People who have mental health conditions are more than twice as likely to lose their benefits as people without psychiatric issues, new research has found.
The study by York University found that people with a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression were more likely to have their claim rejected than claimants with musculoskeletal conditions, neurological conditions and diabetes.
The findings further call into question whether the so-called “parity of esteem” – the government’s principle which says mental health must be given equal priority to physical health – has been realised.
Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity said the findings were “hugely concerning, but sadly not surprising”.
All disability living allowance claimants aged between 16 and 65 are required to reapply for their benefit as part of a gradual switch over to personal independence payments (PIP).
Claims based on alcohol and substance misuse were found to be 1.97 times more likely to be rejected, increasing to 3.38 times more likely for claimants with ADHD.
The authors of the study found the potential loss of income amounts to £141.10 per week for people with the most severe mental health conditions such as psychosis and personality disorder.
The research also suggests that when people lose their financial entitlement, their existing mental health conditions can be exacerbated, which limit chances of recovery.
They also found that people with mental health problems are three times more likely to be in debt than the general population and the loss of benefits can put them into further financial hardship.
The findings come ahead of a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, when MPs will be discussing mental health and the benefits assessment process, which has been organised by Angela Crawley, the Scottish National party MP for Lanark and Hamilton East.
The authors of the study said welfare reform more broadly appears to have been especially problematic for people with mental illnesses.
The report said: “Compared to other claimant groups, people with mental health problems are more likely to face benefit sanctions and in recent qualitative research have described experiences during eligibility assessments of their difficulties being trivialised or viewed as altogether fraudulent.
“There may be questions about apparent ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical health conditions in the welfare system.”
Ayaz Manji, senior policy and campaigns officer at Mind, said: “This data is hugely concerning, but sadly not surprising as it echoes what we hear every day from the people we support, many of whom are being told they are no longer eligible for certain benefits.
“The benefits system needs to look at the individual and put them at the heart of any decision made. When anyone goes for a benefits assessment they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and seen by someone who has a real understanding of how their condition affects their daily life.”
Jonathan Moore, social policy manager at Rethink Mental Illness said: “A system that doesn’t recognise that disabilities can be often be invisible is a system that’s failing tens of thousands of people every year.
“We’ve heard from numerous supporters who have found the application process difficult, humiliating, and in many cases, detrimental to their mental health.“
Moore added that when assessors have thorough mental health training, the entire process is improved.
He added: “This needs to become uniform if mental health is to be treated fairly.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “One of the reasons we introduced PIP was to ensure that invisible and non-physical conditions were given the same parity as physical conditions.
“And that is why under PIP fives time more people with mental health conditions receive the highest possible support than under DLA.
PIP assessments are carried out by qualified health professionals and decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided.”
The spokeswoman added that since PIP was introduced there have been 3.7 million decisions and of these 5% have been overturned at appeal, often because further evidence has been provided.