Evaluation of the mental health impacts of Universal Credit: protocol for a mixed methods study
08 Apr 2022
Introduction: The UK social security system is being transformed by the implementation of Universal Credit (UC), which combines six existing benefits and tax credits into a single payment for low-income households. Despite extensive reports of hardship associated with the introduction of UC, no previous studies have comprehensively evaluated its impact on mental health. Because payments are targeted at low-income households, impacts on mental health will have important consequences for health inequalities.
Methods and analysis: We will conduct a mixed methods study. Work package (WP) 1 will compare health outcomes for new recipients of UC with outcomes for legacy benefit recipients in two large population surveys, using the phased rollout of UC as a natural experiment. We will also analyse the relationship between the proportion of UC claimants in small areas and a composite measure of mental health. WP2 will use data collected by Citizen’s Advice to explore the sociodemographic and health characteristics of people who seek advice when claiming UC and identify features of the claim process that prompt advice-seeking. WP3 will conduct longitudinal in-depth interviews with up to 80 UC claimants in England and Scotland to explore reasons for claiming and experiences of the claim process. Up to 30 staff supporting claimants will also be interviewed. WP4 will use a dynamic microsimulation model to simulate the long-term health impacts of different implementation scenarios. WP5 will undertake cost–consequence analysis of the potential costs and outcomes of introducing UC and cost–benefit analyses of mitigating actions.
Ethics and dissemination: We obtained ethical approval for the primary data gathering from the University of Glasgow, College of Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee, application number 400200244. We will use our networks to actively disseminate findings to UC claimants, the public, practitioners and policy-makers, using a range of methods and formats.
Trial registration number: The study is registered with the Research Registry: researchregistry6697.
Open Access; This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.; © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/