Social security

The social security system (sometimes called the benefits system) is an important influence on the distribution of income. The social security system matters for health because it provides financial support for people across society including

  • disabled people
  • unemployed people
  • people on low incomes
  • people with long term conditions.

Social security can also reduce or increase psychological stress to people who use it due to 

  • priorities
  • attitudes
  • transparency of rules
  • competence and capacity of staff
  • limited ability to put things right quickly when mistakes are made.

How social security affects health

The Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) has recently published a report Pulling in different directions? which found that

  • Social security reforms have intensified since 2013, and there are signs that this has led to some people exiting the benefits system without securing stable employment.
  • From 2010, there were signs of
    • a slowing in improvement in some aspects of population health
    • widening inequalities in mental health due to a deterioration in the position of low-income working age adults
    • narrowing inequalities in overweight/obesity due to rising prevalence of overweight/obesity among the poorest.

It may be premature to attribute these changes to social security reform. However there is a striking association between poorer working age mental health and the level of sanction activity applied to unemployed people claiming Job Seekers Allowance.

Welfare reform working groups

The Welfare Reform and Health Impact Delivery Group have produced a Welfare Reform – NHS Outcome Focussed Plan. This plan was produced in consultation with representatives from NHS Boards. This plan looks at reducing the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms on health and NHS services in Scotland. It identifies the actions and measures that NHS Boards can take to mitigate the worst of the negative effects of welfare reform. 

The Welfare Reform, Health and Employability Forum supports local health boards to use the Outcomes Focused Plan to reduce the impact of welfare reform on health and NHS services. The forum promotes learning and development through information sharing, good practice and collaborative working. 

You can find out more about the Welfare Reform, Health and Employability Forum by visiting their section on the Employability in Scotland website (external website).

You can also contact our Income and Welfare Reform team for more information on our work.