The government is bullying people with mental health problems to justify removing their lifeline benefits


Existing benefit rules mean it is not possible to legally require claimants to have treatment, such as therapy or counselling, as a condition of receiving sickness benefits. Nor is it ethical.

However, senior ministers have proposed that the rules should be reviewed in order to reduce the “huge” numbers of people who are declared unfit for work due to mental health problems.

As a testimony to how bad this idea is, Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chairman of the health select committee, has responded by saying that forcing people into counselling would present “profound ethical issues”.

She urged David Cameron to “squash” the proposals amid concerns about the damage they are doing to the image of the Conservative party. She said: “Consent is a very important principle and to link some kind of compulsion to that treatment would be grossly unethical. There would be a serious risk of a doctor being challenged and taken to the GMC”.

“You would get people going to GPs having a prescription so they could demonstrate they have got treatment. Enormously wasteful of time. Far better to get on with parity of esteem.”

The first of four government pilots is already being trialled at four job centres – Durham and Tees Valley, Surrey and Sussex, the Black Country and Midland Shires.

The pilot will “test whether combining talking therapy with employment support based on the “individual placement and support” model works better than the usual jobcentre or mental health support for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants”, said the Department for Work and Pensions.

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “If people are not getting access to the support they need, the government should address levels of funding for mental health services rather than putting even more pressure on those supported by benefits and not currently well enough to work.”

The government says it spends around £13bn a year on ESA and incapacity benefits. It estimates that it could save £1.41 for every £1 it spends on this “new mental health treatment.” See more here on such Nudge Unit inspired nonsense.


It’s against the law to force anyone to undertake medical treatment.

Meanwhile, ESA sanctions had increased fourfold in the space of a year – up to December 2013 – and are particularly targeted at claimants with mental health conditions.

The number of sanctions applied to ESA claimants rose 334% between December 2012 and December 2013, according to  Department of Work and Pensions statistics.

The report shows that since the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions regime was introduced on 3 December 2012, there has been a steady increase in the number of sanctions applied, from 1,102 in December 2012 to 4,789 in December 2013.

The total number of adverse sanction decisions over the period 3 December 2012 to 31 December 2013 was 28,702:

  • 5,889 were applied for failure to attend a mandatory interview and
  • 22,814 were applied for failure to participate in work related activity

In addition, the statistics show that, of the 28,702 decisions:

  • 13,994 were reviewed and in 8,508 cases, the decisions were overturned. This equals a “success” rate of nearly 61% and
  • 331 cases were appealed, 90 of those (27%) were overturned on appeal

Since the new Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) sanctions regime was introduced on 22 October 2012, there have been a total of 1,028,819 adverse JSA sanction decisions up to the end of December 2013.

Of those 1,028,819 decisions:

  • 317,411 were reviewed – 146,486 were overturned
  • 34,503 were appealed – 6,158 were overturned at appeal

The Department of Work and Pensions statistical release is available on the .Gov website

Six out of every ten sanctioned ESA claimants are extremely vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty, according DWP figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The proportion has risen from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to 58% in 2013. The statistics demonstrate that sanctions are now overwhelmingly aimed at the most vulnerable individuals by a government department which is using a policy of institutional discrimination to cut benefits costs.

Sanctions of £71.70 a week are imposed when ESA claimants in the work-related activity group are forced onto the work programme and then fail to meet mandatory conditions imposed on them by private sector companies.

However, for a person to get into the ESA work-related activity group on mental health grounds, they need to score a minimum of 15 points at assessment for problems with issues such as:

  • planning new activities,
  • changes in routine,
  • going to new places,
  • talking to new people,
  • avoiding behaving aggressively or inappropriately when stressed.

So, it’s pretty obvious that many will struggle to cope with regular and punctual attendance on training courses and work-experience placements with strangers in unfamiliar places. Even if some people manage to attend, they may not succeed in participating to the satisfaction of those running the courses or placements. People are being coerced by the DWP to engage in activities that they are simply not well enough to undertake.

Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP, and a member of the Work And Pensions Committee, has been leading the calls for an inquiry into the issue of sanctions. She said:

“As a member of the work and pensions select committee I’ve been very concerned about the growing evidence of inappropriate sanctioning and demanded that that a second independent inquiry into the issue is established.

“When I made my demands face-to-face with Esther McVey at a Committee session back in November she agreed to set up an independent investigation into the ‘appropriateness of sanctions’ and her offer was welcomed by the Committee in their following report. But, in a deliberate snub to the Committee, the Government have now said they won’t set one up.

“My question is this: If sanctions are currently being applied correctly, an independent review will testify to that, so just what are Ministers trying to hide?

“It’s just another example of how Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey are using smoke and mirrors to avoid any criticism about the mess and misery they are creating in the social security system.

“No-one is arguing with the fact that anyone who is on work related benefits should do all they can to find appropriate employment. But there is a growing body of evidence that the way the government is implementing sanctions means vulnerable people are being targeted disproportionately and suffering terribly as a result.

“The last thing Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey want is for that uncomfortable truth to be uncovered by a focussed and independent investigation.”

Polly Toynbee from the Guardian has interviewed an anonymous jobcentre manager who says that the Department for Work and Pensions now have targets for bullying claimants off ESA.

Polly met the jobcentre manager, in secret, who told her how the sick are treated and what harsh targets she is working under to force very vulnerable people off benefits.

“I just met a jobcentre manager. It had to be in secret, in a Midlands hotel, several train stops away from where she works. She told me how the sick are treated and what harsh targets she is under to push them off benefits. A high proportion on employment and support allowance have mental illnesses or learning difficulties.

The department denies there are targets, but she showed me a printed sheet of what are called “spinning plates”, red for missed, green for hit. They just missed their 50.5% target for “off flows”, getting people off ESA. They have been told to “disrupt and upset” them – in other words, bullying. That’s officially described, in Orwellian fashion, as “offering further support”. As all ESA claimants approach the target deadline of 65 weeks on benefits – advisers are told to report them all to the fraud department for maximum pressure. In this manager’s area 16% are “sanctioned” or cut off benefits.

“Of course it’s not written down anywhere, but it’s in the development plans of individual advisers or “work coaches”. Managers repeatedly question them on why more people haven’t been sanctioned. Letters are sent to the vulnerable who don’t legally have to come in, but in such ambiguous wording that they look like an order to attend. Tricks are played: those ending their contributory entitlement to a year on ESA need to fill in a form for income-based ESA.

But jobcentres are forbidden to stock those forms. These ill people’s benefits are suddenly stopped without explanation: if they call, they’re told to collect a form from the jobcentre, which doesn’t stock them either. If someone calls to query an appointment they are told they will be sanctioned if they don’t turn up, whatever. She said: “The DWP’s hope is they won’t pursue the claim.”

“Good advisers genuinely try to help the mentally ill left marooned on sickness benefit for years. The manager spoke of a woman with acute agoraphobia who hadn’t left home for 20 years: “With tiny steps, we were getting her out, helping her see how her life could be better – a long process.”

But here’s another perversity: if someone passes the 65-week deadline, they are abandoned. All further help is a dead loss to “spinning plates” success rates. That woman was sent back to her life of isolation: she certainly wasn’t referred for CBT. For all this bullying, the work programme finds very very few jobs for those on ESA.”

Polly Toynbee’s full article in the Guardian is here


Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant memes.


23 thoughts on “The government is bullying people with mental health problems to justify removing their lifeline benefits

  1. Reblogged this on Like this? Don't; Like this a lot! and commented:
    Please don’t display pictures of Iain Duncan Smith they make me sick. Proposals to make force people into counselling seem very odd- is the aim to overload the overloaded mental health services? Where will the money come from to do this? Iain Duncan Smith can’t be serious – he must be mad; he should seek counselling? Tell you what put him on a 16 week waiting list see if he will change his mind?


  2. Well good luck with that one.

    You are offered counseling for ‘low mood’. You can wait months for that. A friend of mine who was assessed at the same place that I was, on the very same day, and who was suffering far more serious problems however, was still waiting for ‘therapy’ 2 years after I had finished mine!! All that was really offered was a monthly appointment with a psychiatrist, not actual ‘therapy’ at all as psychological therapy is very expensive. Still no headway made.

    The fact is that massive resources will be involved to implement this fully, and for what? Serious mental health problems do not always go away, even with many bouts of counseling or therapy. Currently, you are only usually allowed around 8 – 12 appointments, and from personal experience, with great effort the worst symptoms can improve, but they reoccur.

    For those with the more serious forms of mental illness, they would need to be in therapy for many YEARS and provided with all sorts of support like the Assertive Outreach teams, Welfare workers, support workers etc on a long term basis. A family member of mine has such support for many years but is still very very sick suffering from Schizophrenia/Paranoia/Multiple Anxiety Syndromes/Personality Disorders. Unfortunately neither medication or therapy seem to work. It’s hard enough for this person just to get through each day without being under so much additional governmental pressure; similarly coping with Atos appointments is hard enough.

    Sadly, many people like this will never get better. We should rather provide them with a supportive environment not one that adds to the hell they face.

    Sasson Hann


  3. No Wonder there is So Many with this Horrible Affliction “Depression”. And “Anxiety”. Having to put up with this Selfish and Uncaring Government. Stupid Fools!!!


  4. As a former mental health nurse and in training to become a person centred counselling, this is a dangerous new territory for the DWP and its ministers who really have no empathy,care or consideration for the mentally ill, I suffer from depression myself, I have had very poor treatment from jobcentre staff in the past.

    I would like to point out in my professional opinion Iain Duncan Smith fits comfortably the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

    I am pretty sure Esther McVey would also fit pretty nicely on the NPD criteria scale.

    This is a government that doesn’t value human life nor the frailties of human existence, I didn’t want depression, I do everything I possibly can to manage it, after years of fighting with years of therapy which helped a great deal, after many relapses I had to just accept depression was part of me, it is what makes me compassionate towards others and be involved in supporting others working through emotional and psychological issues.
    For many its a lifelong condition that fluctuates, requires strong medication and for some inpatient treatment.

    The Tories it seems have declared war on the mentally ill, the next scapegoats for the deficit created by their implementation of self serving economic policies and ideology from the Chicago School of Economics and Ayn Rand which formed the basis of Neoliberalism.

    The Tories are so welded to Neoliberalism, they are prepared to go to any lengths to make the people serve their ‘god’ Mammon under the guise of economic recovery and work is good for us all. The recent reshuffle demonstrates that Cameron has caved into the rightwing of the Tory parliamentary party and is ready to pull the UK out of the European Convention of Human Rights.

    I don’t hold out much hope that the quisling Fibdems will stand up to the Tories, as per usual its up to the public to take a stand…

    IDS and McVey need to be indicted for crimes against humanity, i dont say that lightly but they are responsible for policy and its implementation.


    1. I like this comment, and you are indeed correct when you say that ministers should be indicted for stuff like this. No government body should be allowed to impart stress onto people in any capacity, especially as those people are largely already trampled on and have enough on their plate already. It’s 2022 now and I’m still experiencing these problems sadly.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Kitty here provides a very detailed article on how the IDS and the DWP are trying to bully people with mental health problems or learning difficulties in coming off benefits by making ESA and Incapacity Benefit conditional on them taking medical treatment. At present, it is illegal for anyone to force someone to take medical treatment against their will. Even Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative, who heads the Health Select Committee, has stated that this is a rubbish idea. She also reports an article by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, in which she describes her meeting with an anonymous job centre manager and the system of targets for sanctions that the government has enforced on them, while at the same time demanding that these targets are not written down or reported. Like the sanctions decisions on jobseekers allowance, a significant proportion of sanctions imposed on the claimants of ESA and Incapacity Benefits are overturned on appeal. This is indeed a government, that has absolutely no truth whatsoever within it, only lies, hatred, spin and secrecy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Probably the one most disabling aspect for mental health service users is very low confidence that hampers massively any attempt to function at all in anything. How can fully mobilised politicians and national leaders appreciate how devastating that is ? So low, that under threat from government bully boys, a threat to just about coping leads to hanging themselves by the neck? Damn you damned Tories. Damn you to hell and the greedy bastards in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good luck with it his loony proposal. Have you tried to get medical treatment theses days? Two week Waite to see you doctor, assuming you can find one to take you on. Talking therapy’s a total was of time in my experience. I have a therapist who sits me down and bangs two cow bells together and says that she is going to teach me to breath through my left foot. Don’t laugh its a NHS centre with at least two dozen other Wacko’s spouting similar quackery. I often wonder who need the therapy me or her.
    Reading between the lines Smiths real reasoning seems to be that if, and its a big if you don’t seek treatment or are not on medication just stop benefit, full stop. It is, as usual all about the money nothing more nothing less in the words of the pretender who lives at number ten.
    One thing that people don’t realises is that any heath related benefits are scored not only on the descriptors, but as well as the number, type and strength of medication. All this information in in the Design Makers Guide book and the Medical Professionals Guide to the Work Capability Assessment Hand Book, freely available from the DWP website.
    Tommaz Jay.

    Liked by 1 person

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