Benefit cuts hitting social tenants’ mental health
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Finance, Health
Camden Council 'to deliver £3 million savings' through improved benefits service
The government's raft of benefit cuts is has having a negative effect on people's mental health, a major study has revealed.
The findings by Real Life Reform – a major study by social landlords of 74 households across the North of England - show that households are planning to cut back spending on food and fuel while some are left with less than £10 a week to live on, following April's welfare reforms.
The first round of interviews, conducted during July, also revealed:
• Eight out of 10 households are already in debt and 83% of families are worried about getting into more debt. Over half of those in debt doubt they’ll be able to clear these debts.
• The average level of debt is £2,418.
• Families are reporting increases in levels of stress and depression.
• 88% of households are worried welfare changes will impact on their health and wellbeing.
• Parents report they are going without to protect their children’s health.
• 77% of families believe the changes will impact on their neighbourhood and there are worries about loan sharks and crime.
• Many respondents are critical of the Job Centre’s efforts to help them find work.
Andy Williams, director of neighbourhood services at Liverpool Housing Trust (LHT) and chair of the Real Life Reform steering group, said: “The report suggests how households are already being affected by the benefits changes, and some of the findings are very worrying.
“People’s health and wellbeing, their ability to cope financially, and problems when trying to find work are just some of the issues highlighted.
“Real Life Reform is about giving real people with real stories the opportunity to tell us what it is really like, and the facts speak for themselves.
“From the outset, the study has come from a neutral standpoint – we simply want to relay these experiences to allow organisations and policy-makers to have first-hand information available when they are looking at what comes next.”
The Real Life Reform case studies are being interviewed by housing officers once every three months for at least 18 months so that their experiences can be tracked.
The social landlords hope the ongoing findings will allow them to better understand the impact on their customers of welfare reforms and shape their own policies, influence decision-making and inform national policy-makers.
A detailed questionnaire has been developed, along with ethical guidelines, with support from The University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy Research.
The project is also being supported by the Northern Housing Consortium (NHC), which will share the research findings with the government, MPs and other key policy-makers.
NHC executive director Charlotte Harrison said: “Politicians and policy-makers acknowledged when drafting the Welfare Reform Act that predicting the impact of changes was difficult.
“Real Life Reform allows us to hear from families about exactly how they are responding – what choices they are making in terms of how they spend their money each week, accessing work opportunities and thoughts for the future.
“This first report suggests that people are already worried about the impact on their health and wellbeing, and that looking for work is not always a positive experience. We hope that politicians and policy-makers will engage with us on Real Life Reform and take on board its stark messages.”
Seven landlords have developed the study and are leading it through a steering group. They are: Halton Housing Trust, Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing, Leeds Federated, Leeds and Yorkshire Housing Association, Liverpool Housing Trust, North Star Housing Group and Stockport Homes.
The next round of interviews will be taking place in October and the study’s second report is expected to be published in December.