Cuts to benefits and services increasing pressure on mental health social workers

Survey of mental health social workers by Mind and The College of Social Work highlights growing strain on services

Picture credit: Geoffrey Robinson/Rex Features

Cuts to benefits and support services for people with mental health problems are the biggest challenges facing mental health social workers, according to a new poll.

The vast majority (86.1%) of 111 mental health social workers surveyed by The College of Social Work and mental health charity Mind said their services had come under more pressure in the past three years. When asked what factors presented the greatest challenges, 84.6% said cuts to services and 74.4% said benefit cuts. More than half of social workers (55.4%) said it was difficult to access welfare advice and support for clients.

More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents felt that the mental health of their community had deteriorated in the last year. When asked why this was the case, 85.5% said more people had reached crisis point.

Ruth Allen, chair of The College of Social Work’s mental health faculty, said social workers were increasingly experiencing difficulty accessing support for people with mental health problems.

“It is now enshrined in law that mental health services should have parity with physical health services – but this is not yet a reality in most areas. We must achieve a better balance between mental health and other conditions. We need to integrate the use of available resources more effectively and promote the specialist skills provided by social workers in helping people to build and maintain their resilience,” she said.

The research also polled 31 executives of regional Mind services on their experiences. Almost all (90%) that responded said they had seen a rise in demand for services over the last year.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said the findings were further proof that benefit cuts were proving detrimental to people’s mental health.

“Changes to welfare were meant to make savings, but it is a false economy when you factor in the cost to our already-stretched health and social care services that are having to support those whose health has worsened,” he said.

“The consequences of welfare reform can be disastrous. Only last week an inquest in Witney found that cuts to benefits was a contributory factor in the death of Mark Wood, a 44-year-old who had a range of complex mental health problems.”

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