Na h-Eileanan an Iar, SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has criticised the UK government for failing welfare claimants with mental health problems.

The SNP has raised the issue in the House of Commons with the party’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, Banff & Buchan MP, Dr Eilidh Whiteford speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on Improving the Employment and Support Allowance application process for people with mental health problems

The SNP has condemned the UK government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for its shortcomings with regard to people with mental health conditions.

Scottish Mental Health Charity SAMH, has published evidence showing that welfare reform has led to suicide attempts by people with mental health problems and has caused many other significant problems for sufferers of mental health illness.

Concerns have been raised by mental healthcare professionals and representative organisations that WCA doesn’t capture the impact of more serious mental illnesses on a person’s capacity to function in a working environment, and leads to poor decision making.

According to a Freedom of Information request, in 2013, 58% (6 out of 10) ESA claimants hit by sanctions were vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty – an increase from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 – indicating that people with mental health problems are being inappropriately sanctioned.

Commenting, Angus MacNeil MP said:

“The UK government must do more to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.

“There has been an increasing stream of people with quite serious mental illnesses over the last couple of years who are falling through our now very frayed social safety net because of Welfare Reforms. I’m sure it goes without saying that many people with a mental illness won’t ever need to depend on the benefits system but some of those with more severe mental illnesses do require support, and some of them are extremely vulnerable.

“A key problem is that too often assessors and decision makers have little or no relevant background information about claimants’ complex medical histories, and too rarely seek input or opinions from claimants’ clinicians.

“A report recently published by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, SAMH, details findings on how the experiences of living in poverty affect peoples’ mental health, and how SAMH service users with mental health problems have been affected by UK government welfare reforms. A truly shocking finding was that 98% of respondents said that welfare reforms were impacting on their mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, while 79% were facing financial impacts such as reduced income.

“In six cases reported to the 2013 survey, SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to the welfare reforms.

“The information is there in black and white, and the UK government cannot continue to ignore it.”

Note to Editors:

See Freedom of Information request 2014-79:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/295384/foi-79-2014.pdf (published March 2014).