Today sees the publication of the first national study dedicated to examining the psychological health and wellbeing of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants. The research, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, explored what happens to people’s mental health in the months that follow the start of a JSA claim.
Near the start of a JSA claim, claimants were more likely to have a common mental disorder than people in the rest of the population. In the months that followed, about a third experienced some recovery or improvement in their mental health, a third experienced little or no change, and a third deteriorated.
Our analysis examined why some claimants got better while others got worse. Warning signs indicating that a claimant was at higher risk of deterioration included having a longstanding health problem, an anxiety disorder, living in an urban area, and continuing to experience adverse events while unemployed (such as a financial crisis, experience of violence, or someone close falling ill).
As you might expect, finding a job was associated with recovery. But other factors also signalled improvement, especially the existence of positive relationships. Claimants who felt that they were supported and encouraged were more likely to see their mental health improve in the months that followed. Where positive social support was missing from people’s home lives, Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers may be able to meet some of this need. Participants in the qualitative interviews said that when Personal Advisers were supportive, it made an enormous difference to how they felt.
Our study found that, generally, Personal Advisers and JSA claimants didn’t discuss health and wellbeing in their interviews together. However, when they did discuss it, claimants often found this was useful. It is noteworthy that men were less like than women to discuss health with Personal Advisers, and that people with mental health problems were less likely than those with physical health problems to do so. Claimants experiencing high levels of stress understandably expressed reluctance about discussing their mental health. It also became apparent in the study’s qualitative interviews that some claimants felt stigma in admitting – to themselves or to others – that they were struggling to cope.
Claimants with poor mental health had less confidence in their work-search skills, applied for fewer jobs, and were less likely to have found work within six months of starting their JSA claim. Supporting improvements in their mental health may not only be good for their immediate wellbeing, it could also be good for their journey back into work.