Mental health worsens for newly reliant on financial support

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The mental health of people newly reliant on state benefits and financial support during the pandemic worsened far more last year than in the wider population.

While mental health worsened across all groups during the Covid-19 crisis, those forced to rely on universal credit and self-employment grants to get by experienced a significant decline in their wellbeing between April 2020 and January 2021 than in the wider population, according to the study by the National Centre for Social Research.

Forty-two per cent in this group – named “help-seekers” by researchers – said their mental health was poor in January 2021, compared with 29% before the pandemic and 30% only two months earlier.

“Multi-strugglers” – those who have had long-standing financial difficulties – reported the highest levels of mental distress before the pandemic which increased further throughout 2020, but by January 2021 concerns among this group returned to pre-Covid levels. Around 41% were experiencing mental health difficulties in January, versus 54% in April 2020.

As well as reporting consistently high levels of mental distress, the multi-strugglers and help-seekers were also more likely to report any new diagnosis for a mental illness between May 2020 and January 2021. Some 14.1% of multi-strugglers and 7.7% of help-seekers reported a new mental health diagnosis during this period.

The study concluded: “Levels of mental distress increased in the UK during the strictest lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid–19, but the largest increases have been seen amongst those groups who were in the weakest financial position at the onset of the pandemic and who have required access to greater levels of financial support throughout the pandemic.

“While people struggling with multiple financial issues experienced the highest levels of distress both before and during the pandemic, people newly seeking financial support appear to be particularly vulnerable to the mental health effects of the pandemic.”

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