Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith has joined a coalition of leading mental health charities and campaigners calling for greater support for people with mental health problems to access benefits.
A joint letter to the Department for Work and Pensions Secretary has called on the government to take urgent action to ensure that people with mental health problems do not miss out on vital benefits support during the coronavirus outbreak.
In recent weeks, the government has put in place a number of measures to help vulnerable people access benefits without being exposed to the risk of contracting the virus. These include a three month suspension of face-to-face assessments for people claiming sickness and disability benefits, and the introduction of telephone and paper-based assessments.
The letter welcomes these steps, but it also highlights serious concerns that despite these measures, people with mental health problems still face “significant barriers” to accessing the vital support offered by the benefits system during the pandemic. For example, many people with mental health problems struggle to undertake telephone interviews or complete paper-based forms, or rely on family, friends and professionals to help them manage benefits. Many are currently cut off from this support due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
“This is an especially difficult time for people with mental health problems for many reasons. It is crucial that we support the most vulnerable in our society as we deal with the outbreak and people with mental health problems are no exception to this.
The government should learn from this crisis and ensure that the benefits system is more flexible and guarantees that people with mental health problems are able to access the help they need.”
Katie Alpin, Interim Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:
“Now more than ever, it’s absolutely vital that vulnerable people can get the support they need from the benefits system. But people with mental health problems tell us that they are terrified they could miss out during the coronavirus lockdown, and that they could face severe financial hardship as a result. We know the government is under huge pressure, but taking small steps now to fix these issues would make a huge difference in ensuring that people with mental health problems don’t miss out on the benefits they need.”