Home Finance Depression and anxiety sufferers 'to lose sickness benefits in welfare reforms'

Depression and anxiety sufferers 'to lose sickness benefits in welfare reforms'

People suffering from depression or anxiety might lose their entitlement to sickness benefits as part of the Government’s major welfare reforms, the Work and Pensions Secretary has said.

Mel Stride is set to announce plans to overhaul the way disability benefits work in a statement to the Commons on Monday, with proposals aimed at providing “more tailored support in line with their needs”.

A Green Paper due to be published concurrently with Mr Stride’s statement, ministers will detail plans to reform the main disability benefit, personal independence payments (PIP). This includes alterations to eligibility criteria and assessments.

Future consultations will consider plans to “move away from a fixed cash benefit system”, which could lead to some individuals forfeiting regular payments in favour of improved access to treatment dictated by the need for extra cost management.

Speaking to The Times, Mr Stride hinted that this might result in people suffering from “milder mental health conditions” being stripped of financial support.

This Monday’s plans are hot on the heels of a speech by the Prime Minister earlier this month. Major changes to the welfare system were outlined, including the expectation for those living with less severe mental health conditions to engage with employment.

Mr Stride suggested that the system should not be paying people to deal with the “ordinary difficulties of life” and hinted that many voters “deep down” agreed with him.

He described the reforms as “probably the most fundamental reforms in a generation”, stating: “There are those that have perhaps milder mental health conditions, or where perhaps there has been too great a move towards labelling certain behaviours as having certain [medical] conditions attached to them, where actually work is the answer or part of the answer.”

He added: “What we’ve got to avoid is being in a situation where we too readily say, ‘Well, actually, we need you to be on benefits’.”

Mr Stride proposed a “whole plethora of things”, such as talking therapies, social care packages and respite care, could be used as alternatives to benefit payments. He clarified that the main reason for the changes was to provide better help and not cut costs, but he admitted the cost “has to be one of the considerations”.

James Taylor, the executive director of strategy at disability equity charity Scope, called for an end to the “reckless assault” on disabled people and to address the “real underlying issues”. He said: “It’s hard to have any faith that this consultation is about anything other than cutting the benefits bill, no matter the impact,” Mr Taylor added: “Life costs a lot more for disabled people, including people with mental health conditions. Threatening to take away the low amount of income PIP provides won’t solve the country’s problems.”

“The government needs to end this reckless assault on disabled people and focus on how to fix the real underlying issues.”

The quantity of monthly PIP awards for mental health disorders has seen a two-fold rise since 2019, escalating from 2,200 to 5,300. This trend mirrors the overall climb in PIP awards which have also doubled to 33,000 on a monthly basis.

Rishi Sunak announced that Monday’s Green Paper penmarked “the next chapter of our welfare reforms” designed to make the benefits system “fairer to the taxpayer, better targeted to individual needs and harder to exploit”.

He said: “It’s clear that our disability benefits system isn’t working in the way it was intended, and we’re determined to reform it to ensure it’s sustainable for the future, so we can continue delivering support to those who genuinely need it most.”

Three main changes are expected to be integrated into the Green Paper:

  • Changing PIP eligibility criteria to better reflect how conditions affect a claimant’s daily life;
  • Making the PIP assessment more closely linked to someone’s condition, including removing assessments entirely for some conditions supported by medical evidence;
  • Moving away from a fixed cash benefit for some conditions, providing either one-off grants for specific costs such as home adaptation, or ensuring access to “alternative means of support”.

The Government anticipates that these adjustments will reshape the system so that PIP is more effectively targeted at addressing the actual extra expenditures faced by people with disabilities.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on July 23.


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