Salford-led research calls for a trauma-informed benefits system

Categories: Research, School of Health and Society

Research led by the University of Salford is building a case for the benefits system to consider the impact of trauma on those who are accessing support, such as veterans of the Armed Services.

Since 2017, Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) has funded a project called ‘Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers’  led by Professor Lisa Scullion at the University of Salford. The project is the only substantive research in the UK to focus on the experiences of veterans within the social security benefits system. An earlier report from the project helped lead to significant improvements in the support provided to veterans and their families who are navigating the benefits system. 

In a new report published today, the project provides an understanding of how the benefits system – and some of the processes and contact channels within the system – are experienced by those who have backgrounds of trauma, making the case for the application of trauma-informed care within this system. 

Trauma-informed services recognise that ‘any person seeking services or support might be a trauma survivor’ and therefore proactively redesign the way they work to accommodate this. Across the UK, trauma-informed care has been adopted by a range of services such as health, schools, and children and young people’s social care,, and the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations are advocating the government-wide adoption of these principles. Trauma awareness has been pledged by Social Security Scotland, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are now exploring the integration of trauma-informed principles. 

The new report is being launched at an event in Edinburgh focused on moving towards a trauma-informed social security system in Scotland, which includes presentations from the DWP Trauma Integration Lead, and the NHS Scotland National Trauma Training Programme Lead. 

Project director Professor Lisa Scullion said: “A range of services have been increasingly focusing on the adoption of trauma-informed principles within their service provision, but until recently the benefits system has been largely absent from this movement. As a system that routinely interacts with people who have a range of complex needs – including those with backgrounds of trauma – this is a pivotal moment for those responsible for the design and delivery of the benefits system to understand the value of trauma-informed approaches. 

“To support the development of the DWP’s work, we have produced this report providing unique insights into how veterans with backgrounds of trauma are experiencing various aspects of their benefits interactions – it demonstrates the challenges faced by both claimants and DWP staff but also identifies areas of good practice in the provision of support. Although we focus on the benefits system, there are lessons that could be learned for interactions with other financial systems, such as compensation, pensions and bereavement payments.”

Tom McBarnet, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: “The Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers project has, and continues to, generate vital insights on the experiences of veterans who access the UK benefits system. It has influenced both policy and practice and has made a tangible difference to the lives of veterans and their families. This new report applies a trauma-informed lens to the data, highlighting the consequences of having a ‘trauma-blind’ benefits system and how interactions can be improved to ensure that veterans with a background of trauma do not feel re-traumatised by their experience with the system, but are treated fairly and with respect.”

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