Newcastle University: Expanding welfare benefits improves mental health

Austerity-style reductions to welfare benefits have detrimental effects on mental health, particularly for more vulnerable groups in society who are also most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new research also found that policies that expand social security benefits are associated with positive mental health outcomes – particularly in more vulnerable groups, reducing inequalities in mental health.

The Newcastle University study, published in the Social Science and Medicine journal, combined the results of thirty-eight studies into major reforms of social security in eight high-income countries (including UK, USA, Canada) over the past three decades. It assessed whether changes to the welfare system affected the mental health of adults and children.

Julija Simpson PhD student in the Newcastle University Public Health Sciences Institute and co-author explained: “We found that policies that expand social security benefits are associated with positive mental health outcomes and lower mental health inequalities, whereas policies that reduce or limit benefits tend to have negative effects.

“The evidence showed that austerity-style reductions to social security policies can have detrimental effects on population mental health, particularly for more vulnerable groups in society – groups who are also disproportionately being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When countries are developing evidence-based policy social security policies they need to ensure that the mental health impacts of such policies are fully considered, and so that future policies promote, or at least do not harm, the mental health of the most vulnerable groups in our society.”

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra, professor of Public Health at Newcastle University commented: “Our results show the importance to protecting people’s mental health of adequate social safety nets. This is particularly relevant now as the lock down and the COVID-19 pandemic is already leading to deteriorations in people’s mental health. Our research suggests that the current increase to Universal Credit of £20 per week should be maintained in order to protect the mental health of the most vulnerable in our society.”

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