THE number of people in St Helens receiving benefit support for anxiety and depression has more than doubled since before the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.

It comes as the Conservatives announced they would tackle rising welfare costs and reform the benefits system if they win the general election, which they say would save £12 billion per year by the end of the next parliament.

The pledge includes reforming disability benefits, with the Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride saying some people with mental health issues could lose their personal independent payment.

This is awarded to people with long-term physical or mental conditions to help them continue with everyday tasks.

Department for Work and Pensions figures show 1,882 people in St Helens received a PIP for anxiety and depression as of April.

This was up from 1,595 the year before, and was more than double the 894 people receiving support in April 2019, before the pandemic.

Across England and Wales, 351,213 people received benefit support for mental health issues in April.

This figure has more than doubled since 2019, with Mr Stride suggesting to The Times people with "milder mental health conditions" would no longer receive financial support.

He said: "There are those that have perhaps milder mental health conditions, or where perhaps there has been too great a move towards labelling certain behaviours as having certain (medical) conditions attached to them, where actually work is the answer or part of the answer.

"What we’ve got to avoid is being in a situation where we too readily say 'Well, actually, we need you to be on benefits'."

Nationally, across all disabilities and medical reasons, 3.4 million people received a PIP in April – up from 1.9 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, the number of people receiving disability benefits in St Helens has risen by 76% over the last four years.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "Reforming welfare is a moral mission. Work is a source of dignity, purpose and hope and I want everyone to be able to overcome whatever barriers they might face to living independent, fulfilling lives.

"That’s why we have announced a significant increase in mental health provision, as well as changes to ensure those who can work, do work."

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the suggestion the Tories' proposal would reduce spending by £12 billion relative to the Budget forecast "looks difficult in the extreme".

Tom Waters, IFS associate director, said "history suggests that reductions in spending are often much harder to realise than is claimed" regarding cutting mental health benefits.

A Labour spokesperson said: "This is the latest desperate announcement from Rishi Sunak, who has once again plucked numbers out of thin air in an attempt to disguise the fact that he has caused a spiralling benefits bill.

"These reheated pledges, old policies and vague promises will not get Britain healthy or benefits under control, and do nothing to solve the fact that £10 billion of taxpayers’ money was lost to benefit fraud just last year."