Holyrood confronts damage done to mental health by Universal Credit


The Scottish Parliament will consider a recent report from the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which warns that the infamous welfare reform has caused hardship and emotional distress to those with mental health problems

  • Scottish Labour MSP Mary Fee argues: “Universal Credit has exacerbated problems for people with mental health”
  • Scottish Parliament considers recommendations from the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which has highlighted administrative problems which may block UC claimants from taking advantage of the ‘Scottish Choices’ scheme
  • Controversy continues to surround the Tory welfare reform, which two UC offices in England beginning a two-day strike and negative reaction following the DWP’s paid advertisement in the Metro newspaper

THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT will today [28 May] consider evidence that Universal Credit has caused significant hardship and emotional distress to those experiencing mental health problems, following a report from the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which called on the UK Government not to transfer anyone to UC until its problems have been addressed.

Scottish Labour MSP Mary Fee proposed to Member’s Business, which asks Holyrood to note the recommendations of the SAMH report, and affirm that it believes the system “has created new barriers and added pressures for people with mental health problems” and that “the social security system should act as a safety net for all… and not make anyone poorer and more disadvantaged, regardless of circumstances.”

The Member’s Business comes the same day as staff at two UC offices in Wolverhampton and Walsall begin a two-day strike over disputes concerning workload and staff recruitment, and follows controversy over a four-page ‘advertisement feature’ taken out by the Department of Work and Pensions in the Metro newspaper this month, which was widely perceived as a biased attempt to debunk the well-documented problems with the new welfare system.

READ MORE: ‘A sanitised version of the nineteenth century workhouse’: 10 damning conclusions from the new UN poverty report

After the release of the report ‘It Was A Confusion’ Universal Credit and Mental Health: Recommendations for Change in March of this year, interim head of communications and public affairs at SAMH Carolyn Lochhead said: “Research shows that good and fair employment can help your mental health, so we support efforts to simplify the social security system.

“However, this report clearly shows that this aim has been undermined through the structure and delivery of Universal Credit, and has instead added new barriers for people with mental health problems.

“Universal Credit is likely to affect many of the people we support across Scotland, so we hope the UK Government will implement our recommendations, which aim to positively change policy and practice.”

Speaking to CommonSpace ahead of today’s Member’s Business, Mary Fee commented: “Our social security system should be available to all in times of need. It should guarantee a level of economic safety and assistance to those who cannot work, those who find themselves out of work or those struggling at the bottom. For too many vulnerable people, this is no longer a guarantee.

“Universal Credit has exacerbated problems for people with mental health problems and the SAMH report on Universal Credit and mental health is a significant insight for us to understand what is happening to the people social security was designed to protect.”

READ MORE: Analysis: The DWP’s Universal Credit propaganda tells you everything you need to know about this government

In its section on recommendations for the Scottish Government, the SAMH report notes that, while UC is a reserved benefit under the control of the UK Government, the Scottish Government does have powers over the frequency of UC payments, which it has exercised with ‘Universal Credit Scottish Choices’.

Since October 2017, Scottish Choices have given UC claimants in Scotland a choice over receiving payments twice monthly rather than monthly, as well as choosing to have their housing benefit paid directly to their landlord.

However, the report argues that the housing element of Scottish Choices – paid to landlords in arrears on a four week basis – does not match the calendar monthly schedule for Universal Credit payments to claimants. “This has caused administrative problems and uncertainty over arrears and income for social landlords as well as confusion to claimants,” the report states, arguing that it is “unacceptable” that administrative problems are creating a barrier to UC claimants accessing their right to Scottish Choices.

CommonSpace approached the Scottish Government for comment on the Scotland-specific recommendations of the SAMH report, but received no response at the time of publication.

Picture courtesy of Andrew_Writer

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