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The National Study of Work-search and Wellbeing

Going to job centre
Published: September 2012


The first national study dedicated to examining the psychological health and well-being of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants.


JSA claimants are nearly twice as likely to have severe neurotic symptoms as the general population

14.7 % of people who started a JSA claim in the first quarter of 2011 had severe neurotic symptoms almost certain to warrant treatment (after standardising the JSA claimant cohort to the age and sex profile of the general population).

This is nearly twice the rate for the general population (8.5%).

JSA claimants face multiple hardships in their lives

Among JSA claimants, it was common to have recently experienced adverse life events for example: • Nearly half had experienced a major financial crisis in the past six months

  • A fifth had experienced someone close to them die or be seriously ill or injured.
  • One in 10 had been homeless or living in temporary accommodation in the previous 12 months.

Anxiety and depression negatively affect job prospects

Common mental disorders (CMDs) like anxiety and depression contribute to poorer employment outcomes, partly because they erode beliefs about abilities and optimism about the future.

JSA claimants with a CMD hold more negative views about work.

  • They have less self-confidence about their work-search abilities than claimants without a CMD.
  • They send out somewhat fewer job applications.
  • They have generally much lower levels of optimism about the future.
  • People with CMDs were less likely to gain jobs over the study period
  • People identified with a CMD at the beginning of the study were less likely to start a job during the study period.

Several factors made deterioration in mental health after the start of a JSA claim more likely

JSA claimants were more likely to suffer deterioration in their mental health if they:

  • had a longstanding illness, an anxiety disorder, or low subjective well-being;
  • lacked a strong support network;
  • continued to experience traumatic events;
  • lived in a deprived local area.

Entering work supported mental health recovery: people who started employment during the study were more likely to experience improved mental health than with those who did not.


  • 35 minute telephone interviews about work history and mental health with people of working age and who had recently claimed JSA.
  • Shorter follow-up telephone interview three months later to assess change in employment status and mental health.
  • Qualitative in-depth face-to-face interviews (up to 90 minutes) with 30 respondents.

Read the report

Download research summary