The Daily Stigma

Among the hundreds of flyers and giveaways being distributed to delegates during party conference season there is a newspaper doing the rounds with the headline “Benefit Fraud Exposed!”. So far, not so unusual – we’re accustomed to certain sections of the media slamming welfare handouts.

But this spoof paper is slightly different. The Daily Stigma has been produced by the mental health charity Mind to highlight how people claiming sickness benefits, particularly those with mental health problems, are being unfairly demonised by parts of the press.

Welfare is never far from the headlines as successive governments try to shake-up the benefits system and over the coming weeks it is likely to remain high on the news agenda as the welfare reform bill goes through the House of Lords.

Who should receive financial support from the state? How much should they get? For how long an what conditions should be placed on them? These questions are all hotly debated, in politics and the media.

Millions of people claim benefits because of their mental health problems and we know that the welfare system can be challenging for them to navigate. We hear from many of our supporters that the process of applying for or renewing benefits can be very distressing and is made especially difficult by the fact that mental health problems are invisible and also fluctuating – there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day upon which to base any assessment.

Earlier this year Mind asked more than 300 people receiving incapacity benefit for mental health problems how they felt about the prospect of having their benefits reassessed to determine whether they were eligible for the new employment support allowance. Three-quarters of them told us that worrying about the reassessment process was making their mental health worse, with almost half saying this was so bad they had visited their GP or psychiatrist for additional support.

But on top of having a serious mental health problem and having to jump through the correct welfare hoops, people told us that they are most upset about being perceived as malingerers or scroungers. Headlines such as Sick benefits – 75% are faking insinuate that dishonest welfare claims are rife when the real picture is that people with mental health problems want to work but face a multitude of barriers to gaining and retaining employment.

These reports don’t stop to explain that more than 40% of people found ‘fit for work’ appeal against the decision, and of these, around 40% have the decision overturned. Instead they tend to assume that those found ‘fit for work’ have essentially been trying to cheat the system, whereas in fact it is often the system that has treated them badly.

So if you are at one of the party conferences, take a minute to pick up the Daily Stigma newspaper and read the full story behind the headlines. It exposes the truth behind benefit fraud – 99.5% of sickness benefit claims are genuine.

Mind will be handing the paper out throughout Labour conference and next week at the Conservative conference. We hope that it will lead readers to think twice about what they see in the papers about welfare claimants.