A study by Gateshead Council in associating with two Newcastle universities examining the impact of the Universal Credit rollout north-east England has linked the benefits system to an increased risk of suicide.

The study found that those claiming under the system are being forced into debt, rent arrears and hardship, which is taking its toll on their health and well-being. They conclude that the system does not work for vulnerable claimants, with the threat of sanctions, claiming process and increased conditionality combining to produce such a negative impact on claimants’ mental health that some had considered suicide.

Despite many claimants who took part in the study being considered “vulnerable” per the DWP’s definition, additional support which should have been made available to them was routinely not offered.

Study leader Dr Mandy Cheetham said: “Claimants were under severe stress because of the claims process and some people had been so low they said they had considered suicide. The process of claiming and then trying to survive in the system, with the constant threat of sanctions was making people increasingly anxious and depressed, and worsening existing health problems.”

Deputy leader of Gateshead Council Catherine Donovan called the results of the study appalling, adding that she would be calling on the government to scrap the system “as a matter of urgency.” Disability Rights UK’s welfare benefit advice and policy officer Ken Butler agreed that the study showed the rollout should be stopped immediately, saying:

“The findings of this report are truly shocking and reason enough for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be halted.

“The benefits system should support, protect and enable disabled people and those with long-term health conditions not drive them to despair, poverty and desperation.

“Yet the situation is being made worse by Public Health England refusing to warn councils of the risk of suicide by those on ESA.

“As a minimum, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the administration and claiming of Universal Credit before any managed migration to it. A starting point for identifying claimants who might be vulnerable would be those who are in receipt of ESA, PIP or the disability premium.

“And it’s essential that instead of requiring migration by direct claim the DWP should instead seek to convert existing benefit claims wherever possible.”

Read the full study here.

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Image: Flickr/Ryan Melaugh

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