Mental health sufferers could lose sickness benefits

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could remove a disability benefit for some mental health sufferers in an effort to tackle the UK’s ‘sick note culture’.

This comes as Sunak is set to announce a ‘benefits crackdown’ involving changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Sunak’s proposed changes are likely to target those with ‘mild mental health conditions’ that should not prevent people from working. These changes could include the state providing vouchers or treatment instead of monthly cash payments, or the need for receipts to claim money back from the government.

This comes as data shows that some 2.6 million people receive PIP every month, which can amount to up to £5,500 per year. Of this number, 360,000 currently claim PIP for depression and anxiety – double the figure from two years ago.

Mel Stride is the UK works and pensions secretary. He believes ‘over-labelling’ of mental health issues is the cause of this growth.

Stride told the Times: ‘There are those that have perhaps milder mental health conditions, or where perhaps there has been too great a move towards labelling certain behaviours as having certain [medical] conditions attached to them, where actually work is the answer or part of the answer.

‘What we’ve got to avoid is being in a situation where for those people we too readily say, “well, actually, we need you to be on benefits”.’

‘Deeply damaging’

Sunak also hopes to tackle ‘sick note culture’ by stripping GP’s of their power to sign people off work. This is because, for some, he believes benefits have become ‘lifestyle choice’, resulting in a ‘spiralling’ welfare bill.

Dr Sarah Hughes is chief executive of Mind, a mental health charity. She said: ‘We are deeply disappointed that the prime minister’s speech continues a trend in recent rhetoric which conjures up the image of a “mental health culture” that has “gone too far”.’

‘This is harmful, inaccurate and contrary to the reality for people up and down the country. The truth is that mental health services are at breaking point following years of underinvestment, with many people getting increasingly unwell while they wait to receive support.

‘To imply that it is easy both to be signed off work and then to access benefits is deeply damaging. It is insulting to the 1.9 million people on a waiting list to get mental health support, and to the GPs whose expert judgment is being called into question.’

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