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Align social security with health and care systems and fully fund advice provision: open letter to Government

24 November 2020

An alliance of organisations working across social care, mental health, disability, homelessness, and welfare rights has sent an open letter to the Government highlighting its collective view that social security benefits’ policy and delivery:

“…must now be explicitly re-aligned with the objectives of our health and care system and become concerned with keeping people well, promoting independence and wellbeing and tackling inequalities.”

The alliance of organisations says:

“We believe that the experience of COVID-19, the prospect of disability benefit changes as signalled by the forthcoming Green Paper and the Government’s manifesto commitment to social care reform and prevent homelessness provide both the renewed imperative and context for re-designing a social security benefits system that:

  • Keeps people with mental health needs and families that include a disabled adult or child safe, in the first instance
  • Enables and assists recovery from mental illness and the full participation in society of people with mental illness and their careers and families
  • Removes the application of sanctions to disabled people and the requirement for disabled people to look for work while they wait for an assessment
  • Mitigates the risk of homelessness and supports people without a home back into accommodation
  • Mitigates the risk of problem debt
  • Promotes whole population mental health and wellbeing.”

The open letter adds that:

“Given the clear evidence that advice provision has a positive impact on health, we also think that in order for the benefits system to achieve these aims, it must be supported through fully funded new duty on councils, for the provision of comprehensive welfare rights and money advice, for all existing and prospective claimants.”:

We therefore call on the Government to review how the provisions in relevant legislation (e.g., the Care Act and Health and Social Care Act) can be amended to secure the provision of and access to welfare rights, money and debt advice, in the context of:

  • The duties the relevant legislation currently places on local authorities for information, advice and advocacy and the need for a new resource settlement for social care and the review of the current Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework
  • The ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan for modern, personalised community mental health services, premised on the need for a clearer focus on prevention and addressing the social and economic determinants of mental health
  • A recognition of the human and economic cost of a failure to support individuals, carers, and families at the earliest stages of crisis
  • The increasing evidence of need for and value of expert wrap around welfare rights, money, and debt advice services in primary and secondary mental health services
  • The need for help and support with navigating the benefit system, as an essential feature of a local health and care systems that promote wellbeing and help to keep people safe.

The letter concludes that:

“For more than three decades, the UK’s social security benefits system has become increasingly disconnected from public policy concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through prevention and early intervention.

We are clear that the impact of COVID-19 on people and communities, and the ongoing the social and economic consequences of the pandemic, both amplify and provide further evidence of the need to restore that connection as an immediate priority for public policy in the UK.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

 “Advocacy support can sometimes be vital to help disabled people express their opinions and make their views heard in order to lead changes in their life.

 But advocacy support is not the same as advice. An advocate cannot give legal advice or help you apply for or challenge decisions about benefits and entitlements.

 DR UK fully supports the call for a fully funded new duty on councils for the provision of comprehensive welfare rights and money advice."

The open letter signatory organisations are:

  • Association of Mental Health Providers
  • Association of Directors of Adult Social Services
  • Association of Directors of Public Health
  • British Association of Social Workers
  • Centre for Mental Health
  • Child Poverty Action Group
  • Disability Benefits Consortium (that includes DR UK)
  • Homeless Link
  • National Association of Welfare Rights
  • Race Equality Foundation
  • Rethink Mental Illness

The full text of the open letter is available amhp.org.uk.