 8221 0817
- Please note that Mind is not an acronym and should be set in title case.