Moving on - from benefit to work

In the first of a series of articles, leading mental health and benefits experts Jenny Blackshaw and Judith Hodson outline the positive effects of ‘ Permitted Work’ for someone with a mental health problem...

People with mental health problems may find moving from Social Security benefits into full time work stressful and overwhelming. Worries about not being able to cope with the pressures of full time work and not being able to return to benefits if unwell again, may lead to people being wary of trying any work.

Permitted Work rules allow people on sickness related benefits - Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Incapacity Benefit (IB), Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) and Income Support on ill health grounds (IS) - to do a limited amount of work whilst remaining on these benefits. In addition linking rules allow people to return to the same level of benefits if they are unable to carry on working due to ill health within a set period. This encourages social inclusion and decreases isolation, increases confidence and self esteem, and provides meaningful activity during the day, particularly relevant for claimants with mental health problems.

Over the last couple of years these rules have been improved in order to encourage more people to try this route into full time work. Previously the rules and criteria for Permitted Work had varied between the different sickness benefits eg earnings from Permitted Work affected each individual benefit differently, with some people being better off than others. The rules have now changed so that most people can earn the same amount without their sickness benefits being affected. People receiving ESA can now earn up to £93 / week with no effect on these benefits, and no effect on their Housing and Council Tax Benefits (HB/CTB). Unfortunately this rule does not apply to people in receipt  of Income Support (on ill health grounds) where any earnings over £20 /week will still be deducted from their benefit, and may still affect their HB/CTB.

As training providers we have had success in this area by paying mental health service-users to be involved in our training within the Permitted Work criteria, including our training on ‘Mental Health Awareness and Accessing Benefits’ to groups of front line staff and mental health professionals (eg housing and information staff, DWP officers, social workers, nurses, support workers). This includes service-users with long term mental health problems using their IT skills to produce the power point presentation and handouts, and a personal account of how severe mental illness had resulted in the loss of benefits and accommodation due to difficulties dealing with forms, letters etc.  In addition, the training courses are, as a result, more individual and relevant for the course attendees due to service-users’ involvement. 

Also, service-users are able to raise awareness of issues relating to mental health with front line workers, develop new skills and increase self-confidence. The Permitted Work rules enable service-users to do this without having the extra worry and anxieties about losing benefit entitlement.  

Jenny Blackshaw & Judith Hodson are experienced welfare rights advisers with a specialism in mental health. In their work they have found that access to advice can help break the cycle of deprivation linked to mental ill health by increasing  income and reducing stress related symptoms, thereby enabling better engagement with services and improving social inclusion.