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Benefits claimants face physical and verbal abuse and widespread discrimination

Tuesday, 09 September 2014 Mind

Hundreds of thousands of people claiming benefits have been physically and verbally abused, new research commissioned by Who Benefits? reveals today.

A YouGov poll carried out on behalf of the Who Benefits? coalition campaign (of which Mind is a founding member) also found that many people who need support from benefits are having difficulty renting homes, opening a bank account and getting paid employment because of attitudes towards people on benefits.

15% of those receiving benefits said they had experienced verbal abuse because they are getting support from benefits, while 4% reported that they had been physically abused. This amounts to nearly 800,000 people facing verbal abuse and 200,000 facing physical abuse for claiming support*. The abuse comes in addition to a raft of challenges that they may already face such as illness and disability, low wages, or caring for a loved one.

A total of 16% said a landlord or letting agent had refused to let them a property and 18% said they’d been treated less favourably by a potential employer or had difficulty accessing a bank account or financial services because they were claiming benefits.

In light of this new research, Who Benefits? is calling for a shift in the debate from shaming people supported by benefits to focussing on the reasons that they need help, whether that’s low wages, unemployment or the housing shortage.

Katharine Sacks-Jones from the Who Benefits? campaign said:

“We need to change the way we talk about benefits. Until we do, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to face abuse and be denied essentials, whether it’s a bank account or a roof over their heads, simply because they receive some extra support to make ends meet. Our benefits system should help people when they fall on difficult times and support them to live with dignity, instead many find themselves isolated and excluded from society."

“Until we change the debate and acknowledge the real reasons that people need support – be it low pay, disability, illness, homelessness or mental health problems – decent people will continue to suffer.”

Andrea Hall*, who became homeless with her two children after her relationship with her abusive husband ended, said:

“I wanted to live in an area close to my family, where most houses are privately rented. I had countless experiences of calling letting agents only to be told that their landlords did not accept tenants on benefits, whilst other adverts simply stated 'NO DSS'."

"It was incredibly demoralising to be completely excluded and discriminated against without any knowledge of me personally and my circumstances. I found myself desperately pleading with letting agent staff that I was not a bad person and I would look after the house, trying to justify my request for a home. I felt very judged and it was possibly the hardest and most desperate time of my life.”

38% of people supported by benefits said they worried that the public thought negatively about them, and that their self-esteem was affected as a result. 31% said worrying about public perceptions was impacting on their mental health. Self-esteem, confidence and mental health are all key factors in helping people to get back on their feet and on with their lives.

The poll data also revealed:

People on benefits excluded and isolated

  • <11% have felt excluded or isolated by members of their family
  • 18% have felt excluded or isolated by friends
  • 17% have felt excluded or isolated from their community

The changes people agree would most help to reduce their need for benefits

  • 28% said receiving higher pay would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 25% said more affordable essential items (food and utilities) would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 23% said more job opportunities would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 18% said more affordable housing would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 12% said more help overcoming issues caused by having an illness or disability would reduce their need for support from benefits

About the survey:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,352 adults, of which 980 currently received working age benefits or have done so in the past. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th – 18th July 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

This Who Benefits? report focuses on the 461 respondents who currently receive benefits.

*According to DWP statistics, as of February 2014, there were 5.3 million people on working age benefits. 15% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse. 15% of 5.3m is 795,000. 4% of respondents had experienced physical abuse. 4% of 5.3m is 212,000. Calculations were made by Who Benefits?

**Name has been changed



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