Proposals to reduce benefits for people with mental illness could increase harm if implemented

Statement / comment
14 November 2023

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has serious concerns about proposals to reduce the number of people with a mental illness who can access benefits, as reported in the media.

The proposals are currently expected to be announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement.

Currently, many people with mental illness can receive the benefits they need without having to engage in work preparedness, or job seeking. They are also eligible for certain benefits aimed at those with the greatest health need.

Media reports suggest this will change in 2025, and a greater number of people with mental illness will face sanctions if they do not look for work. Changes will apply to Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance claimants.

Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Reducing benefit entitlements runs the risk of forcing more people with mental illness further into poverty, and adding to the existing hardship being caused by the cost-of-living crisis. If more people face benefit sanctions and are forced into debt, the number of people requiring NHS mental health services will inevitably rise.

“Should these proposals be implemented, many people with mental illness will be required to undertake job-seeking activity, despite no improvement in their medical condition, or face punitive sanctions. Sanctions can lead to the rapid deterioration of mental health, including suicidal crisis. These proposals will ultimately add to the pressure on NHS mental health services.

“The College has recommended that the NHS Individual Placement and Support programme is used as an alternative method to help people with severe mental illness into employment, without risk of harm. Despite the programme’s robust evidence base and strong track record, the Department for Work and Pensions has not taken any concrete steps towards reviewing how it could be more widely adopted.

“The Health and Disability White Paper suggested removing the work capability assessment, which would have a real benefit to those suffering with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it appears the Government has abandoned this position, alongside its election pledge of reforming the Mental Health Act.

“People with mental illness should be supported to stay in work, or to join the workforce with appropriate measures in place where possible. However, a political narrative that punishes people with mental illness for needing benefits will only add to systemic harms. Removing these benefits also causes severe stress, which will only compound existing mental health problems.”

For further information, please contact: