Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies.


I wrote an article in March about the government plans to make the receipt of social security benefits for those with mental illnesses conditional on undergoing “state therapy.” I raised concern about ethical issues – such as consent, the inappropriateness of using behaviour modification as a form of “therapy,” and I criticised the proposed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) programme on methodological and theoretical grounds, as well as considering wider social implications.

The 2015 budget included plans to provide online CBT to 40,000 claimants and people on the Fit for Work programme, as well as putting therapists in more than 350 job centres.

Since I wrote, over 400 psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners have written an open letter, published by the Guardian, about the broader, profoundly disturbing psychological and quality-of-life implications of the coalition government’s austerity cuts and policies. However, the letter was particularly critical of the government’s benefits sanctions scheme, which has been condemned by many of us – human rights advocates across the state – as brutal, unjust, ill-conceived, ineffective and inhumane.

In particular, the letter stated that the government’s proposed policy of linking social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy” is utterly unacceptable. The measure, casually coined “get to work therapy,” was discussed by Chancellor for the Exchequer George Osborne during his last budget.

The letter’s supporters included psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach. She called the Conservative proposals “beyond shocking.” Echoing the concerns I raised earlier this year, she said:

“It undermines the fundamental principles of one’s right to physical and mental care – that you have to be able to consent and that the people you go to have to be highly trained and have your best interests and aren’t meeting targets.”

The letter’s signatories, all of whom are experts in the field of mental health, have said such a measure is counter-productive, “anti-therapeutic,” damaging and professionally unethical. The “intimidatory disciplinary regime” facing benefits claimants would be made even worse by further unacceptable proposals outlined in the budget.

Among the groups represented by the signatories were Psychologists Against Austerity, Britain’s Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, the Journal of Public Mental Health, and a range of academic institutions including Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, the University of London, the University of Amsterdam, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Brighton, Disabled People Against the Cuts and others.

More generally, the wider reality of a society thrown completely off-balance by the emotional toxicity of social conservatism combined with economic neoliberalism (which I have argued is manifestly authoritarian) is affecting Britain in profound and complex ways, the distressing effects of which are often most visible in therapist’s consulting rooms.

This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health.

The letter said that for now, we call on all the parties in this election to make it clear that they will urgently review such regressive, anti-therapeutic practices, and appropriately refashion their commitment to mental health if and when they enter government.

Andrew Samuels, an Essex University professor, and immediate past chair of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, said he believed there was “a bit of a public school ethos” behind the work-capability regime introduced under the conservative-liberal democrat coalition and new conservative plans.

Characterising the government attitude as “Pull yourself together man, for heaven’s sake,” Samuels added: “It is wholly inappropriate. It symbolises a society that has lost all moral compass.”

Absolutely. Public schools are notorious for a culture of bullying. However, it’s one thing to be treated as a privileged and insulated public school boy by a peer from an elite background to “character building” rhetoric, but quite another to adopt that same bullying approach towards the ill and most vulnerable citizens. All to justify an ideological drive to “shrink the state” and remove support from the poorest.

All of this said, public schools are regarded by many as institutions that inflict a particularly British form of child abuse and social control. I also think it has to be said that soul trauma and pain don’t respect social status.

Samuels insisted the open letter was not “pro-Labour” but was aimed at getting a review of measures taken and proposed over the past five years.

He said: “If Labour decides afterwards all this is in order, it will go on. But I don’t think it will.”

The Labour Party does value professional opinion and rational discourse. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are not widely recognised as a party that welcomes democratic, open debate, transparency and accountability. The Tories simply exclude critical professionals and representative organisations that may challenge and disagree from the discourse.

A spokesperson for Labour said mental health “is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.”

“It’s essential that we give mental health the priority it deserves if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable for the future,” he said.

The Labour Party have pressured the government to “write parity of esteem between physical and mental health into law,” and in the response, Labour have stated that the party is committed to implementing this policy if elected in May.

The spokesman pledged the Labour will bring an end to the “scandal of the neglect of child mental health,” indicating a welcomed return to a comprehensive preventative approach. He said: “It is simply not right that when three-quarters of adult mental illnesses begin in childhood, children’s mental health services get just six per cent of the mental health budget.”

Richard House of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the letter’s main organiser, said there had been a mounting groundswell of concern: “When one hears story after story of dramatic negative health impacts, psychological and physical, after people are subjected to these back-to-work practices, the time has surely come for an ‘emotional audit’ of the impact of what, to many, appear to be heartless, un-thought-through policies that are merely penalising and punishing the already disadvantaged still further.”

Yes, the time has come for a change of government. On May 7, we must ensure that the regressive, oppressive regime of the past five years is replaced by a progressive, inclusive and democratic alternative.


The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

The just world fallacy

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

Mental Health Services in crisis because of Coalition cuts to funding

The Psychology of Austerity

A group of mental health professionals have come together under the banner of Psychologists Against Austerity (PAA) to highlight the psychological impact of austerity.

Now, with only a few weeks to go before the general election, PAA have started a campaign calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the psychological damage austerity has wreaked across the UK.

You can read more and sign our petition here: 38degrees/psychological costs of austerity inquiry.


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25 thoughts on “Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies.

  1. This is what any “help” will look like…
    After all they have to make sure their privatised “nudge unit” will get some profit some, no matter how bad and how useless it is.
    As for “therapists” in sanction centres… they probably mean “health care professionals” or some other loosely defined non-term that seems legit but has no recognised status within the industry, putting on some garbage 2 hour “cut and paste” job talk/script that basically boils down to “no matter how shit your life is, just make lemon juice” (sic) which the usual workunfare poverty pimps use.
    Seriously I had to go on one of these at ignorantlouse and it was the biggest load of cobbled together garbage I have ever had the misfortune to listen to, far from being legitimate CBT it was a mishmash of CBT and “if you smile inanely the world doesn’t look so bad;” “eat good healthy food you can’t afford” – 80’s “human resources” pseudo-babble ever. If anything it probably did more harm than good as all it did was get you to focus on how bad things were with no legitimate post therapy help and support at all, and no way to change things.


  2. Your research and writing is as ever invaluable, Thanks.

    Speaking as someone who has had CBT I can say that it was okay. I have had ordinary counselling too. I think I preferred the latter. Either way, when I had CBT it was based on my consent, my deciding to try it after it being offered by my GP as an option. The fact it was my consent, and I was free to enter it or leave it, is a massively important element to it being able to work at all. I think there is a place for ‘talking therapies’ in all this, but not the way these strange people who currently inhabit Downing Street are proposing it.

    Do they know anything about mental health? It doesn’t sound like it.

    In fact I find it quite unnerving the creepiness in these people’s thinking. What kind of a pervert comes up with such an invasive and aggressive approach to mental health; instituted as some kind of online psychological reward/punishment monitoring system? Reward – ‘you are allowed another week’s benefit, and get to stay in your flat.’ Punishment – ‘you have it all taken off you, suffer and die. because you aren’t reaching the getting over your mental illness targets we gave you’?!

    I mean really… what kind of a creep comes up with an idea like that?! And as your article underlines, iand the psychologists who oppose such methods are saying, t’s an idea totally inappropriate to the way working with mental health is and should be handled.

    It’s like these people take pleasure in finding ways to torture and scare people. These rich people who don’t have to worry about disability, mental health, poverty, worrying about where their next meal is coming from, how their children are going to grow up, whether where they live is going to be taken away from them. These rich people who are not only unable to feel compassion, who seem to positively enjoy thinking up ways to torture and dehumanize people.

    What do they do? Sit in a room and put their sickest ideas in a hat and then pick one and suggest that for policy?


  3. Many thanks for an insightful and well written article………How sad that the money spent for an education in the likes of Eaton is so badly spent: Spawned by psychopaths, nurtured by such and educated by the same. Intelligent but simple minded, none feeling idiots with smoking guns…..shibboleths on the hunt to satisfy their nauseating beliefs.

    For what ever answers (and dangers) may be found in our Global past(s) we cannot deny that we are our own jailers: Cameroon may well be in Government, he was voted in…….we put him there, whatever lies and conditioned behaviors and followers we gave them power. Dreams may come but We! dream them, we allow the likes of Cameron to feed on our needs, letting them get away by denying our collective responsibilities: marching to Cameron’s drum, swallowing, not making any attempt to wake up to our ‘brave new world’……..

    CBT is not only a disguised drug its a mantra for our complete enslavement, along with its hideous twin sister NLP. There is not, and hopefully never will be, a panacea to suit all need: one size does not fit all. This is a route whereby travesty becomes an alluring bed-companion – begetting travesty. For our future Now and for years to come Wake Up! now and take charge of our own, real humanity. We are sentient, we can be beautiful, we are our own artists and healers.


  4. I am a mum who sadly found my beautiful 19 yr old daughter Emma Kathryn hanging in my previous home bedroom in September 2010. Emma was awaiting an assessment for the bi polar disorder. I battled for years to get Emma the help she deserved but know one would listen to me. Know I am campaigning to raise mental health awareness and especially for children and youngsters. I am also fundraising to buy a canal barge that will be named Emma’s dream it will be a place of safety peace and tranquility away from the stresses of life our children and youngsters suffering with mental health problems struggle to deal with everyday. If you could support in any way please email me


    1. Hi Julie
      I would like to help: I am a medically retired ex. socialworker having spent ten years involved in fundraising locally in Liverpool. If you think that I might be able to help call or mail me.
      Wil Savage 0151 709 2833 07792100580
      I look forward to hearing from you, take care

      Wil Savage


  5. Hi, Well this week I received an email telling me of the likelihood of a steering group having to fold due to the cuts, imposed by the government. This group is trying to get PTSD researched using methods developed in the UK. At present too much emphasis is placed upon USA journals and these aren’t always in key with the UK. We live in strange times, where the mental illness is disregarded by the likes of ATOS, yet certain types can loose your driving license. Check out the Gov.UK site. Pressure is placed upon mentally ill persons to find work, yet this can be adding to their stress. Employers are scared of the mere mention of Metal illness and ignore applications for re-integration into society through work. It is a human right to have an income, but it is denied. We have people on the streets living rough, yet continue to allow more into the country and weaken any chance of more vacancies and therefore the opportunity to work, live in a safe home. I am 60, in all my years, seen about everything. But we are a first rate country, with a third rate record on looking after those in need. Will a change of party do anything ? I crossed over to Labour from the LibDems, yet I feel uneasy about them in Government and making a pact with Clegg, well that’s just so bad. The best thing that can happen to the LibDems is that Clegg loses he’s seat. As for the future, all that counts is money, it is more important then your fellow Human.


  6. In parts of the US where psychological regimes (especially CBT) are being inflicted on convicted criminals, activists are confirming that all such coercive procedures VIOLATE THE NUREMBERG CODE. The Code covers forced physical ‘treatments’ as well as psychological ones, and also addresses experimentation – such as using the poor and the vulnerable as guinea-pigs in the UK’s planned mass rollout of forced psychiatric interventions.

    Hopefully the Nuremberg Code is not just another pesky piece of human rights legislation that Cameron can opt out of, should he remain in power.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. SWIM was sanctioned over a year ago. She had mental health issues and is in diagnosis for Autism and was sanctioned repeatedly for not trying hard enough to seek work. After a 3rd long sanction she turned to sex working to make ends meet and had no income for 8 months. Applied for ESA but had to appeal and finally got ESA. The damage had been done and she has had a breakdown and became delusional. On Friday she was arrested for trying to swap a “open razor” haircut for a packet of fags with a young teller at the local coop shop. In her deluded mind she saw no wrong in this but she took the razor out of her purse and began demonstrating how it works on her own hair. Police were involved, they got a dog unit to track her back home, she was arrested and she spent all weekend in a police cell pending court this morning. Add up the public costs here – police, court, hospitals (I hope this is where she will be soon)


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