An open letter
We are an alliance of organisations working across the public, voluntary and community sectors concerned with social care for children and adults, mental health, public health, disability, homelessness, and welfare rights. Together, we have both significant national and local knowledge, as well as an understanding of the operation of the UK social security benefits system and its importance to health and wellbeing.
Our collective view is that social security benefits’ policy and delivery must now be explicitly re-aligned with the objectives of our health and care system and become concerned with keeping people well, promoting independence and wellbeing and tackling inequalities.
We believe that the experience of COVID-19, the prospect of disability benefit changes as signaled by the forthcoming Green Paper and the Government’s manifesto commitment to social care reform and prevent homelessness provide both the renewed imperative and context for re-designing a social security benefits system that:
- Keeps people with mental health needs and families that include a disabled adult or child safe, in the first instance
- Enables and assists recovery from mental illness and the full participation in society of people with mental illness and their careers and families
- Removes the application of sanctions to disabled people and the requirement for disabled people to look for work while they wait for an assessment
- Mitigates the risk of homelessness and supports people without a home back into accommodation
- Mitigates the risk of problem debt
- Promotes whole population mental health and wellbeing.
Given the clear evidence that advice provision has a positive impact on health, we also think that in order for the benefits system to achieve these aims, it must be supported through fully funded new duty on councils, for the provision of comprehensive welfare rights and money advice, for all existing and prospective claimants.
We believe that this new duty sits logically with councils’ existing duties under the Care Act 2014 e.g., in relation to the provision of information, advice and guidance, prevention and the promotion of wellbeing, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and their current homelessness and public health functions.
We therefore call on the Government to review how the provisions in relevant legislation (e.g., the Care Act and Health and Social Care Act) can be amended to secure the provision of and access to welfare rights, money and debt advice, in the context of:
- The duties the relevant legislation currently places on local authorities for information, advice and advocacy and the need for a new resource settlement for social care and the review of the current Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework
- The ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan for modern, personalised community mental health services, premised on the need for a clearer focus on prevention and addressing the social and economic determinants of mental health
- A recognition of the human and economic cost of a failure to support individuals, carers, and families at the earliest stages of crisis
- The increasing evidence of need for and value of expert wrap around welfare rights, money, and debt advice services in primary and secondary mental health services
- The need for help and support with navigating the benefit system, as an essential feature of a local health and care systems that promote wellbeing and help to keep people safe.
For more than three decades, the UK’s social security benefits system has become increasingly disconnected from public policy concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through prevention and early intervention. We are clear that the impact of COVID-19 on people and communities, and the ongoing the social and economic consequences of the pandemic, both amplify and provide further evidence of the need to restore that connection as an immediate priority for public policy in the UK.
Kathy Roberts, CEO, Association of Mental Health Providers
James Bullion, President, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services
Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, President, Association of Directors of Public Health
Maris Stratulis, National Director for England, British Association of Social Workers
Sarah Hughes, CEO, Centre for Mental Health
Alison Garnham, CEO, Child Poverty Action Group
Geoff Fimister, Co-Chair, Disability Benefits Consortium
Rick Henderson, CEO, Homeless Link
Alan Markey, Chair, National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers
Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation
Mark Winstanley, CEO, Rethink Mental Illness