Calls for reform of ‘bureaucratic’ benefits system to help people with mental health problems

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Lives are being ruined by an overly-complicated benefits system which is causing extreme distress for people with mental health problems, a charity has warned.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said people’s mental health conditions are being worsened as they try to navigate bureaucratic procedures when claiming welfare payments.

The Benefits Assault Course report said urgent reforms are needed to prevent people from missing out on vital financial support. It said 47 per cent of working age people receiving out-of-work benefits in England have common mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Helen Undy, chief executive of Money and Mental Health, said: “Accessing the benefits system can be a difficult task for anyone, but if you’re struggling with your mental health it can feel almost impossible.

“The obstacles that people with mental health problems face at every stage of the system not only cause unnecessary distress, they’re also resulting in people missing out on crucial support they are entitled to, or falling out of the system entirely.

“This urgently needs to change as it’s ruining lives.”

A survey of more than 450 benefits claimants with mental health issues found that more than 94 per cent suffered anxiety as result of engaging with the benefits system.

Four in five said they struggled to gather information and medical evidence when applying for benefits. And 93 per cent said their mental health deteriorated in anticipation of attending a benefits medical assessment. Only 19 per cent felt their benefits assessor understood mental health problems. Four in five were unhappy with benefits decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) but many did not feel able to challenge it because of their mental health.

The report said a requirement to look for jobs and attend assessments while claiming Universal Credit could be an “impossible task” for people with mental health problems.

People in that position should be protected against having their benefits cut off in the same way as victims of domestic abuse and people receiving treatment for drug or alcohol dependency.

A DWP spokesman said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, and where challenges remain we will continue to make improvements. We are committed to supporting the most vulnerable claimants and our new partnership with Citizens Advice will provide further tailored help.”