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How shameful. Britain’s brutal benefit system is causing mental distress

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“Please judge me fairly. I am a good person but overshadowed by depression. All I want in life is to live normally. That would be the answer to my prayers. Thank you to all for taking the time to read this letter, I really appreciate it. I don’t know how I’ll cope when I see you all. I hope I will be OK.”

Errol Graham’s handwritten note – thought to be intended for officials at his “fit for work” assessment but never sent – emerged last week. The words weigh particularly heavy in light of the knowledge that Graham went on to die of starvation after having his disability benefits cut off. It reads as a plea from beyond the grave: a man with severe mental health problems politely asking the state to treat him as a human being.

I thought of this as research came out linking universal credit to an increase in “psychological stress” among the unemployed people who claim it. The introduction of the government’s flagship benefit was associated with a 6.6 percentage point increase in mental health issues across the UK between 2013 and 2018 – which represents an extra 63,674 people experiencing “significant forms of mental distress”.

The study found “observational associations” rather than “cause and effect” – the researchers noted the spike in mental health cases could also have been influenced by the broader range of welfare changes, for example – but it does not take an expert to see a pattern. If you are forced to wait five weeks for an income, it is natural to feel anxious. If a benefit sanction means you have to take your kids to a food bank in order to provide them with a warm meal, it’s........

© The Guardian