Take action to better assist Employment Support Allowance recipients
In 2014, 66.4% of people who received unemployment benefits thought about taking their life, 43.2% had made a suicide attempt and 33.5% reported self-harming behaviours.
"Two thirds of people on unemployment benefits think about taking their own lives, nearly half have tried and one in three report self-harming behaviour."
Those in receipt of other benefits also had increased risk of suicide, suicidal ideation and self-harm compared to those who did not receive benefits[i].
A recent study [ii] commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) itself from the National Audit Office found that at least 69 suicides in recent years were linked to problems with welfare payments.
Action for Central Government
1. Establish an independent inquiry into deaths linked to welfare benefits system
Establish an independent inquiry into deaths where it appears that the welfare benefits system may have been a significant factor, with a remit to recommend changes to policy as well as internal DWP processes where needed.
Recent studies highlight the importance of robust social policies to ensure there is adequate welfare benefits for those with low or sudden loss of income. Countries who decrease their welfare benefits during times of recession reported an increase in suicide rates compared to countries to who did not [v].
Action NHS bodies
1. Embed social prescribing and connection to practical support services
Ensure patients have access to high quality welfare advice and use Individual Placement Support (IPS), evidence-based practice to support patients to gain quality and sustainable employment.
A Centre for Mental Health report on welfare advice for people with mental health conditions [vi] demonstrates that poor mental health is frequently associated with the experience of welfare problems. All providers of primary and secondary mental health services should review how they ensure that service users are given consistent access to effective welfare advice as part of the care pathway. In most cases this is likely to require a dedicated advice service, working closely with clinical teams in both hospital and community settings.
An initiative by Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group: Citizens Advice Manchester GP advice on Prescription Service, introduced instant access phones into 24 GP surgeries across Manchester. The aim was to move away from the discussion of non-clinical issues during typical GP consultations. The advice provided included debt, housing, benefits or other living issues[vii]. An evaluation of the initiative found
- 64% of clients who spoke to an advisor had their issue resolved
- Those with more complex needs were referred to another advisor with more specialist advice
- Increase in financial gain of £3,883 per client
- 77% of clients reported increase in wellbeing following the advice through the service
Action for Local Authorities
1. Take action to improve access to welfare advice, following Citizens Advice Bureau recommendations
A review conducted found that delivering welfare rights-advice in UK healthcare settings resulted in financial benefits with the average individual receiving an additional £1,026 per year[iii].
The Citizens Advice Bureau recommend eight actions[iv] for local authorities regarding welfare advice:
- Get senior level commitment and leadership
- Tailor your consultations and communications to different audiences
- Take into account your residents’ wider financial challenges
- Intervene early to support people in financial difficulty
- Minimise additional costs for residents in debt
- Link to relevant local policies
- Offer a wide range of payment methods and frequencies
- Consider making changes to council tax rules to help lower income households
The London Borough of Croydon’s People’s Gateway Service concept originated in response to the welfare reforms introduced in 2013, affecting 16,000 local households. The council needed to find a way to prevent financial crisis, reliance on statutory services and subsequent negative impacts on health and wellbeing. It aims to provide a holistic, multidisciplinary, and preventative response to households heading towards crisis, rather than acting in an ad-hoc manner. The approach sought to provide an integrated journey through council services for households at risk of homelessness or impacted by the welfare reforms. As a result of this approach hundreds have been supported into employment, million of additional pounds in additional welfare entitlements have been claimed and debt to the council reduced.