Benefits assessments making people with mental health problems more unwell, Mind research reveals
The UK government’s system of benefit assessments is causing the majority of those with mental health problems who have experienced it to become more unwell, Mind, the UK’s mental health charity, has found.
In a survey carried out last month by Mind and Censuswide of over 1000 people with experience of mental health problems and benefits assessment, almost 7 in 10 (66%) told the UK’s leading mental health charity that going through their benefits assessment made their mental health worse.[i] The results of this survey, alongside workshops with people with experience of benefits assessments and mental health problems, form the basis of a new report released today.
The report, Reassessing assessments: How people with mental health problems can help fix the broken benefits system, is the latest intervention in this area after years of concerns from disability rights groups that the system of assessment for benefits used by the Department for Work and Pensions is fundamentally broken. The current system frequently leaves people feeling confused, anxious and angry, and assessors reach incorrect decisions far too frequently. For benefits assessment processes that have public appeals data, a majority of decisions that are appealed and reach tribunal end up being overturned.
The report also highlights the urgent need for the UK government to better invest in training for assessors on understanding mental health issues, with 46% of those assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and 36% of people assessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit (UC), feeling their benefits assessor did not understand mental health problems.[ii] This must be addressed as approximately 1 in 3 people applying for and receiving PIP [iii] and 1 in 2 people receiving ESA [iv] have a mental health problem, cognitive impairment or learning disability as their main disability.
In recent months, there has been a shift in focus from the UK government towards getting people who are off work long-term back into the workforce. This approach is likely to fail when the DWP’s own processes are making people struggle more with their mental health.
In light of these findings, Mind is calling for the UK government to create a new commission, led by disabled people, tasked with proposing reforms to the structure and criteria of benefits assessments. The UK government also needs to establish an independent regulator for the benefits system to help hold the UK government to account, protect the rights of disabled people, and enforce improved assessments. People with experience of the benefits system must be at the heart of how to improve it.
Other key findings from the polling include:
46% of respondents assessed for PIP, and 36% of people assessed for ESA or UC, felt their benefits assessor did not understand mental health problems.[ii]
60% of people assessed for PIP and 52% of people assessed for ESA or UC agreed that the questions during their assessment did not reflect the reality of their mental health problems.[v]
Female respondents and older respondents were most likely to have negative experiences of assessments:
9 in 10 (88%) of female respondents aged 45+ told us that their PIP assessment made their mental health worse.
81% of people aged 45+ felt their PIP assessment made their mental health worse, compared to 59% of 16-24 year olds.
73% of people aged 45+ felt their assessment for either Universal Credit or ECA made their mental health worse, in comparison to 43% of people aged 16-24.
Women (65%) were more likely than men (56%) to report that their ECA or UC assessment made their mental health worse.[vi]
Commenting on the report, Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive at Mind, said:
“A benefits assessment system which frequently makes the people assessed more unwell, and all too often delivers incorrect results, is a waste of time and energy for everyone involved. Our report shows that people with mental health problems are not being treated with dignity and respect during this process. This needs to change.
“In recent months, the UK government has said the DWP will have a "prime focus" on getting people who are long-term sick back to work. But if benefits assessments are making people more unwell, and our mental health services continue to struggle to help people due to a lack of resource, the UK government’s efforts will be self-defeating.
“Instead, the UK government should be focused on establishing and then working with a commission of disabled people with experience of the benefits system to reform benefits assessments. A reformed system would give people the opportunity to focus on their recovery, and enable people to return to good-quality work at the right time for them. If our current system of assessments continues, many people with mental health problems will continue to struggle.
“The past three years have seriously tested the country’s mental wellbeing – it’s not an overstatement to say that our national mental health might be at the worst it’s ever been. The systems we use to support people with mental health problems, such as our NHS and benefits systems, need to reflect the scale of that challenge. Whether that’s investing in services to reduce waiting times for support, or making sure those who assess benefits claimants with mental health problems actually understand the reality of living with poor mental health, the UK needs to be better equipped to get the country on the road to recovery.
“We’d like to thank every single person with lived experience of the assessment system who took their time to contribute to our report and put forward solutions, whether that was through polling or workshops. We could not have delivered these findings without you. Mind will not give up fighting for reform to benefits assessments until we have a system that works for everyone.”
[i] ‘Somewhat agree’ and ‘Strongly agree’ answers combined.
[ii] ‘Somewhat disagree’ and ‘Strongly disagree’ answers to the statement ‘I felt that my benefits assessor understood mental health problems’ combined.
[iii] Department for Work and Pensions (2023). Stat-Xplore: PIP Cases with Entitlement. Available at: https://stat-xplore.dwp.gov.uk/. 36.85% of people receiving PIP in October 2022 had ‘psychiatric disorders’.
[iv] Department for Work and Pensions (2023). Stat-Xplore: ESA Medical condition by Quarter and Employment and Support Allowance Caseload. Available at: https://stat-xplore.dwp.gov.uk/. 50.74% of people receiving ESA in August 2022 had ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ based on the International Classification of Diseases.
[v] ‘Somewhat agree’ and ‘Strongly agree’ answers to the statement ‘The questions during my assessment did not reflect the reality of my mental health problems’ combined.
[vi] ‘Somewhat agree’ and ‘Strongly agree’ answers to the statement ‘Going through the benefits assessment made my mental health worse’ combined.Benefits