Research Output
Mental Health and Unemployment in Scotland: Understanding the impact of welfare reforms in Scotland for individuals with mental health conditions
  During 2016, 30 individuals with a mental health condition (who claimed ESA, have had their ESA withdrawn and moved on to JSA, or have been directed into the WRAG group based on the decision of the WCA) were interviewed. The 30 participants were recruited throughout Scotland. In addition, we interviewed seven individuals who had involvement with various intermediaries, such as advocacy organisations, collective advocacy groups, Citizens Advice Bureau and (an ex employee of) Ingeus. Participants were recruited through advocacy organisations, voluntary groups and the local media. Overall, we established that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) does not inspire confidence in participants in its adequacy for assessing mental health problems. There is concern that the assessors do not appear to have appropriate expertise in mental health. The WCA experience for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from. In the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide. People felt that that there was an inconsistency in terms of GP recommendations and the WCA recommendations. Many people were subject to further upset and distress due to communication from the DWP being lost in the post.

Having a mental health condition (MHC) in parallel with being unemployed and on benefits leads individuals to be confronted with multiple and competing stigmas, which they find hard to manage and these become self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating. The WCA and other mandatory structures, work against individuals developing or retaining employability skills as voluntary work is seen as demonstrating fitness for work; education is also not possible whilst receiving ESA. The system fails to recognise that for many, volunteering is good for wellbeing and may be ‘as good as it gets’.

Whilst the Scottish Government does not have control over the ESA component of Universal Credit, it needs to carefully consider how any benefits that is does have control over (e.g. DLA) are assessed and managed for people with a MHC. Moreover, as control over the Work Programme and Work Choice is to be devolved to Scotland, the Scottish Government should develop replacement programmes which are appropriate to people with mental health problems which can also work in parallel with the benefits system.

  • Type:

    Research Report

  • Date:

    21 February 2017

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    362 Social welfare problems & services

  • Funders:

    Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland


Maclean, G., Marks, A. & Cowan, S. (2017). Mental Health and Unemployment in Scotland: Understanding the impact of welfare reforms in Scotland for individuals with mental health conditions. Edinburgh: Carnegie Trust



Mental health, mental well-being, Work Capability Assessment,

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