The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reported that spending on benefits for those with disabilities and long-term health conditions was at its highest (£30 billion) in 2019/20, with predictions that it could increase to £31-40 billion by 2025/26. There have been significant changes to the UK benefit system in the past decade, most notably the introduction of universal credit (UC) that replaced 6 older benefits known as legacy benefits, to make claiming process simpler. However, evidence shows that these changes have caused distress for people with mental health disorders.

For the first time, we have been able to provide a full picture of the working-age adults in South-east London who are using secondary mental health services and claiming benefits relating to unemployment, income, sickness, and disability. This has been possible as a result of a new data linkage combining electronic secondary mental health records from the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust, and benefits data from the DWP. The data covers 15 years, with DWP data spanning January 2007 to June 2020 and SLaM data covering January 2007-June 2019. It includes detailed information on the types and timing of benefits received, diagnostic history, treatments like therapy and medication, and sociodemographic details.

This longitudinal data provides a unique opportunity to understand the complex relationships between benefit receipt and mental health, and the impact of the many changes that have happened to the benefit system in the past decade among those with mental disorders. Until now, detailed data on both mental health and benefit receipt have not been available together to examine these interactions.

We identified 150,348 patients (aged 18-65 years) who had attended SLaM secondary mental health services. Our findings matched with other reports showing that many people claiming benefits also have a mental health problem, and that this continues to rise.

Future research using the novel linkage will explore in more detail the trajectories and temporality of claiming UC and interacting with mental health services among working age people. By first understanding more about who is claiming which benefits, we can then delve deeper into the patterns of mental health care and benefit receipt. This information can help inform both DWP benefit policies and mental health care delivery, potentially providing new insights and ultimately benefiting those accessing both secondary mental health services across South-east London and benefits.


Click here to view the full article

Ava Phillips, ESRC LISS DTP Case PhD Candidate, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London

Phillips, A., Leal , R., Jewell , A., Madan, I., Downs, J., Broadbent, M., Hotopf, M., Dorrington, S., Fear, N. and Stevelink, S. (2024) “Cohort profile: working age adults accessing secondary mental health services in South London (UK) and benefits – a data linkage of electronic mental health records and benefits data”., International Journal of Population Data Science, 9(1). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v9i1.2377.