Everyone living with a mental illness deserves financial security. Rethink Mental Illness fights for a social security system that is fit for purpose and listens to the people that need it most.

Welfare and employment: What's changed?

In 2023, the government released a series of new welfare and employment policies. This includes reforms to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the Back to Work Plan, alongside other changes announced in the Autumn Statement.

We strongly oppose the government’s approach to getting people back into work and the potential loss of financial support for many people living with mental illness who rely on benefits.

We know that these announcements have been distressing and unclear for many people. In this blog by Julia from our Policy Team, we explain what will happen, what might happen, and some of our hopes for the future.

Disability, mental illness and the benefits system

It can be easy to take the ability to find and maintain a job for granted. The government has released a new Health and Disability White Paper, but how will affect people living with severe mental illness and their access to the benefit system?

Deaths and serious harm in the benefits system

The process for accessing benefits and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been found to negatively impact people’s wellbeing, causing severe anxiety and distress, creating financial hardship, worsening existing mental health conditions and, in some cases, leading to death.

"We're just numbers to them"

A survey in 2021 shone a light on the disturbing notion that the government’s approach to investigating death and serious harm because of people’s experiences of the benefit system is highly secretive and not fit for purpose.  

We spoke to people with lived experience of mental illness who have been harmed by the system and outlined six recommendations for the Department for Work and Pensions to take urgent action.  

Tip of the iceberg

Our Tip of the Iceberg report from 2021 highlights the key areas of the benefits process that is causing such harm to people living with a mental illness, including difficult applications, assessments, admin errors and more. Read the report.

Off the back of the Tip of the Iceberg report, we launched our Stop Benefit Deaths campaign to call for a full public inquiry and a new body to investigate, and prevent, future deaths. Join the fight here. 

A call for transparency

Those of us living with a mental illness deserve to have access to a safe and secure welfare system whenever we need it, no matter how long we need it for. 

A welfare system informed by the people it affects 

The government introduced two new policy documents in July 2021: The Health and Disability Green Paper and the National Disability Strategy. The Department for Work and Pensions said they wanted their proposals to be guided by three main principles: 

  • Enabling independent living, including equal access to services. 
  • Improving employment outcomes, including providing more tailored support for people both in and out of work. 
  • Improving the experience of people using DWP services, including finding more ways to offer support and making services easier to use. 

We worked with people living with severe mental illness who had experience of the welfare system to create an informed response to, and recommendations for, the policies.  

Has welfare become unfair? 

Changes to welfare benefits in 2008 resulted in some of the most vulnerable people in society, including disabled people and people with long-term physical and mental health conditions, feeling abandoned by and unfair system and left in poverty and isolation.  

Along with the other members of the Disability Benefits Consortium, Rethink Mental Illness released a report, taking an in-depth look at the impact.

"It's broken her" 

Assessments to receive Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments can be a major source of trauma for people severely affected by mental illness, with many people citing a lack of personal approach or understand of mental illness.

  • The decision is ultimately made about you but not with you, and that’s just not the case for medical treatment.

    Hannah, on Personal Independence Payments assessments Hannah, on Personal Independence Payments assessments

Our It’s Broken Her: Assessments for Disability Benefits and Mental Health report called for a reform of these assessments to create a system that works for people with mental illness, and for the government.