The British Psychological Society (BPS) has joined eight other leading mental health organisations in calling for the removal of social security sanctions for people with mental health conditions. The statement launched yesterday at the 12th New Savoy Annual Conference in London.
It calls for everyone living with a mental health condition to be supported in gaining financial security, whether through the social security system or appropriate help in returning to or gaining paid work. However, the statement makes clear that no one with a mental ill health should ever be forced to look for work, or face the threat of having their lifeline support reduced because of welfare conditionality and sanctions.
In the statement signed by mental health experts and charities, such as the Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness among others, the BPS say: “We believe that everyone living with a mental health condition should be supported to attain financial security. Whether they need the support of the social security system or help when they would like to return to or gain paid employment, no one should have to struggle to make ends meet as a result of their mental health problem.
“Yet too many people lose their jobs or are denied opportunities in the labour market because of a mental health condition. And too often our social security system treats people with insufficient dignity and humanity.
“Combined, these issues can exacerbate or contribute to mental health problems.
“We believe that anyone living with a mental health condition has a right to be supported to work if they want to, and to live out of poverty.”
“No one with a mental health condition, however, should ever be mandated to look for work, or to face the threat of having their benefit payments reduced. Neither conditions nor sanctions have been shown to work or to be safe for people with mental health difficulties, and as a result we believe they should be stopped.
“No one should be left in poverty because they have a mental health condition. We pledge to work together to achieve an end to the harm we have seen that sanctions can cause, and a start towards a meaningful entitlement to effective support, based genuinely around the needs of each person.”
Sanctions, under which people lose benefit payments for between four weeks and three years for “non-compliance”, have come under fire for being unfair, punitive, failing to increase job prospects, and causing hunger, debt and ill-health among jobseekers. And sometimes, sanctions have been correlated with deaths.
It’s not the first time the BPS and allied organisations have called on the government to make changes to controversial social security policies. In 2015, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, then President of the BPS, said:
“The Society has repeatedly asked for a meeting with ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions so that we can express our concerns over the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – so far without success. We are particularly concerned that the government’s benefits policy may misuse psychological tools and techniques. We want to ensure policies are informed by appropriate psychological, theoretical and practical evidence.”
The Society published a briefing paper 2016, and an official Call to Action asking the government to commission an end-to-end redesign of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process – including its outcomes and periods for reassessment.
Last year, a collective of the UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies reaffirmed their opposition to welfare sanctions. The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, British Psychological Society and UK Council for Psychotherapy between them represent more than 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.
In a joint response to last year’s report of the Welfare Conditionality project, the organisations say:
“Our key concerns remain that not only is there no clear evidence that welfare sanctions are effective, but that they can have negative effects on a range of outcomes including mental health.
“We continue to call on the Government to address these concerns, investigate how the jobcentre systems and requirements may themselves be exacerbating mental health problems and consider suspending the use of sanctions subject to the outcomes of an independent review.”
The organisations reaffirmed the clear position against welfare sanctions that they previously took in a 2016 joint response.
Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard the British Psychological Society’s then acting director of policy said:
“We are delighted to sign this joint statement. The Society has seen increasing evidence that benefit sanctions undermine people’s health and wellbeing, and that people with multiple and complex needs are disproportionately subject to them.”
Last year, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality concluded that sanctions are ineffective at ‘helping’ people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to absolute poverty, ill-health and even survival crime.
The five-year longitudinal research tracked hundreds of claimants, finding that the controversial policy of withdrawing social security support as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous. The report says: “Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes.”
It was found that sanctions impacted negatively on people’s mental health, frequently triggering high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
The report authors called for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work.
Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions Margaret Greenwood said: “The current sanctions system is immoral and ineffective. It is not helping people into employment and at the same time is leaving vulnerable people on the brink of destitution, without any source of income for long periods.”
Sanctions are justified and imposed by the government, who claim they promote ‘behavioural change’. Ministers tend to present narratives where individuals are held responsible for social and economic problems.
However, many of us believe we need a fundamental change in the UKs’ socioeconomic organisation, because neoliberalism systematically excludes the poorest citizens, while generously rewarding the wealthiest. Power relationships within our society also need to change, because the government is inflicting structural violence – socioeconomic oppression – on marginalised social groups, based entirely upon the government’s own traditional class prejudices.
If any ‘behavioural change’ (a euphemism for state coercion) is needed, it is most certainly on the part of Conservative policy-makers, not from those who are being systematically oppressed. Sanctions reflect the actions of a more broadly abusive and authoritarian regime. Sanctions mean that the poorest citizens’ only means of meeting their most fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – is removed from them as a punishment for simply being poor.
Yet we know the government’s misuse of psychology, embedded in their crib sheet justification of sanctions, is dangerous, cruel and boardroom psychobabbling utter nonsense.
It’s time the public stopped being bystanders in the face of targeted state abuse.
Priti Patel uses techniques of neutralisation to discredit the concerns raised and the evidence presented that sanctions harm people’s mental health. She even disgracefully called this cruel and punitive state action “support” ,”help” and “fair”.
It is never acceptable to endorse an oppressive, abusive regime that deliberately removes people’s means of basic survival, to meet “labour market requirements”.
I don’t make any money from my work. If you like, you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability assessment, mandatory review and appeal.