Leading Liverpool lawyer warns of mental health crisis
Steven Lunt, a specialist welfare lawyer at Liverpool law firm Astraea Legal says shortcomings in the benefits system are aggravating the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tony McDonough reports
Anxiety levels among people claiming benefits are soaring with the Government still resisting claims despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, a leading Liverpool lawyer says.
Steven Lunt, a specialist lawyer at fast-growing Liverpool law firm Astraea Legal, says he and his team are dealing with not just the legal fallout from the COVID crisis, but also the massive impact on peoples’ mental health as they struggle to meet basic needs.
“We have seen people who have worked all their lives suddenly thrust into the benefits system because their job has been swept away by the pandemic,” said Steven. “That itself is a massive psychological blow. Then they have to deal with a welfare system that is geared up to resist claims. It’s no wonder anxiety levels are through the roof.”
A welfare specialist for 25 years, Steven says he has never known things to be this bad, not even following the financial crisis of more than a decade ago. He added: “We may get back to some form of normality this summer, but many people will face hardship for a long time to come.”
He and his Welfare Benefit Specialist Team at Astraea Legal offers expertise in a wide range of welfare issues. These include:
- Personal Independence Payment
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Disability Living Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Council Tax Support
- Universal Credit
- Benefit Fraud
- Interview Under Cautions
- Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credits
- Representation at HM Court & Tribunal Service
One year on from the first COVID-19 lockdown, Steven and his colleagues at Astraea are dealing with a growing number of clients who find themselves lost in a benefits system that is designed to frustrate rather than help.
A study from the British Academy, set up last year by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has just published its initial findings and they make stark reading. It brings together hundreds of research projects and more than 200 experts.
It warns that a failure to understand the scale of the challenges the UK faces as it looks to recover from the pandemic could lead to a significant rise in poor health and widening inequality. It urges a major investment in public services to repair the “profound social damage” caused to the economy and to people’s mental, physical and financial wellbeing.
Steven urges people in Merseyside who find they are struggling to get the help they need from the welfare system to get in touch. He explained: “We are here to help. When you are struggling to feed yourself, your family and keep a roof over your head, having to then fight the welfare system just to meet your basic needs is exhausting and demoralising.
“In March 2020, the Government did introduce a safety net for existing claimants of benefits in severe financial difficulties. But the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) continued to send claim forms to claimants to be reassessed resulting in benefits being disallowed. It creates a climate of hopelessness.
“In the past two years, the DWP has spent more than £120m to fight disability benefit claims. However, it lost three quarters of those tribunal appeals. With the right representation, people can extract what they need from the system.
“During the past decade of austerity we have seen sharp rises in homelessness, in child poverty, in the numbers of people using foodbanks. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the problem. The British Academy report is right on the money. We need a massive investment into not just infrastructure, but into the wellbeing of millions of people.
“In the meantime, our message to the people of Merseyside is please don’t despair. If you find yourself bewildered by the morass of regulation of the benefits system then do reach out. We are ready and willing to offer the help you need.”