The government policy fuelling a huge spike in mental health issues

2nd March 2020 / United Kingdom
The government policy fuelling a huge spike in mental health issues

About 2 million people are in receipt of universal credit, which bundles six working-age benefits into a single monthly payment. More than 6 million will be on the benefit by the time it is fully rolled out by the new completion date of September 2024.

The Government’s Universal Credit system is causing “psychological distress” and fuelling a rise in mental health issues amongst benefit claimants, according to a damning study published in the Lancet medical journal.

The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal and is among the world’s oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals.

Researchers from Liverpool University discovered a link between the controversial welfare reform and an increase in mental health problems reported by people in receipt of the flagship new benefit.

The study found a 6.6% increase in the prevalence of poor mental health among unemployed people on Universal Credit when compared to the social security benefits it is replacing, which includes tax credits and housing benefit. But there’s evidence of a worsening situation

In total, an estimated 63,674 unemployed Universal Credit claimants, showed signs of worsening mental health – a third of whom (21,760) were suffering from medical depression.

The study warned that this number is likely to continue rising as a further four million are moved to the new system before the UK-wide roll-out is finally completed.

Lead researcher Dr Sophie Wickham joined calls for urgent reforms to Universal Credit ahead of the next phase in its nationwide roll-out.

“Our study supports growing calls for Universal Credit to be fundamentally modified to reduce these mental health harms,” said Dr Sophie Wickham.

Taking these numbers literally means that approximately 400,000 additional people will, as a result of being moved onto Universal Credit, suffer from mental health issues in future.

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The report concludes – “Our findings suggest that the introduction of Universal Credit led to an increase in psychological distress, a measure of mental health difficulties, among those affected by the policy. Future changes to government welfare systems should be evaluated not only on a fiscal basis but on their potential to affect health and wellbeing.”

There was no estimate put to the cost of treating people with mental health conditions in the NHS or social services.

The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK National Institute for Health Research, and the Medical Research Council.


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