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Benefit cuts ‘can damage mental health’

27 March 2015


THE so-called "bedroom tax", benefit sanctions, and other cuts to social security have led to a spike in mental-health problems, a number of researchers have said.

A new report The Psychological Impact of Austerity, published earlier this month by the group Psychologists Against Austerity, suggested that the Government's austerity programme had caused psychological damage to those hit by the cuts.

The report lists five "austerity ailments": humiliation and shame; fear and distrust; insecurity; isolation and loneliness; and powerlessness. They are "indicators of problems in society, of poisonous public policy, weakness of social cohesion, and inequalities in power and wealth," it says.

Rhetoric about "skivers" and the "undeserving poor" have led to humiliation among the poor, the psychologists argue. They also point to research which suggests that "prolonged humiliation after a severe loss can treble the chance of being diagnosed with clinical depression."

Similarly, austerity has led to rising distrust, isolation, and insecurity in society, as state programmes are pared back, and benefits and jobs become less reliable. All of this can increase levels of mental-health problems, the report says.

The psychologists say that "austerity tears apart communities, and reduces people's capacity to live well". They call for all social policy to be drafted in light of its potential impact on mental health.

A separate study from Newcastle University looked in detail at the impact of the "bedroom tax" - a cut in housing benefit for those deemed to be under-occupying their homes. The lead researcher, Dr Suzanne Moffatt, said that her study rejected the Government's claim that the bedroom tax would have no negative impact on people's well-being.

The research suggests that those hit by the bedroom tax are finding it harder to afford their rent and food, which was causing many to feel hopeless, and was affecting their mental health. The study also suggested that the solutions to the housing-benefit cut suggested by the Government - downsizing to a smaller property, getting another job, or working longer hours - were largely impossible in the north-east.

The research was funded by Newcastle City Council, whose deputy leader, Joyce McCarthy, said: "[The bedroom tax] is creating a sense of hopelessness, where people are struggling to eat and keep warm in order to try and pay this tax to keep a roof over their head; that is pernicious and inhumane, and it's hardly surprising that it's affecting people's health."

The Department for Work and Pensions, however, said that the research could not definitely say that the bedroom tax was the cause of negative circumstances for each individual. A spokesman for the DWP told The Guardian that the bedroom tax was "restoring fairness to the system" and saving £1 million a day.

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