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New Jobseeker's Allowance claimants have worse mental health - Turn2us

Department for Work and Pensions research into Jobseeker's Allowance and mental health (link opens in a new window)New Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) claimants had worse mental health than people of working age in the population as a whole, according to new research by the Department for Work and Pensions.

  • 14.7% had severe neurotic symptoms (nearly twice the rate for the general population)
  • More than a fifth had a common mental disorder such as anxiety or depression.

Other findings of the study

In the months after a claim started, the average mental health of men in the study remained poor, while that of women improved.

  • Overall, two-thirds of JSA claimants believed that working leads to better health. Very few felt that working leads to worse health (0.9%). 
  • JSA claimants with a common mental disorder held more negative views about work. They had less self-confidence about their work-search abilities than those who didn't have a common mental disorder and had generally much lower levels of optimism about the future.
  • Recent experience of adverse life events, such as experiencing a financial crisis and living in temporary housing, were relatively common events among the recent JSA claimants. For example, one in 10 had been homeless or living in temporary accommodation in the previous 12 months.
  • Job search activity varied with mental health. Overall people with common mental disorders had less confidence in their job search abilities and sent out somewhat fewer job applications.
  • Discussion of health and well being in work-focused interviews with Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers (PAs) was not widespread, but was found to be helpful when it happened. One in six of the JSA claimants who had had a PA interview reported that their health or wellbeing had been discussed. By comparison the vast majority reported that they had discussed strategies for finding work. Women with common mental disorders were much more likely to have discussed their health and wellbeing with a PA than men who had one. Women were also more likely to have found the discussion helpful. It seems, however, that discussion about health and wellbeing with a PA was more likely when the claimant had poor physical health, rather than poor mental health.
  • Satisfaction with support from Jobcentre Plus was lower among people with common mental disorders than those without, although a symptom of these conditions is to tend towards more negative views. In particular, they were less likely to feel that Jobcentre Plus support had increased their work-search self-confidence. Claimants transitioning to JSA from a sickness benefit also reported lower levels of satisfaction with support.

Conclusions

The findings indicate that common mental disorders contribute to poorer employment outcomes, because by their nature, they erode beliefs about abilities and optimism about the future. However, entering employment can support recovery.

More broadly, the study has shown that mental health is rooted in the context of people’s lives. Poor physical health, low levels of social support, neighbourhood context and adverse life events all play a role in whether or not someone will experience a decline in mental health during a period of unemployment.

However, there is an important distinction for policy-makers to consider between people who arrive on JSA with relatively stable employment histories having developed symptoms of distress as a result of recent life events and those for whom a mental health condition is one issue among an array of longstanding life adversities.

Read our section on Benefits and working or looking for work

Sources: Rightsnet (link opens in a new window) and the Department for Work and Pension (link opens in a new window)

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