Social security essentials this general election

27th June 2024

People across the UK will be going to the polls on 4 July to elect MPs to represent them in the UK parliament. How the election impacts the country’s mental health needs to be at the forefront of all our minds as we cast our votes.

In Scotland we have two parliaments: the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, with responsibility for devolved issues such as health and education, and the UK parliament in Westminster. The UK parliament and UK Government have responsibility for key areas, which impact all of our lives, from employment law and equalities law to foreign affairs and defence.

But where does mental health fit in? One key area is social security.

Who is responsible for social security?

While some important parts of social security are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, responsibility for income-related social security – including the support we can receive when we cannot work due to our mental health – sits with the UK parliament at Westminster.

Too often the political and public debate around social security is stigmatising or negative, but we believe social security should be valued as an essential source of financial support to empower people to live fulfilling dignified lives. The right to social security is recognised in international law as a human right but much needs to be done to reform our UK social security system to ensure it is adequately supporting people living with mental health problems.

What change do we want to see?

That is why at this election we have been calling on all political parties to commit to reforming the UK social security system, in particular Universal Credit. We know from speaking to the people we support that Universal Credit is not working for people living with mental health problems. From assessment processes to inappropriate conditionality and sanctioning, too often people’s experience of Universal Credit (and the social security system as a whole) is that it increases their distress and risks pushing people living with mental health problems into poverty.

Our UK General Election policy briefing sets out our policy asks in detail, but in short we are calling on all political parties to commit to the following key policies:

  • Abolish the unjustified five-week waiting period for first Universal Credit payment to prevent people falling into poverty or debt
  • Radically reform how disabled people, including people living with mental health problems, are assessed for the health component of Universal Credit. This includes replacing the face-to-face Work Capability Assessment with a new, more holistic process to determine eligibility, co-produced with disabled people, including people with mental health problems.
  • Abolish benefit sanctions for disabled people.
  • Undertake an urgent review of Universal Credit to ensure it is sufficient to protect people from going without essentials such as food and heating.
  • Ensure a reformed Universal Credit, including any disability component, remains cash-based for all claimants.
  • The UK and Scottish Governments must work together to ensure both the UK and Scottish social security systems support disabled people, including people living with mental health problems.

How listening can play a vital role

Prioritising the voices of people with experience of mental health problems is fundamental to the – much needed – reform of the UK social security system. It is crucial that the experiences of people from a diverse range of communities are incorporated to help shape a system that will best serve the needs of everyone who needs it, including people living with mental health problems.

We at SAMH will continue to loudly make the case for a social security system that allows all of us to live dignified lives free from poverty. This election is an important opportunity to have all of our voices heard.

  • Craig Smith is Senior Policy and Research Officer at SAMH