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Mental health charity campaign backed by MP Bill Esterson

Mental health charity campaign backed by MP Bill Esterson

by Henry James (December 2020)

A CAMPAIGN by the mental health charity Mind to ensure a Winter Mental Health Support Package is in place has been backed by Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson.

Mr Esterson said the coronavirus crisis had been “extremely challenging” for many people and without the right support available could lead to a mental health emergency.

Mr Esterson backed a letter sent by Mind to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson which asked for the government to urgently set out how it will protect people severely affected by mental health problems throughout the next few months.   

The letter asks for

- Covid-safe face-to-face support from services

- Beds in mental health hospitals and support when they go home

- Free flu vaccinations and physical health checks 

- Food and other essential items 

- Financial support through a flexible benefits system   

Mr Esterson met with constituent Phil Richman who raised the issue with him direct. Mr Esterson and Mr Richman talked on a Zoom call about Mr Richman’s and Mind’s main concerns.

Mr Richman said he had seen many friends suffer during the pandemic, and knew of several people who had committed suicide during the period.

He was also concerned that on November 2 this year, the DWP removed a safeguard which until that point had protected disabled people from having their benefits stopped if they were unable to take part in a phone assessment for Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit.

Mr Esterson said: “It is extremely concerning that people have been taken to such a dark place during this period and that the support has not been there for them.

“This changes to the safeguards has left many disabled people – including many people with a mental health problem – at risk of seeing their benefits cut. This comes as the whole of the UK faces a challenging winter which will particularly impact disabled people and people with health conditions.”

In March 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions took a number of actions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including:

• cancelling face-to-face assessments for disability benefits, and introducing phone assessments in their place;

• protecting those already on disability benefits from having their benefits stopped by suspending benefits reviews and reassessments for three months;

• introducing a safeguard for the new phone assessments that meant anyone who missed a call, or couldn’t engage with the phone assessment, wouldn’t have their disability benefits removed as a penalty.

In July 2020, the Department announced that reassessments and reviews would return, meaning over the last few months many disabled people have faced the  anxiety of a phone call which could result in them losing their income. Throughout this time disabled people have faced additional barriers to navigating the benefits system including difficulties accessing face-to-face advice and securing medical evidence.

While the DWP have removed some safeguards, until Monday, November 2, it was still the case that if assessors couldn’t reach someone for their phone assessment their approach was to try to reschedule where possible, and to keep people on their existing level of benefits if they couldn’t make contact.

On Monday, November 2, the Department removed this final safeguard, meaning that, anyone who does not attend a telephone assessment for disability support from Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit will risk having their benefits reduced or cut-off altogether.

The burden will now be on disabled people to prove that they have a good reason for missing an appointment. If the Department does not accept their proof, then they risk seeing their benefits stopped.

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