Removing conditions for the Minimum Income Guarantee

The Mental Health Foundation ( ) welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to providing a Minimum Income Guarantee. As an evidence-based research organisation in Scotland focussed on the prevention of mental ill-health and advancing the notion of public mental health, the Foundation has a long-standing record of seeking to reduce the prevalence of mental health inequalities, i.e., by tackling economic, racial, educational and environmental barriers that prevent people from bettering and sustaining their own mental health. 1. What do you see as being the key elements of a Minimum Income Guarantee? 1. Alleviating financial strain - It is important that the income from a Minimum Income Guarantee is set at a level that alleviates financial strain. Perceived financial strain is a risk factor for mental health problems. It is therefore important in the development of the MIG that the Scottish Government consults with people with lived experience of poverty to understand the level that will lead to the alleviation of financial strain. The MIG must also take account of the extra costs of disability and long-term health conditions. 2. Non-conditionality – Our recent research into the mental health effects of Universal Basic Income found that removing conditionality (that is, individual requirements to demonstrate eligibility), was associated with better mental health. For adults, studies consistently found that removing the conditions associated with traditional social security benefits was associated with improved mental wellbeing among participants, suggesting this holds considerable gains for population mental health. Furthermore, in the studies we identified the removal of conditionality had no effect on either the rate of employment amongst recipients or their motivation for and attempts to secure it. Although this review was limited to previous UBI pilots, our findings echo the results of other benefit sanction reviews. In 2016, a comprehensive review by the National Audit Office concluded there was limited evidence sanctions actually worked and concluded the sanctions system was in urgent need of reform (National Audit Office, 2016). More recently, in the most extensive study of welfare conditionality in the UK ever conducted, sanctions were overall found to be ineffective at getting jobless people into work (Economic and Social Research Council, 2018). Moreover, it emerged that they do little to enhance motivation to find employment and for some individuals, increase their risk of exposure to further poverty, ill-health and even survival crime (ESRC, 2018). In the studies we reviewed of unconditional cash transfers for children, we identified significant and long-lasting benefits in their mental health, particularly when these were introduced early. A significant factor in children’s improved mental health was improvement in parent-child relationships due to reduced time constraints within the family which were central. Scotland’s efforts to improve children’s mental wellbeing through reducing childhood poverty will be ineffective if the wider effects of all policies on children’s wellbeing are not evaluated. This must therefore be carefully considered by policymakers when determining the most effective strategies for improving children’s wellbeing, with implications that providing low-income households with non-stigmatising, unconditional payments offers parents the opportunity to spend more quality time with their children, with significant and long-lasting benefits. 1. What do you see as the main benefits, challenges and risks of a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland? We see one of the most important benefits of a Minimum Income Guarantee as its potential to prevent mental health problems and thereby reduce the prevalence of mental health problems in Scotland. The reasons include that increased income could reduce financial strain on people living in poverty, increase parents’ time available for parenting, and reduce child poverty which is a known risk factor for mental health problems. However, if the MIG retains conditionality and varied eligibility requirements of the current benefits system, it may not reduce the psychological strain experienced by benefit recipients who find it stressful and stigmatising to apply, and often repeatedly demonstrate, their eligibility for benefits. It is likely that retaining the conditional eligibility requirements of the current benefits system, even if providing for greater income, will lessen the potential positive mental health effects of an MIG. If the level of MIG is not set high enough to alleviate financial strain, this would reduce the positive mental health effects of the income on direct beneficiaries and on the children of beneficiaries who are parents, since economic pressure, through its influence on parental mental health, marital interaction and parenting, has been shown to negatively affect the mental health of children and young people. In order to reduce mental health problems, we suggest that an MIG must not only alleviate poverty but also reduce income inequality. Higher national levels of income inequality are linked to a higher prevalence of mental health problems, and as countries become richer but remain unequal the rates of mental health problems increase. This view is supported by evidence that Socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties have been found to be inversely distributed by household wealth as a measure of socioeconomic position in children as young as three years old. Thus it is vital that the MIG is set at a level that will have a real effect on reducing income inequality in Scotland. 2. Are there certain groups of people that you think should be given particular attention when thinking about how a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland should work? People who are at higher risk of a mental health problem should be given particular attention in planning the MIG. This would include people who are disadvantaged in the labour market such as people who are Black, and people from the Asian or other ethnic minority groups, people who are LGBT+, women, lone parents, people with disabilities/long-term health conditions, older people, people who are unemployed, and young adults. Also, as having a parent with a mental health problem is a known risk factor for children’s mental health, and as a preventative measure for children’s mental health, parents with a mental health problem should be given priority. Finally, it would make sense to pilot the MIG among people who are currently on Universal Credit and who will have had their uplift cut. All three devolved governments across the UK have called on the UK Government not to proceed with this measure. However, should the cut go ahead, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that millions of households will face an income loss equivalent to £1,040 a year. 3. What steps should we take first to deliver the Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland? You may wish to think about public services, employment and employers, and social security. Throughout the development of the Minimum Income Guarantee, the Scottish Government should consider the potential mental health effects. We recommend that any pilot would incorporate measures of recipients’ and children’s mental health and wellbeing in order to evaluate the potential mental health benefits of the MIG. We recommend that the Scottish Government explore the potential for an MIG to reduce the stigma associated with receiving social security benefits, as this is likely to have positive mental health effects. We recommend that the Scottish Government gather evidence from other countries on the mental health effects of a MIG where it has been implemented already. We also recommend that in the development of the MIG, the Scottish Government consults specifically with people with lived experience of a mental health problem and with people who are at higher risk of a mental health problem and their representative organisations. Alongside the income guarantee, people need a guarantee of quick, easy access to mental health support. The Scottish Government must invest in the expansion of community-based support for adults and roll out link workers to every GP practice to ensure people receive person-centred help when they need it. Early recognition and treatment of mental health disorders for those who need it is crucial for improving outcomes and increasing rates of recovery. The costs associated with treatment delays, also make this an economic imperative; in a recent survey of those waiting for all forms of mental health support, two-fifths reported having resorted to contacting emergency or crisis services, with one-in-nine (11%) ending up in accident and emergency services. The Government should also invest in community-based mental wellbeing supports for children and young people beyond investment in CAMHS and school-based counsellors. The pandemic has affected children and young people’s wellbeing, at times disproportionately. Investing in youth work, mentoring and other forms of evidence-based supports should be a priority for the Scottish Government.

Why the contribution is important

In Scotland, close to a quarter of all children and a fifth of ‘working age’ adults live in poverty. The link between Scotland’s endemic poverty and its poor mental wellbeing is undeniable. Suicide rates are among the highest in the UK and rising, and the country has become infamous as home to the highest drug related deaths in western Europe, with those living in Scotland’s most deprived areas shouldering the vast majority of the burden. Socio-economic inequalities are among the leading predictors of mental health problems. For example, children who live in the poorest households in Scotland are four times more likely to have poorer mental wellbeing than those in the highest income households. Poverty also significantly negatively impacts on children’s cognitive, social and behavioural development. Meanwhile, men in the least well-off communities in Scotland are ten times more likely to die by suicide than men in the most affluent areas. These mental health inequalities have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic – the Mental Health Foundation-led Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic study has consistently found that people who are unemployed or living with disabling health conditions or a pre-existing mental health problem have been more likely to report mental or emotional distress as a result of the pandemic. If Scotland is to succeed in reducing prevalence of mental ill health it must tackle the deep-rooted inequalities that exist in our society which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

by ShariMcDaid on September 02, 2021 at 02:30PM

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  • Posted by EMayo September 06, 2021 at 10:51

    I agree. One of the issues with the current system is that navigating it is so stressful. It is unecessarily complex and puts people through an ordeal characterised by judgement and blame. By all means have a system that is robust enought to withstand misuse but do not harm those the system is supposedly there to support. Simplifying conditions means a more streamlined and efficient process getting people the support they need in a way that makes them feel valued and respected.
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