Poverty and mental health: causes and effects  | CPAG

Poverty and mental health: causes and effects 

Published on: 
10 October 2021
Written by: 

Lizzie Flew

Communications and campaigns manager

Universal credit has been high in the headlines this week as the government cut it by £20 a week. We joined many others in strongly condemning this cut, knowing just how much pressure it will place on already-struggling families. Some have argued that the cut might harm the mental health of those affected, and parents have expressed this fear to us. The social security system should be a source of support for those experiencing mental health problems, rather than a cause of those problems. This World Mental Health Day, we are reflecting on how well the system provides that support.

Many of us will experience mental health problems at different points in our lives. Sometimes our mental health will affect our ability to do paid work, and in these circumstances the social security system should step in and ensure we have the financial support we need. And it should deliver that support in a way that responds to people’s needs. But our latest research, which we’ll publish later this year, suggests this isn’t happening. People with mental health problems are seeking financial support from universal credit, and they’re coming up against barriers in making and managing their claim.

Thanks to funding from Fusion21 Foundation, we have been exploring how government treats people with mental health issues who claim universal credit. In particular, we’re looking at whether the Department for Work and Pensions meets its duties to respond to disabled claimants’ needs, making appropriate reasonable adjustments. Early findings suggest this isn’t always happening. One woman, who asked for a phone appointment because her mental health condition makes attending the job centre very difficult, told us her work coach had said: ‘I can’t make an exception for you’. In fact, he should have responded to her needs, rather than dismissing her request out of hand.

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is 'mental health in an unequal world'. Poverty undoubtedly increases the risk of people experiencing mental health problems. But it works the other way too: mental health problems can lead to poverty because our social security system does not do enough to protect people. The social security system should be there for all of us when we need it. And it should respond to our needs and circumstances to give us the best chance to thrive.


Our research on the experience of people with mental health problems claiming universal credit will be out later this year