Benefit cuts and poor housing impacting mental health

Cuts to benefits and rising unemployment is driving up the number of people seeking help for mental health problems, a survey of professionals in the field has found.

Poor housing is also behind a “growing crisis” in the numbers becoming “overwhelmed by life circumstances”, the charity Mind and the College of Social Work warned.

Some 111 mental health social workers from the College of Social Work and 31 regional Mind managers took part in the survey on how people are coping with economic problems and Government changes to benefits.

More than three-quarters of the social workers and more than 90% of Mind managers said the mental health of people living in their communities has got worse over the last 12 months.

More than 90% of Mind managers said they have seen an increase in the number of people accessing mental health services over the last year, with 73% seeing people for the first time.

More than one in five social workers also reported seeing more people in crisis.

Both groups pointed to benefit cuts, unemployment and to a lesser extent poor housing as the main factors driving increased demand for help.

More than 90% of Mind managers said benefit cuts and unemployment were partly responsible for the increase and 89% thought poor housing was also playing a part.

Social workers said cuts to services and benefit cuts were the main challenges, with 60% saying it was now either difficult or very difficult for people to access benefit advice and support.

Dr Ruth Allen, chair of the mental health faculty of the College of Social Work, said: “This survey again highlights what many social workers see as a deterioration in access to support for mental health problems, as reductions in social care and health bite.

“At the same time, social and financial pressures associated with poverty and poor housing seem to be mounting and are cited increasingly by social workers as reasons for mental distress and ill health.

“It is now enshrined in law that mental health services should have parity with physical health services but this is not yet a reality in most areas.”

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “This research provides further evidence of how cuts and other changes to benefits are negatively impacting both the mental and physical health of vulnerable individuals.

“At Mind, we hear too often from people struggling to navigate a complex and increasingly punitive system that is causing a great deal of distress and putting people under excessive pressure.

“Changes to welfare were meant to make savings, but it is a false economy when you factor in the cost to our already-stretched health and social care services that are having to support those whose health has worsened.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We know that the right employment is good for wellbeing and improves mental health. Spotting and addressing problems early is vital, and prevents them escalating and standing in the way of finding or staying in work.

“People with mental health conditions can and do work and the vast majority want to. That’s why we commissioned a report to look at how we can better support people with mental health problems to get back to and stay in work, and we are now considering the proposals.

“Progress has already been made, the expanding Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme has already helped over 80,000 people to move off sick pay and benefits. We are vigorously pursuing solutions and are working across Government to drive improvements. The OECD has recognised the successes we have had, but we want to go further.”