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Universal Credit linked to suicide risk finds new research

16 November 2018

Universal Credit has become a serious threat to public health, with the stress of coping with the new benefit affecting mental health and leading some to consider suicide, according to new research.

The new study commissioned by Gateshead Council found that people claiming Universal Credit are being forced into debt, rent arrears and extreme hardship, with serious consequences for their health and wellbeing.

It shows that people moving onto Universal Credit, especially those with disabilities, health problems or complicated lives, experienced an average delay of seven and a half weeks before receiving their first payment.

As well as this, once the payment is received, deductions for advance payments and rent arrears are leaving people without enough money to eat or pay bills.

Although many of the claimants met the definition of 'vulnerable' identified by the DWP due to physical or mental health issues, the additional support that should be available was not routinely offered.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Benefit Advice and Policy Officer said:

“The findings of this report are truly shocking and reason enough for the roll-out of Universal credit to be halted.

"The benefits system should support, protect and enable disabled people and those with long term health conditions not drive them to despair, poverty and desperation.

"Yet the situation is being made worse by Public Health England refusing to warn councils of the risk of suicide by those on ESA

"As a minimum there needs to be a complete overhaul of the administration and claiming of Universal Credit before any managed migration to it. A starting point for identifying claimants who might be vulnerable would be those who are in receipt of ESA, PIP or the disability premium.

"And it’s essential that instead of requiring migration by direct claim the DWP should instead seek to convert existing benefit claims wherever possible.”

Dr Mandy Cheetham from Teesside University who led the new study said:

"Claimants were under severe stress because of the claims process and some people had been so low they said they had considered suicide. The process of claiming and then trying to survive in the system, with the constant threat of sanctions was making people increasingly anxious and depressed, and worsening existing health problems."

Catherine Donovan, Deputy Leader of Gateshead Council, said:

"The roll out of Universal Credit means people are having to choose between eating and heating. It is appalling that people in this study talked about feeling so low, they had considered suicide. They talked about the shame and stigma of using food banks. With Christmas coming, the impact on communities and families will be extremely hard. I'm calling on government to scrap Universal Credit as a matter of urgency."

The Gateshead Council report, “It’s hitting people that can least afford it the hardest” is available here

See also

Attempted suicides by disability benefit claimants more than double after introduction of fit-to-work assessment (www.independent.co.uk)

DWP release benefit death peer reviews

Government’s independent reviewer did not know of coroner’s report blaming suicide on the WCA