Tag: Benefits

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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Cameron believes that saving ‘the tax payer’ money is more important than saving lives.

rich keep millons

The following is from a very revealing transcript of David Cameron’s interview with Andrew Marr earlier today.

Cameron implied that dying is somehow an appropriate punishment for failing to attend an interview at the Jobcentre, in order to save “the tax payer” money. Cameron thinks that taxing the wealthy is “immoral,”  but evidently, formulating policies that cause the death of vulnerable citizens is acceptable. Cameron made it plain that he has no intention of carrying out a policy review, or of investigating the growing number of deaths correlated with the conservative party’s welfare cuts.

He showed a complete lack of remorse and basic compassion for David Clapson (and his family,) who died as a direct consequence of the cruel sanction regime that Cameron introduced as part of benefit conditionality,  which is now an integral part of the wider welfare “reforms.”

 THE ANDREW MARR SHOW, BBC 19.4.15 (Full transcript here.)
David Cameron before the news:

AM: Well you also talked to Evan Davis about the twenty two billion pounds of welfare cuts you’ve made so far as if that was easy. Do you accept that has hurt a lot of poor and vulnerable people?

DC: Well it has involved difficult decisions. But of course as we’ve done that we’ve been getting two million people into work, nine hundred thousand people…

AM: Difficult decisions for you; a lot of real pain and suffering for people out there.

DC: Well, we have protected for instance the pension, we’ve protected benefits for the lowest paid, we’ve always made sure that we’ve increased spending on disability benefits rather than reduced it. But crucially the nine hundred thousand people we’ve got off welfare and into work that has actually saved money but it’s also been good for ourcountry and crucially good for them:a job is the best route out of poverty that there is.

AM: What about the million people depending on food banks?

DC: Well obviously I want a country where people don’t depend on food banks, we did something.

AM: But why are more people depending on food banks?

DC: One of the things we did was that Labour, because they didn’t like the PR of this, they didn’t advertise or promote the existence of food banks through job centres. We changed that because we thought that was, that was basically sort of selfish and shortminded…

1390648_548165358586330_1740107407_nAM: And according to the Trussell Trust who run these banks that accounts for just three percent of people using food banks at the moment so it’s not a significant thing. But can I take you to an individual case, James [he meant David] Clapson. Clapson who was a former soldier worked very hard for a long time then was on benefits, failed to turn up to two job centre interviews, [it was just one interview that David missed,] had his benefits removed for a month, he was diabetic, his insulin couldn’t be refrigerated and he died two weeks later.

Now that is the kind of case that is coming up again and again and again and shows that the welfare cuts have been agonisingly painful for real people out there.

DM: Well we have hardship funds and councils have hardship funds for exactly those sorts of tragic cases but if you’re asking me…

AM: It didn’t work.

DC: If you are asking me is it right that people who are asked to turn up for interviews or asked to fill in a CV or asked to apply for a job should have to do those things before getting benefits then yes it’s right that we do have that system in place but we always, as I put it on the steps of…

AM: But the system has been very very aggressive, another case of a man who had learning difficulties and filled in his form by hand rather than by computer and was refused benefits, there is lots of these cases as you won’t have a review, you should have a review of the system surely?

DC: I look at all of those individual cases and all of those cases can be addressed by the hardship funds and by the flexibilities that are there in the system but we have sanctions for a reason, people watching this programme…

AM: You don’t get the hardship fund for two weeks.

DC: Hold on a second

AM: Alright.

DC: People watching this programme who pay their taxes, who work very hard, they don’t pay their taxes so people can sign on and show no effort at getting a job, as I put it on the steps of Downing Street those who can should; those who can’t we always help – that is the principle that should always underline a compassionate benefits system.

We do not have a compassionate welfare system: we have a re-designed system that is draconian because of the “reforms” – it’s more about taking money from people than supporting them. It’s about punishing people into work. That is precisely why people like David Clapson are dying. No support was given to David, and many others like him.

Cameron’s rhetoric isn’t remotely coherent or compassionate, let alone honest.

Let’s not forget that it was Cameron’s government that has ruthlessly stigmatised, dehumanised and scapegoated unemployed and disabled people, in order to justify punishing them by removing their support and handing out the subsequent “savings” to millionaires, who gained £107,000 each per year, whilst those who paid for it – and we are also tax payers, Mr Cameron – are suffering and dying, and the establishment look on with contemptible, pathological, greedy, grasping, self-serving indifference.


11046274_80388630968089cam cThanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

Research shows only a fifth of 2 million people find employment after losing jobseeker’s allowance

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)Further to an article I wrote last November – Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Commitee – it’s emerged that the Coalition’s claims regarding an increase in employment are again under scrutiny after research shows only a fifth of 2 million people find employment after losing jobseeker’s allowance.

Fresh research, presented at the Commons Select Committee inquiry into welfare sanctions on Wednesday, suggests that hundreds of thousands are leaving jobseeker’s allowance because of benefit sanctions without finding employment, though the report’s authors cannot provide an exact figure.

Written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks.

The Guardian reports that Professor David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.

“If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”

However, the Department for Work and Pensions, which is expected to announce a further rise in UK employment on Wednesday, countered that it was “proud” that 1 million jobless people were now subject to the “claimant commitment”, which sets out tougher requirements on the jobless to find work or risk losing their benefit payments.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said: “It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.

“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit. It has created a real change in attitudes. Already more than a million people have signed up to – and are benefiting from – this new jobseeking regime.”

Seems that Iain Duncan Smith forgets that it’s not government money that supports jobseekers, but rather their own, which was paid in tax contributions, in good faith that should any of us need state support, that support would be there to ensure we don’t become destitute or starve. It is not jobseekers attitudes that create jobs and a decent wage: that is the role of the government.People who are sanctioned can hardly be described as “benefitting” from a social scheme that was originally designed to support, not punish.

The Oxford-based research showed that between June 2011 and March 2014, more than 1.9 million sanctions were imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), with 43% of those sanctioned having their benefit claim ceased. Only 20% of those who left the benefit system gave as their stated reason that they had found work.

As I have stated before, the Department for Work and Pensions conducts no systematic research into what happens to those sanctioned, so the new findings start to fill an evidential gap in what has been one of the biggest but least publicised changes to the welfare system since the government came to power.

The 1.9 million benefit removals between June 2011 and March 2014 represent a 40% increase compared with the previous seven years. The figures are based on official monthly and quarterly data from databases covering UK local authorities between 2005 and 2014.

Dispute has arisen about a central aspect of government welfare reform centres on whether jobcentre staff, driven by senior management, are following arbitrary and poorly communicated rules that punish not just the minority of those who don’t look for work, but some of the most vulnerable in society, including mentally ill and disabled people. Many independent witnesses have urged the DWP inquiry at least to suspend the sanctions regime for those claiming employment support allowance, the main disability benefit. Evidence, however, strongly suggests that most people receiving sanctions want to work and that sanctions are imposed because of targets, and so are not related to any claimant claim of non-cooperation or unwillingness to work at all. Rather, it’s the case that sanctions are punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable.

Study author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, said: “The data did not give us the full picture of why sanctioned people have stopped claiming unemployment benefit. We can say, however, that there was a large rise in the number of people leaving JSA for reasons that were not linked to employment in association with sanctioning. On this basis, it appears that the punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support.”

The study also shows widespread variation in how local authorities used sanctions. In Derby, Preston, Chorley and Southampton, researchers found particularly high rates of people being referred for sanctions. In some months, more than 10% of claimants in these areas were sanctioned – the highest rates nationwide.

Co-author Prof Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking at it not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefit, but also the bigger picture, focusing on employment, health, and other social costs.”

He added: “The coalition government has embarked upon an unprecedented experiment to reform social security. I hope policymakers will be informed by these findings and see the value of investigating the consequences.”

Separate evidence in front of the DWP select committee inquiry includes witness statements from former jobcentre staff suggesting senior management threaten staff if they do not take a harsh approach to claimants. There is also cumulative evidence that many of those sanctioned have little or no knowledge of why they are being punished.

The main union representing jobcentre staff, PCS – which was also due to give evidence on Wednesday to the select committee inquiry – suggests: “While there is considerable anecdotal evidence about the inappropriate use of sanctions, there is a lack of empirical evidence. We believe that DWP should publish a more detailed breakdown of sanctions, and specifically more detailed explanations as to why they were imposed. PCS’s survey of our adviser members showed that 61% had experienced pressure to refer claimants to sanctions where they believed it may be inappropriate to do so.”

DWP select committee member Debbie Abrahams said: “This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people “off-flow”. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”

The government counters that its policies are turning the UK into “the jobs factory of Europe”, and dismisses the idea that the unemployment figures are being subverted by sanctions.

A DWP spokesman said: “As the authors admit themselves the data does not give a full picture. What we do know – according to independent figures from the Office for National Statistics – is that we now have a record number of people in employment in this country and there are two million more people in private sector jobs compared to 2010.”

That is a claim which is not very well substantiated by income tax revenue collected by the Treasury at all. (See also A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics).

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

Jobless are being punished with hunger for claiming unemployment benefit, say churches

Hain’s horror as figures reveal four in five who have JSA sanctioned “don’t find work”

385294_195107567306966_1850351962_nMany thanks to Robert @LivingstonePics