Universal Credit has created “emotional distress” for people with mental health conditions

The roll out of Universal Credit should be halted until the hardship and emotional distress it is causing to people with mental health problems are tackled, a leading charity has claimed.

Britain's work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd. Picture: Tolga AkmenGetty Images

In a damning report, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) says that Universal Credit has erected new barriers for those suffering with mental ill health and says “while the Universal Credit regime remains in its current form, SAMH believes no one should be transferred to Universal Credit from legacy benefits”.

SAMH is now calling for a fundamental rethink of the medical assessment process. The charity says face to face medical assessments do not work for people with mental health problems as the assessments fail to adequately gauge the impact of mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and assessors lack a full understanding of mental health.

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The report also says that the lack of access to IT equipment and support and more general problems for people using IT due to their mental health conditions, mean that the “digital by default” application process should be scrapped. And it highlights “significant difficulties” people with mental health problems face when managing their Universal Credit claim, facing sanctions which cause “financial and emotional distress”.

The report brings together findings from research reports from Scotland and across the UK and has also been informed by three in-depth case studies of people engaged with the Universal Credit System, including a young person and a carer.

The carer John, manages Universal Credit for his son who has brain damage following a stroke, and who struggles with depression as a result. In the report he says: “The Job Centre staff see him as disabled, yes, but the impact it’s having on him and me… no, they don’t. There doesn’t seem to be that understanding of mental health problems.

“He needs people to come in and help care for him, but I can’t arrange this because I don’t know how much money he’s going to get. I haven’t a clue. So I have to do it all myself.

“His rent gets paid directly from Universal Credit, but the council keep sending me letters and phoning me saying that he’s in arrears, but there’s nothing I can do because Universal Credit pays it. The system doesn’t work.”

Carolyn Lochhead, Interim Head of Communications and Public Affairs, at SAMH said: “Research shows that good and fair employment can help your mental health, so we support efforts to simplify the social security system. However, this report clearly shows that this aim has been undermined through the structure and delivery of Universal Credit.

“Universal Credit is likely to affect many of the people we support across Scotland, so we hope the UK Government will implement our recommendations, which aim to positively change policy and practice.”

The Department of Work and Pensions does not provide statistics on the number of people who receive Universal Credit because of mental health problems, however they are the most common reason for people to receive income-based Employment and Support Allowance, one of the benefits which will be replaced by Universal Credit. Currently, over 80,000 people receive income-based ESA in Scotland due to a mental health problem.

Responding to the report, Labour MP for Midlothian, Danielle Rowley said: “The testimonies in this report are heart breaking. This is just the latest evidence that Universal Credit simply is not working, and the Tory government’s implementation of it has been a shambles.

“Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd needs to listen to growing calls to pause and fix Universal Credit, while the Scottish government should consider what steps it could take to ensure vulnerable people can navigate the system properly in order to get the support they need.”