A rise in mental-health problems among the unemployed has been linked with the rollout of universal credit and other government welfare changes, in a study published by Lancet Public Health.
The researchers followed more than 52,000 working-age people between 2009 and 2018, who were taking part in Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, to understand the effect on mental and physical health of changes to the benefit system. Universal Credit, which combines six benefits into one, was created to simplify the welfare system and get more people into work under the Coalition Government.
‘Universal Credit, although unique to the UK, represents a substantial change in the design and implementation of welfare benefits and has international relevance,’ the study’s authors commented.
The study found that the number of unemployed people with psychological distress rose 6.6% between 2013, when Universal Credit was introduced and 2018. This represents an extra 63,674 people in England, Wales and Scotland, 21,760 of whom became clinically depressed over the period. The researchers found no links to any impact on physical health, however, or any evidence universal credit had led to an increase in the number of claimants finding jobs.
‘Other countries considering such significant changes to their welfare system (eg, digitalised service, payment monthly in arrears, and stricter sanctions) should consider our results and other research that shows the negative mental health impact of systematic changes to the welfare system,’ the authors added.
The study comes as the family of a man who starved to death after his benefits were cut, announced they were taking legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Errol Graham, 57, had a history of mental health problems before his benefits were terminated in October 2017. His body was found in June 2018 by bailiffs who had come to evict him from his flat in Nottingham.
'The Government owes it to Errol, his family and the country to explain why the DWP has repeatedly failed to learn from these tragedies over many years,' said Alison Turner, his daughter-in-law.
"In Errol's memory I am determined to fight for change so that no more families have to live through the horror we have."