Social Security Experience Panels: benefit take-up – report

This report covers findings from research with Social Security Experience Panels members about their experiences of accessing the benefit system.

This document is part of a collection

Reasons to think twice about applying for benefits

We asked participants whether they had ever thought twice about applying for a benefit that they were entitled to – even when they knew that it existed. In response, participants described a combination of different factors that had made them think twice about applying for a benefit. 

Recognising the need for additional support 

Many participants spoke about the struggle to fully recognise and accept that they needed additional support. They described the difficulty of facing up to their own disability or limitations. There was a general view that applying for a disability benefit often meant admitting personal limitations both to oneself and to wider society. 

"The first thing you have to do is face up to your own disability. So it's confronting the fact that you aren't the same as a healthy individual of the same age. It's a personal thing that makes it difficult in regards to your own identity." 

For some, there was a sense that claiming benefits meant that they had 'failed' in some way. They described how applying for benefits felt like a formal admission of failure. 

"There is a sense of helplessness with people when they have to access benefits."

"It's easy to see it as a failure. A failure to establish a life and lifestyle."

Participants also described struggling to accept that particular benefits were designed for them, even though they were eligible. It was felt that this was the case for disability benefits, where people would not want to be seen as disabled. It was also seen as a problem for carer benefits, where it was felt that those with caring responsibilities did not think that they were eligible.

"I didn't want to have my condition. I didn't want to be seen or treated as disabled. I wanted to work." 

"Carer's Allowance is one because people don't seem themselves as carers. There's a stigma because people think that because they are related to someone, it's their job to look after them. They think 'why should I be asking for finances for that?' We need to help people to break down that barrier."

Other participants described thinking that particular benefits were designed for 'older people.'

"For Winter Fuel Payment, in my head I was like this is a benefit for older people, I was worried about what people would think."

Building up the courage to approach or challenge the system

Participants then discussed the fear they had of the benefits system and how this had made them and others reluctant to use it. Some described building up courage before approaching the system to apply. They said that they knew that approaching the system would mean a long and stressful process of applying and proving their eligibility for a particular benefit. Some talked about being put off because of the horror stories they had heard. Others talked about not having the energy to go through the hassle during difficult personal situations. 

"There's the awareness that it's not straightforward. You know it's a long process. The thing that stops me then is all the negative experiences that other  people have had."

"Hearing horror stories about DWP and the benefits system. A lot of people would rather starve."

"Because the DWP give you such a difficult time you do think twice about it."

Building up courage was thought to be particularly important for those who were seeking support with a hidden disability. They felt that assessments and application processes were more stressful and more likely to go wrong with a hidden disability. 

"I was awarded ESA, but it took a lot of courage for me to apply." 

"I have a friend that is terrified of claiming benefits as they have been bullied. They appear to be alright. But they are in constant debilitating pain every day. They didn't want to be faced with justifying why she needed benefits."

"Being constantly told by people made me finally go and apply."

For others, they described having to be brave to challenge a decision against them. They described how stressful it had been building themselves up to re-apply or appeal for support that they were entitled to. 

"I was refused the first time when I applied and it took me six months to even challenge it. This was because the letter called me a liar about everything I'd said. It said I wasn't experiencing symptoms when I was. I was throwing up in anxiety trying to fill in the form to challenge the decision."

Sacrificing privacy

Several described feeling worried about the impact of claiming benefits on their levels of privacy. Participants described the discomfort of claiming through the benefits system – even though their claim was perfectly valid. They explained a difficult balance, where they could have more financial support, but would also feel like they were being watched. 

"Everyone is watching their back on benefits. It's not a comfortable existence in the benefits system, you're constantly watching in all directions. You don't want people around you to know, you don't want to go places."

"You just want to be left alone and live your life as normal, but you live in fear of people dropping in. It's always in the back of your mind. You're always continually being asked to prove yourself."

Feeling the stigma or social pressures of claiming benefits

Many also described how social pressure from other people or wider society had made them think twice about applying for something they were eligible for. There was a common view among participants that fears about what others around them might think had made them less likely to apply for what they were entitled to. 

Many talked about not wanting to take 'handouts.' They described how this process could stop a person for seeking out support until they had to. 

"Pride. For somebody like myself or accountants or lawyers, they don't want to ask for a "hand out". I don't know how prevalent this is in actually stopping people from applying, but it delays the process." 

Some participants spoke especially about social pressure for men. They described how men could be reluctant to apply for benefits because it would be showing a weakness. 

"Stigma is significant. It has a lot to do with the concept of being sold stuff Especially in men, it's all somehow wrapped up in toxic masculinity – 'I'm big and strong, I can do anything''. The stigma of applying to a certain benefit is like showing a weakness."

A number of participants described how the stigma had caused them to behave differently. Some spoke about how they had become much more private. 

"I would say I've probably become more private. I don't share as much of my life information with friends and possibly even family that I previously did."

One particularly common view was that stigma and social pressure could prevent people from applying for benefits until they needed it, rather than when they were eligible. They described how this delay could result in someone delaying their application until they were in a vulnerable position. 

"That perceived stigma is also why most people who apply for something wait until they need it rather than when they're eligible."



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