People are fearful of opening letters about their benefits or struggle to understand them when they do.
When you’re struggling with your mental health it can be easy to be overwhelmed by life’s challenges. Messages from friends and family go unanswered, appointments get missed, and letters, bills and notices start to pile up. Working your way out of that can be difficult at the best of times. But what about when your entire source of income is at stake?
"More than half of those currently receiving ESA need this financial support because their mental health makes it difficult to work."
This could be the reality for people moving over to Universal Credit (UC) - the new single, monthly payment gradually replacing several benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The benefit has been beset with problems - in June, a damning report from the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that the Government hasn’t done enough to protect and support ‘vulnerable claimants’ including disabled people and people with health conditions. More recently, a whole string of parliamentarians – including former Prime Ministers and MPs from within Theresa May’s own party – have called for a halt to the next stage of the roll-out.
- See also: One in six people with money problems have had suicidal thoughts
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There are still millions of people receiving older benefits, and more than half of those currently receiving ESA need this financial support because their mental health makes it difficult to work. From next year, people on those benefits will start receiving letters telling them they must make a new claim to Universal Credit and that if they don’t do this in time they could see their payments stopped altogether. According to the Government’s current plans, people may have as little as one month to make a claim. We’re worried this could see many people with mental health problems left out of pocket and struggling to survive.
There are many reasons why someone could still be struggling with the process long after their existing benefits have stopped. Over the summer we heard from many people who are fearful of opening letters about their benefits or struggle to understand them when they do. Keith told us:
"I have schizoaffective disorder which includes hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. It means I don't always understand the letters I get about my benefits. The letters are usually long and detailed which require concentration and a certain level of understanding. Anything about my benefits I take to my community psychiatric nurses to go through it with me otherwise I'd miss very important details."
The Government has consistently failed to recognise the impact problems with social issues - such as debt, housing, employment and benefits – can have on the mental health of the nation. On World Mental Health Day, the Prime Minister announced the introduction of a minister responsible for suicide prevention in England- a welcome move which recognises that we lost far too many people in this way – even one is too many.
But the first job for Jackie Doyle-Price should be urging the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to change their proposals so that no-one will see their benefits stopped before they’ve moved across to Universal Credit. The effects of benefits issues when they go wrong can be disastrous and even life-threatening - a 2016 Mind survey found that 40 per cent of people with mental health problems who had considered or attempted to end their own lives said that losing benefits or the fear of losing benefits was a factor.
The Government has now said that people won’t start to move over from older benefits until late 2019 – later than planned. While this is welcome news, we’re still concerned about these proposals and will be doing everything we can to push for changes. If you share our concerns, join our campaign and help us make sure no-one else loses out under Universal Credit.
Vicki Nash is Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind.