The organisation representing NHS service-providers has called on the government to act on the links between mental distress and cuts to benefits, after producing new evidence showing that social security reform has increased demand for mental health services.
NHS Providers spoke out after publishing research showing that more than nine out of ten (92 per cent) mental health trusts that took part in a survey said changes to benefits were increasing demand for mental health services.
And more than six in 10 (63 per cent) said this impact was high, making it the most significant economic and social factor in increasing demand for mental health services.
The NHS Providers report includes a detailed case study of a disabled woman who describes how the process of applying for employment and support allowance (ESA) was so stressful that it caused a relapse in her mental health.
The former mental health nurse told NHS Providers that the ESA process and its repeated assessments were “cruel” and left her feeling powerless, while the work capability assessment process was “the biggest source of worry in my life”.
The report, Addressing the Care Deficit, adds to evidence that shows ESA recipients are at particularly high risk of suicide attempts.
Disability News Service (DNS) has repeatedly drawn the attention of government departments and other public bodies to the findings of NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which showed that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with about seven per cent of non-ESA claimants.
Despite that evidence, the Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Workplan does not mention DWP, benefits, ESA or universal credit, while ESA and universal credit claimants are not included among the high-risk groups mentioned in the workplan.
The government has also refused to name ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its cross-government suicide prevention strategy.
Public Health England is another organisation that has resisted making this link. In the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile, there are 25 risk factors for suicide but they do not include the proportion of the population in local areas that claims ESA.
NHS Providers has now called on the government and its arms-length bodies to act.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told DNS: “Our report… revealed deep disquiet among mental health trust leaders about the impact of benefits cuts and universal credit on demand for mental health services.
“The government and its arms-length bodies should examine the evidence behind this link, and act on it.
“We need a benefits system that offers the right support for people who need it, rather than compounding or aggravating mental health problems.”
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