People with mental illness are 2.4 times more likely to lose their existing benefits following a PIP eligibility assessment, which could be down to a lack of mental health knowledge in assessors
A new study by York University found that mental health claimants are more than twice as likely to lose their benefits as non-psychiatric claimants, a day ahead of a House of Commons debate on the topic.
Researchers assessed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) eligibility in the study. PIP is a benefit for those who might need help with daily activities or help getting around because of a long-term illness or a disability. Researchers also found that people with more common mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression were more likely to have their claim rejected than those with neurological conditions, musculoskeletal conditions and diabetes.
Researchers say the reasons behind why there is a discrepancy are unclear, but say their findings support concerns raised in a Work and Pensions Committee report that found PIP assessors have a lack of specialist mental health knowledge - only 16.6% of assessors had a clinical mental health background as of November 2017 - and that assessors used informal observations to make judgements on mental health conditions.
The study came out ahead of a House of Commons debate yesterday to consider the mental health and benefits assessment process.
Angela Crawley, the Scottish National party MP for Lanark and Hamilton East and SNP spokesperson for Equalities, who organised the debate, publicly thanked the hundreds of people who wrote to her after a call for evidence on the House of Commons Facebook page, saying that the stories from people across the country were “harrowing and difficult to read” because of how badly people had been treated.
MP Crawley began to read some of the feedback she received, noting that the main themes that came from the online contributions were that “the process seemed to be making mental health issues worse; that people did not think that the assessors were qualified; that the amount of money awarded was simply not enough to live on; that the process was inappropriate and poorly conceived; and that people were often declared ineligible despite having mental health diagnoses, as well as support and evidence from their doctor.”
MP Crawley went on to read out individual responses she received:
“One woman specifically said that she thought the process was ‘confrontational, intimidating and unsupportive’, and that ‘frankly it is outright cruelty and very distressing.’ Another said that it was ‘degrading, embarrassing and exhausting.’ She said, ‘my assessment left me in tears and feeling suicidal because I’d spent all week getting ready, and not a single questions was asked about my mental health.’
Another person said that they did not have enough to live on and were ‘trying to have one meal every two days.’ They could not afford a new suit to go to a job interview and the money that they were receiving was only enough to pay the rent, the electricity and their phone bill.
Another person said that as someone who had suffered from suicidal ideation, they did not know why the assessors thought that asking them about that would somehow transform or change the experience. They said it was ‘barbaric, pointless and unnecessary.’
Many people said that charities helped them the most, not the jobcentre or even the NHS. It was local charities, which in many cases were funded by the EU, that were able to give them the support they needed. That is just some of the feedback from the online contributions.”
MP Crawley thanked all who were “brave enough to come forward and share their story” and said it is “vital” that the government take time to listen to them.
Calling the current process a “tick box exercise that does not recognise the fluctuating nature of mental ill health,” MP Crawley shared the story of one of her constituents’ assessment.
“The constituent I mentioned earlier has a nervous compulsion and, as a result, she picks at her nails. She has chosen to wear acrylic nails so that she will not unconsciously pick at her hands due to her nervous disposition. That was taken by the healthcare professional as an indicator that she was well kept and therefore mentally stable. It did not seem to matter that it was a form of self-harming and that she had had suicidal thoughts, which she outlined to the person. Those are Victorian and antiquated measures through which to identify someone with mental ill health, and they come up time and again.”
She went on to say, “Why should someone have the fact that they put make-up on that day, or made the effort to turn up and be there for the assessment, marked against them? It seems completely arbitrary and unnecessary.”
Ayaz Manji, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind, told Happiful, “It’s hugely concerning but sadly not surprising to see research showing you’re more likely to lose financial support in the move from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) if you have a mental health problem. We still hear every day from the people we support about problems accessing benefits, many of whom are being told they are no longer eligible, and then have to go through a lengthy, costly and stressful appeals process to get their support reinstated.
“Mental health problems can be just as debilitating as physical disabilities and can have a substantial adverse impact on your ability to work, get about and live a full life. People who find it difficult to leave the house because of panic attacks, for example, can be as restricted in their independence as those with physical mobility problems, and face similar financial costs in their daily lives. The benefits system needs to look at the individual and put them at the heart of any decision made. When anyone goes for a benefits assessment they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and seen by someone who has real expertise in their condition and how it might affect their daily life.”
Co-author of the paper, Professor Kate Pickett from the Department of Health Sciences, said, “Our study provides robust evidence that the benefits system discriminates against those with mental illness. The government needs to take notice and take action to ensure that those with mental illness are treated fairly.”
The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, and analysed government data of people moving from DLA entitlement to PIP between April 2013 and October 2016.
The House of Commons debate can be viewed on the Parliament Live TV player.
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