Tag: MIND

Esther McVey keeps telling lies because no one but the Tories supports universal credit roll out

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On Monday, the  work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, announced some changes to the plans to manage the transfer of 3 million people on to universal credit following stark warnings from its own expert advisers that ithe government was not doing enough to stop thousands of vulnerable claimants being put at risk of hardship. 

McVey’s announcement followed a report by the government’s social security advisory committee (SSAC) that warned of “significant concerns” that the universal credit plans were rushed, too complex and placed too much risk on claimants. MPs will debate the ‘migration’ regulations over the next few weeks.

The government’s original plans have been widely criticised by front-line charities and others, with predictions that vulnerable people could be plunged deeper into poverty and that some people entitled to benefits could be left with no income whatsoever. The rules have been subject to a review by the SSAC, who presented their report to Department for Work and Pensions earlier in the autumn. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has now said it will look again at 11 of the report’s 12 recommendations for change. McVey told the Commons on Monday: “We will take a measured approach to delivering managed migration, taking our time to get it right and working with claimants to co-design it.”

It’s rather late in the day for a democratic consultation with claimants, and it’s not as if the Conservatives have ever included ordinary citizens in the design of their policies, they tend to reserve that level of inclusion only for the very wealthy. 

The DWP has announced a number of measures as part of £1bn package announced in the budget to help claimants’ ‘transition’ to universal credit, including providing two weeks’ additional benefit to unemployed claimants to help them manage the five-week wait for a first UC payment. That isn’t enough. Leaving people – including families with children, and disabled people – without any money to meet their basic needs for at least 3 weeks is completely unacceptable. 

The SSAC report followed a consultation in which it received a record 455 responses, including more than 300 from individual claimants or their carers. It noted that it had been “particularly struck by the degree of anxiety” about managed migration expressed by this group.

Sir Ian Diamond, the SSAC chair, said he was pleased that the government had largely accepted the committee’s advice, but said much detail still had to be worked out. He said he was disappointed that the DWP had rejected a key recommendation to abandon plans to force all existing benefit claimants to make a claim for universal credit before they could be migrated to it. 

The DWP said making a new claim was essential to ensure all data was up to date. If that were the only reason, then why make people wait 5 weeks before their first payment? A government reform should not result in people – disabled people, lone parents, families – having no income for any length of time, let alone 3 weeks.

Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, said: ”[McVey] could not ignore the swell of expert voices warning that the government’s approach to moving vulnerable people to universal credit could end in disaster and destitution. The department deserves credit for listening, but its response fails to provide in full the necessary safeguards for claimants.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the government to pause the rollout of universal credit.

She said: “The Budget last week did little to address the very long wait for payments which is causing significant hardship.”  

“Despite this the government is now planning to start the next phase of introduction of universal credit which it calls managed migration which will involve the transfer of £2.87m onto it.

“Universal credit is failing, the opposition has consistently called on the government to stop the rollout but this government is pressing ahead despite the terrible hardship it is causing.”

Mental health charity, Mind spokeswoman Vicky Nash said: “These regulations have confirmed what we have long feared and argued against – that in the move over to Universal Credit (UC) three million people, including hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems, will be forced to make a new claim.

This risks many being left without income and pushed into poverty.”

Yesterday, Mind called out the Conservative Party Work and Pensions Secretary , accusing her of lying about them in Parliament. McVey implied in Parliament that the charity supports the government’s new regulations for Universal Credit. In her statement to the Commons, McVey said:

“Other charities have been saying this Department now is listening to what claimants are saying, charities are saying and MPs are saying. 

“Trussell Trust has said that. Gingerbread have said that. Mind have said that.”

Mind released a statement on Twitter as they felt “it was important to set the record straight.” 

Gingerbread have also denounced McVey’s claims:

McVey has been caught out ‘misleading’ Parliament before. In June she was criticised by Sir Amyas Morse, of the National Audit Office (NAO), after she made false claims to parliament following a highly critical report by the government watchdog.

McVey was forced to present a humiliating apology following the rebuke by the NAO for falsely claiming the government spending watchdog had asked for an ‘accelerated’ rollout of universal credit. 

Furthermore, McVey’s assurance, in response to the NAO report, that Universal Credit was working was also “not proven”, Morse said. 

The NAO report concluded that the new system – being gradually introduced to replace a number of benefits – was “not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”.

The report also accused the government of not showing sufficient sensitivity towards some claimants and failing to monitor how many are having problems with the programme, or have suffered hardship.

In its report, released in June, the NAO highlighted the hardship caused to claimants by delays in receiving payments under universal credit.

Paragraph 1.3c of the Ministerial code says: “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”

Telling lies about other people is particularly despicable, especially from a position of power. But that is how Conservatives have traditionally justified their exceptionally draconian policies.

 


 

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Research finds damaging mental health discrimination ‘built into’ Work Capability Assessment. Again.

Research conducted by academics at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities confirms what many of us already knew: that the government’s “fit for work” assessment is causing permanent damage to some people’s mental health, from which they are not recovering. 

The researchers say in their report that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) experience “for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from”.

The study comes at the same time as John Pring, journalist from the Disability News Service (DNS) has exposed private provider Maximus in their use of “brutal and dangerous” questions about suicide intention directed at people with mental health problems during their assessments. 

Dr Jay Watts, a clinical psychologist and academic, told DNS that people should only be asked about suicidal ideation by a trained mental health professional who can offer help, or someone in an “existing trusting relationship with the individual”.

Watts said that WCAs were “degrading and humiliating experiences for most if not all claimants” and were carried out in a space which was “not a trustworthy one”.

She said: “Individuals are required to parade their distress and feel compelled to answer intrusive questions (for the means to live relies on this).”

She went on to say: “To ask about suicide or self-harm in this context brings huge risks.”

She added that such questioning “can be suggestive if the environment is unsafe.”

She said that claimants were “battered with multiple questions about that which is most personal” in disability assessments and questioned about suicide while the assessors are “typing away” on their keyboards.

Watts concluded: “I have no doubt that questions on suicidal ideation, and the degrading manner in which they are asked, are one reason behind the suicide spike associated with the WCA process.”

The tragic case of Michael O’Sullivan, who killed himself after being found fit for work by the government’s disability assessors, has also cast a spotlight on the harmful consequences of the work capability assessment, particularly in relation to people with mental health problems. 

Though O’Sullivan’s suicide is the first to have been judged a direct consequence of being found fit for work, the DWP has conducted 49 internal reviews into benefit-related deaths since 2012, according to data released following freedom of information requests by the Disability News Service.

Of these, no fewer than 40 were conducted following the suicide, or apparent suicide, of a person claiming benefit. This is both profoundly shocking and entirely unsurprising. It is the wholly predictable result of a system designed and operated by people who appear to lack even the most basic understanding of the realities of living with mental illness.

Despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia, and was unable to work, O’Sullivan was taken off employment support allowance (ESA) and placed on jobseeker’s allowance. The decision to find him fit for work was made after an assessment by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) doctor, a former orthopaedic surgeon, who did not factor in the views of any of the three doctors treating O’Sullivan.

Work capability assessments discriminate against people with mental health problems and should be “redesigned entirely”, according to Professor Abigail Marks from Heriot-Watt University’s Centre for Research on Work and Wellbeing. This recent study also established, through dozens of in-depth interviews of people who had been through the tests, that “in the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide”. Mental health charities said the contents of the interviews “reflect what we hear from people every day”.

The researchers interviewed 30 people with existing mental health conditions who had taken the tests throughout 2016. The majority of subjects suffered from depression or anxiety, whilst a smaller number had more complex issues like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. In addition, the team interviewed individuals from advocacy organisations, Citizens Advice Bureau and a former employee of Ingeus, one of the private Work Programme providers.

Marks said: “It is unacceptable that healthcare professionals who act as assessors for the WCA, for example, physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists are not fully qualified or trained to assess mental health conditions, yet they seem to be able to override participants’ own GPs, community psychiatric nurses, and therapists.

The WCA must be entirely redesigned, and focus on the potential barriers to work for both physical and mental health problems.”    

The report also highlighted that WCAs make non-Work Programme work experience, or other voluntary work, almost ‘impossible’ for people with mental health conditions. 

Dr Gavin Maclean, research assistant at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “Many of the participants in the study found the experience of the WCA so damaging that they stopped engaging in work-based activity and did not return to it.

This could further reduce their long-term employability and potentially increase their dependency on benefits.”

Dr Sue Cowan, assistant professor of psychology in the School of Social Sciences, said: “For people with severe and enduring mental health conditions, voluntary work may be as ‘good as it gets’, as one of our participants stated.

This does not mean a failure to obtain more. Rather, it is a recognition that an individual is making a choice, and the current system does not recognise or support that in any way.

The assumption that engaging in voluntary work means an individual is fit for employment should be scrapped; there has to be much greater flexibility about undertaking training while on ESA and much greater value must be placed on voluntary work and work-preparation activity.”

The qualitative study highlights in particular a lack of expertise in mental health problems among WCA assessors and advice from the WCA that was not consistent with what people going through the assessment had been told by their own GPs. In one case recorded in the study, a participant recounted a doctor “actually physically gasping” during an appeal because of the poor quality of evidence recorded by a WCA assessor. 

Some participants reported being in tears or having panic attacks during the tests, and others told the researchers that the assessments were “making me feel worse”.

The researchers said that the extreme stress having to deal with multiple stigmas of being unemployed and having a mental health condition became “self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating”, leading to the deterioration of peoples’ condition.

It says in the report: “Our research has reinforced the fact that people with mental health problems face more stigma and discrimination than those with physical health conditions and that this discrimination is built into the WCA.” 

Professor Marks, the lead author of the study, who is based at Heriot-Watt University, told the Independent that people who worked closely with such cases reported that deterioration in mental health conditions was an “almost universal” response to the tests.

Key causes of extreme stress were said to be a claimant’s fear of losing their lifeline income, the prolonged nature of tests, a lack of specialist mental health training amongst assessors, and the fact the test was “clearly geared towards people with physical disabilities.”

This said, many people with physical disabilities have also stated that the WCA experience has had an adverse effect on their mental health. 

Marks says: “A lot of the people we spoke to were in a position where they are preparing to go back to work before their assessment – they were doing training courses, community initiatives, or volunteering.” 

“They said that after the assessment, because the assessment had caused them so much stress, they were unable to go back and take part in those activities because their mental health had had such a deterioration.

“Talking to the advocacy workers, as well, they said it was almost universal that after people had gone through an assessment there was a significant decrease in their mental health.” 

In October last year the Government announced that it would stop repeat Work Capability Assessments for people with chronic conditions, characterising the repeat assessments it was scrapping as “unnecessary stress and bureaucracy”.

Mental health charity Mind said the WCA was clearly “not fit for purpose” and that its lengthy and costly appeals processes could well make matters worse.

“The findings of this report are concerning but sadly not surprising, as they reflect what we hear from people every day,” Ayaz Manji, the charity’s policy and campaigns officer, said.

“People with mental health problems tell us that the current fit-for-work test causes a great deal of additional anxiety. We know the assessors rarely have sufficient knowledge or expertise in mental health, meaning many people don’t get the right outcome and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. 

“The current approach is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced by an open and honest conversation based on each person’s individual needs.”

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions minister, said the study was more proof that the WCA “is not only unfit for purpose, but is causing harm to some disabled people”.

She added: “That’s why I have committed Labour to scrapping these assessments completely and replacing them with a holistic, person-centred approach.”

As usual, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson dismissed the interviewees’ experiences as not “statistically significant”.

Apparently, qualitative data doesn’t count as “empirical evidence”, or contribute to it. Or put another way, if the government don’t want to count it, it doesn’t count.

The spokesperson said: “Only thirty people were interviewed for this report, which fails to acknowledge any of the significant improvements we have made to our assessments – particularly for people with mental health conditions.” 

“Last year alone at least 35,000 work capability assessments took place in Scotland to help ensure people get the right level of support that they need.”

In fact, 37 interviews were conducted for the study. Furthermore, there is much evidence outside of this study that supports the findings. Qualitative evidence often provides richer, more in-depth, detailed evidence than quantitative studies tend to permit. Yet the government insist that citizens’ own accounts are not important, regularly dismissing them as “anecdotal”.

The government have also failed to conduct a quantitative investigation into the established correlation between WCAs and a deterioration in mental health conditions.

In 2015, the “fit for work” tests, introduced to assess eligibility for disability benefit ESA, were again found to have caused relapses in patients with serious mental health conditions, Dr Jed Boarman, consultant with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called for an  overhaul of the process.

Boardman, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, also said the WCA discriminates against those with mental health issues. 

Boardman, who treats patients with serious and long-term mental health problems, said: “People with severe long-term problems get very distressed about being assessed, probably because mistakes are made, because the process isn’t perfect, because they don’t feel they are being listened to in their interviews.

“You do see people relapsing as a consequence of getting distressed.”

His comments followed a study, published the previous month, that linked the WCA tests with an additional 590 suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions.

The study, published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, showed a correlation between worsening mental health and assessments under the WCA.

The Department for Work and Pensions described the study as “misleading.”

The study’s main author, Benjamin Barr, said it was crucial the DWP takes seriously concerns that WCAs are “severely damaging” mental health. He called on the department to release data it holds to researchers to allow further analysis of the health impact of the controversial test.

Boardman added: “Their primary criticism of our study is that we don’t have data specifically on people going through the WCA and consequent mental health problems,” said Barr, from the University of Liverpool. “They have data on who has died following the WCA and they could facilitate linkage of that data with health causes.”

Thousands of claimants have died after being found fit for work, according to statistics released in August 2015 by the DWP, following a freedom of information request and a determined and successful court appeal by Mike Sivier of Vox Political. Ministers insisted that the figures they have released could not be used to link claimant deaths to welfare reforms, but the government has refused to release figures that would make it possible to assess whether the death rate for people found fit for work is higher than normal.

Boardman and Mark’s concerns are echoed by psychologists and benefit advisers working with claimants, who say they have gathered a lot of qualitative evidence that WCAs cause much additional psychological distress for those with mental health issues.

Related

Maximus ‘admits’ using brutal and dangerous suicide questions – John Pring

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

What you need to know about Atos

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans


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Mother who faced bedroom tax eviction after son’s suicide found hanged with note to David Cameron

An inquest has heard that Frances McCormack, a 53-year-old school cook, had been hounded for bedroom tax payments since the tragic suicide of her 16-year-old son, Jack Allen, in 2013. A handwritten note, dated 10 days before her death, was found in her bedroom, part of which was addressed to David Cameron, outlining the hardships and distress that the Bedroom Tax was causing her.

Ms McCormack’s body was discovered by her close friend Natalie Richardson at her home in Maltby, near Rotherham.

An eviction notice was served on Ms McCormack the day before her body was discovered, the court heard.

Frances McCormack had been helping Rotherham Council with its suicide prevention work following the tragic suicides of an increasing number of local young people.

Her ex-husband Jimmy Allen said after the inquest: “She was a strong-willed woman and a good, loving mother. This was a totally unseen body blow to the family.”

Close friend Natalie Richardson told the Doncaster inquest: “Frances had spoken to me previously about the property.

“She wanted to buy into it, it was where the three boys were raised and where Jack took his last breaths, ate his last meal and spoke his last words.

“She was a very strong woman, very strong minded. I felt she was getting a lot better with herself. She had decided to go out a bit more, she had started going to the gym, she was very focused and always had something to do.

“She never gave me any kind of inkling and was strong for me when my partner passed away. She was my rock.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Ms McCormack. This is a tragic and complex issue and it would be misleading to link it to one cause.”

The cause of Frances McCormack’s suicide was the distressing impact of a cruel and punitive policy that is intentionally designed to target our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Frances was already vulnerable because she was grieving her son. But she was also bravely supporting others, in her contributions to suicide prevention work. It must have been profoundly distressing to receive notice that she was to be forced out of her family home.

How many more suicides will it take before this souless, indifferent government recognise the all too often devastating consequences of their “reforms” and engage with citizens, honestly and openly investigating their accounts, and those of campaigners, academics and professionals? There is an established correlation between Conservative austerity cuts and an increase in suicides and deaths that demands urgent investigation.

Surely what is needed, instead of a wall of oppressive political denial, is a democratically accountable impact assessment of the Conservative’s draconian and ideologically-driven policies. Denying other people’s experiences of inflicted political cruelty is the hallmark of Despotism. It’s not the behaviour one would expect from an elected government in a first-world liberal democracy.

Recent research by Iain Duncan Smith’s own department showed 78% of bedroom tax victims were penniless by the month’s end and at least half had to turn down their heating.

The study report was released on December 17 – the very last day of parliament before the Christmas break.

The Labour Party have confirmed the report was received by the Department for Work and Pensions on December 8 and signed off completely for publication on December 11.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted it was standard practice for there to be a week’s delay between reports being received and published online.

But the shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith said: 

“The Tories are right to be ashamed about a report showing the Bedroom Tax is driving people deeper and deeper in to poverty.

“Iain Duncan Smith should show some decency, by being honest about the damage his hated policy is causing. Then listen to Labour’s calls to scrap the Bedroom Tax at once.”

The government released 36 ministerial statements – compared to three or four on an average day – in a mountain of information on the last day of Parliament before Christmas. Anyone would think the Conservatives want to avoid any democratic scrutiny or accountability.

Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said:

“The DWP’s own evaluation finds the ‘bedroom tax’ is not only pushing families into hardship but it’s also failing to free up more accommodation for families – the key argument ministers used to justify this controversial policy.

“This is a long and deep look at a hugely controversial policy – it really should not have been released just as MPs rise for Christmas.”

Department for Work and Pensions sources maintain that the bedroom tax is “fair”, claiming that it was “wrong” that “taxpayers had to “subsidise” benefit claimants to live in houses that are “larger than they require.”

However, most benefit claimants have actually worked or are working in low paid jobs, and have therefore contributed to their own provision.

It would be far more reasonable, credible and valid to object to the “taxpayer” having to subsidise big businesses who are avoiding paying their taxes. The public are paying for a grotesquely greedy level of bonuses and multimillion figure salaries awarded to incompetent private sector CEOs. Only a quarter of government revenue comes from income tax, with much of the rest coming from national insurance and indirect taxes such as VAT, paid by the population as a whole, including by those people needing social security. But tax avoidance is widespread amongst much of the corporate and wealthy elite that benefits so much from state handouts. There’s a real “culture of entitlement” that the Conservatives happily endorse. And it is costing us far more than the welfare state, established for those in need, after the war.

In the Conservative benefit-cutting climate of austerity Britain, one of the wealthiest nations of the world, disability charities have reported that the despicable scapegoating “scrounger” rhetoric has provoked a significant surge in abuse and hate crime towards disabled people. But the behaviour of state-funded private contractors such as G4S and Atos must surely raise the question of who the “scroungers” really are.

In April 2014, Atos was forced to abandon their contract with the government because of a growing backlash, but not before they had syphoned off very large sums of public money. Meanwhile, sick and disabled people have had their support brutally slashed to the bone, people have died as a consequence of that. Yet our welfare state is being used as a sporting arena for big business profit-making, eating up public funds that were supposed to help people who have encountered difficulties meeting their basic needs through losing their job or becoming ill. Now there is a cause for public and political outrage.

The selling of our public services and lucrative contracting out of state functions to private companies who exchange public money for a notoriously poor service is a prominent feature of Tory “small state” Britain. Tax-funded corporate welfare has never been more generous. Another such woefully inept business is A4e, a welfare-to-work company dogged by controversy over poor performance and corruption. Former chairman Emma Harrison paid herself £8.6m in dividends, all courtesy of the taxpayer. In February 2014, four former A4e employees admitted committing acts of fraud and forgery after charging the state for working for clients that did not even exist.

The Conservative’s draconian policies, which they claim were intended to “solve” Britain’s housing crisis, have done nothing but actually make it worse. The Tories have overseen the withdrawal of the right to lifetime tenancies, introduced a dubious “help to buy” guarantee that further inflates housing costs and they have imposed an arbitrary benefits cap, applied indiscriminately whatever a family’s size or needs, which will see an exodus of poorer people, effectively bringing about a “social cleansing” of the capital and other major cities.

Few groups have suffered more than disabled people from this government’s five years in office. Though the human rights of women and children have also been violated by this government’s grinding and unrelentlessly discriminatory legislative machine.

I wrote earlier about the grave concerns regarding the impact of the next round of proposed housing benefit cuts on the most vulnerable social groups from within the housing sector. A specialist housing association has warned that people under the age of 35 in mental health accommodation face rent shortfalls of almost £200 a week under  government plans to cap housing benefit for social housing tenants at Local Housing Allowance rates. Financial modelling shows that at least 95 per cent of supported housing providers would be forced to evict their tenants if the government succeeds in slashing housing benefits.

Capping benefits at the level of Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the council-administered benefit for people in the private rented sector, would affect almost everyone in supported housing.

Every single Tory austerity measure targets the most vulnerable and those citizens with the very least to lose, and not “those with the broadest shoulders,” as Cameron claimed would be the case in 2010.

Charities, mental health professionals, campaigners and researchers have warned the government that austerity cuts are causing mental distress and are linked to rise in suicides.  Research published in September 2015 by Mind, the UK’s largest mental health charity, reported that for people with mental health problems, the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, made their distress worse in 83 per cent of cases. 

A letter, published before the 2015 election, signed by 442 professionals ranging from psychologists to epidemiologists, stated:

“The past five years have seen a radical shift in the kinds of issues generating distress in our clients: increasing inequality and outright poverty, families forced to move against their wishes, and, perhaps most important, benefits claimants (including disabled and ill people) and those seeking work being subjected to a quite new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime.”

Psychologists Against Austerity, an alliance of mental health professionals, formed with the aim of directly challenging the cuts and welfare changes that they said were adding to mental distress. The group produced a briefing paper that includes five “austerity ailments” that contribute to worsening mental distress and despair. These are: humiliation and shame, instability and insecurity, isolation and loneliness, being trapped or feeling powerless, and fear and distrust.

The government continue to deny any “causal link” between their draconian policies and an increase in suicide, refusing to carry out an investigation into the impacts of their callous legislative authoritarianism that not only treats our poorest and most vulnerable citizens with disgusting contempt, but also systematically and shamefully contravenes their human rights.

 

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Specialist Disability Employment Advisors in Jobcentres cut by over 60 per cent

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Full-time specialist disability employment advisors who are posted in jobcentres have been radically reduced since 2011. The full-time advisors are employed to help disabled people navigate the support system and find employment. Over the last four years, the number of specialist advisors fell by over 60 per cent, from 226 to just 90.

The government says that the advisors will be replaced by unqualified  non-specialist “work coaches” as part of its Universal Credit programme, which also extends welfare conditionality, entailing sanctions, to people in part-time and low paid work.

We reported last week that the work coach scheme is to extend from jobcentres to GP practices, to prevent sick and disabled people from “leaving the job market” and “claiming Employment Support Allowance” (ESA), with pilots already underway.

The latest figures on jobcentre advisors were released by ministers in response to a Parliamentary question by Labour MP Emily Thornberry.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pension said the fall in advisor numbers was consistent with Government policy.

“With the introduction of Universal Credit disabled people looking for work now have access to Work Coaches who are trained to provide tailored support specific to their individual needs. As we continue to make our mainstream services more accessible to disabled jobseekers it is expected that the number of Disability Employment Advisors will continue to decline.”

“The Government is committed to halving the disabled employment gap and the most recent disabled employment figures show that 226,000 more disabled people found work over the past year.”

Charities have responded, saying that the specialist advisors are absolutely crucial for people with disabilities who have to navigate the support system and that their reduction will undermine the Government’s own claim of “supporting people in to work.”

The government have also cut in work support for disabled people, such as the Access to Work fund, which helps people and employers cover costs of disabilities that may present a barrier to work. Under the Equality Act, employers are obliged to make “reasonable adjustments” to the workplace to support people with disabilities.

A coalition of 100 disability charities had warned that the government cuts threaten disabled people’s rights earlier this year, and last month, especially those with learning disability and mental health problems, charities also called for a halt in the government’s cuts to ESA, which will be reduced, removing the work-related activity component, so that people will receive the same amount as jobseekers with no disability, which will make it more difficult for disabled people to find work, and may have an adverse impact on people with health conditions.

The cuts to specialist employment support for people with disabilities flies in the face of  Iain Duncan Smith’s comments during the Tory conference – that sick and disabled people need to see work as their route out of poverty. It’s difficult to see how that can be achieved when the government is busy closing down the transport system, as it were.

Duncan Smith commented at the Conservative conference: “We don’t think of people not in work as victims to be sustained on government handouts. No, we want to help them live lives independent of the state.

“We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”

We can’t help wondering what “help” actually means to Conservatives, because there is every indication that they don’t use the word in a conventional sense. Usually when Tories use the word “help” or “support”, it indicates some sort of penalty or punishment: a reference to the extended draconian benefit conditionality and  sanctions regime

Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, has said that the fall in specialist assistance was concerning:

“Disability employment advisors make a huge difference in supporting disabled people into work – providing expert, personalised advice and guidance.

“We’re very concerned to see this drop in the number of job centres that have fulltime specialist advisors for disabled people. Disabled people are pushing hard to find work, but continue to face huge barriers, ranging from inaccessible workplaces to employer attitudes. 

“Disability employment advisors help tackle these barriers. The Government has set out a welcome ambition to halve the disability employment gap. To do this disabled people must have access to specialist, tailored employment support.”

Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, has warned that the replacement generalist advisors would “simply not have the training” required:

“People with a learning disability find the demands placed upon them difficult while claiming Job Seekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.

“Some find them impossible and we are worried that there is not the right support in Jobcentres to help them. Families tell us that a lack of learning disability training and cuts to DEAs is leading to many people with a learning disability being unfairly sanctioned and receiving insufficient support to appeal decisions, or the right support to find employment.

“Even if the reduction in DEAs in some part of the country is due to the rolling out of Universal Credit and part of a strategic move to generic advisors, we are concerned that these advisors will simply not have the training to fully support claimants with a learning disability.

“The problems with the administration of benefits and changes in the benefits system, combined with future cuts to benefits and social care, is causing fear and anxiety among the 1.4 million people with a learning disability and their families in the UK who are scared they could be isolated in their local communities.”

Mind have already warned that the transition away from specialist help under Universal Credit would make the benefits system more difficult for people with mental health issues. Policy manager, Tom Pollard told the Independent:

“We’re pretty sceptical of the ability of those jobcentre advisors to be able to understand the barriers that people with mental health issues face.” 

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams recently challenged Priti Patel, the employment minister, during work and pensions questions in the Commons recently to raise concerns about the negative impacts of social security sanctions on the mental health of claimants.

During the session the Patel had claimed: “Our staff are trained to support claimants with mental health conditions and there is no evidence to suggest that such claimants are being sanctioned more than anybody else.”

Mrs Abrahams, Shadow minister for Disabled People, responded: “The minister may have inadvertently slipped up there. There is clear evidence from last year that 58 per cent, more than half, of people with mental health conditions on the employment and support allowance work-related activity group were sanctioned.”

A recent Freedom of Information request showed that between April, 2014, and March this year there were almost 20,000 benefit sanctions received by people who were out of work because of their mental health.

However, in this same period only 6,340 of the group were successfully supported into employment during the same period by the Work Programme.

Tom Pollard said: “Figures obtained by us show that people with mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped than those with other conditions.

“Last year, the Department of Work and Pensions issued more sanctions to people with mental health problems being supported by Employment and Support Allowance than they did to those with other health conditions.

“Stopping somebody’s benefits, or threatening to stop them, is completely the wrong approach to help people with mental health problems find work — it’s actually counterproductive.

“In continually refusing to listen to calls for a review of the use of sanctions, the Government is not only undermining its ambition of helping a million more disabled people into work, but is also failing its duty of care for the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems.”

The Department of Work and Pension’s own research shows that the threat of sanctions does ensure that people who need support from social security comply with benefit rules, but that doesn’t actually help them to find work. It also tends to undermine confidence, and many jobcentre advisors have expressed concern that people with mental illness are more likely to be sanctioned simply because they would have greater difficulty meeting the strict conditionality criteria and because of the greater pressure to sanction “non-compliance” from government. (page 54)

But we deeply suspect that sanctions are precisely what the government are referencing when they use the phrase “helping people into work.”

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

British Psychological Society and charity consortium campaign for reform of WCA gains momentum

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I reported previously that the British Psychological Society (BPS) have called for the reform of the highly controversial Work Capability Assessment.

The BPS have cited a growing body of evidence that seriously ill people are being inappropriately subjected to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Psychologists also argue that the WCA does not effectively measure fitness for work and that its application is producing inappropriate outcomes for claimants.

The Society’s call for reform has gained momentum, with more than  20,000 people signing a petition to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and representatives of the charities Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness delivered the petition on Thursday, 5 November.

The highly problematic WCA is used to determine whether someone applying for employment and support allowance is “fit for work.” The charities say flaws in the test are causing a great deal of stress and anxiety. In some cases people are being wrongly assessed as fit for work, which can have devastating financial and personal consequences.”

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

“The Society has repeatedly asked for a meeting with ministers at the DWP so that we can express our concerns over the 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 in June.

A Judicial Review of the WCA was instigated by two anonymous claimants with mental health problems, who were represented by the Public Law Project.

In May 2013 the Upper Tribunal made an “interim” judgment that the WCA puts people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism at a “substantial disadvantage”. It was a landmark ruling.

The Tribunal panel ruled that the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments, according to the Equality Act, to ensure people with mental health problems were treated fairly by the system. This failure meant such claimants were placed at a substantial disadvantage.

Directors of the three charities, Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness, all backed the case and welcomed the judgment, calling on the government to stop assessing people’s fitness for work under the current system until the issue was resolved.

The DWP immediately appealed against the judgment, stating there was no intention of halting the WCA process, but in December 2013 the Court of Appeal upheld the Upper Tribunal’s interim ruling.

The Tribunal held further Hearings in 2014, which were focused on whether or not there is a “reasonable” adjustment that the DWP should have put in place.

The Upper Tribunal confirmed its earlier ruling that the WCA puts people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism at a “substantial disadvantage”. However, it did not find, at this point,  that the claimants had been personally discriminated against.

As a result, the court said it could not compel the DWP to trial changes to the WCA. They also said that they did not have enough information to determine whether or not there is a reasonable adjustment which could be put in place for people with mental health problems.

However, the court said that there still may be reasonable adjustments that the DWP can make to the WCA, and has encouraged the DWP to trial changes “as soon as possible”.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“This ruling proves once and for all that this cruel and unfair process is unlawful. The judges have independently confirmed what our members have been saying for years – the system is discriminating against some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society, the very people it is meant to support.

The work capability assessment process is deeply unfair for people with a mental illness – it’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre.”

Professor Malcom Harrington’s first review – published in back in November 2010 – had previously criticised the way the WCA process failed to properly account for and accommodate people that have chronic illnesses with fluctuating symptoms and people with mental health problems, and he recommended changes, including placing mental health experts in all test centres.

His recommendations have not been implemented.

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Government refuses to review the negative impact of sanctions on people with mental illness

Illustration by Jack Hudson.

The increased use and rising severity of benefit sanctions became an integrated part of welfare “conditionality” in 2012. Sanctions are based on the behavioural theory called “loss aversion,” which is borrowed from economics and decision theory. Loss aversion refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards “changing their behaviours,” by using a threat of punitive loss, since the underpinning assumption is that people are unemployed because of personal behavioural deficits and making “wrong decisions,” rather than because of socio-economic conditions and political policy decisions.

However, a wealth of evidence has demonstrated that sanctioning does not help clients into work; indeed, it is more likely to make it much harder to get a job. Furthermore, sanctions are often applied in an arbitrary manner, without due regard to proportionality, rationality or for the health and wellbeing of people claiming benefits.

The Government is facing renewed calls for an independent review to examine its controversial benefit sanctions policy and to ensure vulnerable people are protected. However, Department of Work and Pensions minister, Priti Patel, has refused to examine the effect of its  sanctions regime on the mental health of people who are affected by it.

MPs used a question session in the Commons to raise concerns over the impact of benefit sanctions on the mental health of claimants.

Employment minister, Patel, said any analysis of the temporary benefit cuts’ effects would be “misleading” in isolation and that their effect should therefore not be examined.

“There are many factors affecting an individual’s mental health. To assess the effect of sanctions in isolation of all other factors would be misleading,” she told MPs at a Work and Pensions Questions session in the House of Commons.

She also claimed that there was no evidence that sanctions particularly affected people with mental health problems – a claim contrary to the results of independent research.

More than 100 people with mental health issues have their benefits sanctioned every day, according to figures released earlier this year.

The government’s refusal to engage with criticism of the sanction system’s effect on mental health comes after the highly critical study by the charity Mind.

83 per cent of Work Programme participants with mental health issues surveyed by Mind said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse of much worse.

Jobseekers are to be given 14 days’ notice before facing benefit sanctions under a new scheme being trialled next year by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But the government were questioned why they are waiting until next year to trial this idea.

Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s social justice and welfare spokeswoman, told Ms Patel: “The so-called yellow pilot scheme is actually an admission by the Government that the sanctions regime isn’t working at the present time, and it’s particularly badly failing people with serious mental illnesses.

“Why is the Government waiting until next year to bring in this pilot scheme, and in the meantime will they please just stop sanctioning people who are seriously ill?”

Ms Patel said she would “respectfully disagree” with Ms Whiteford, adding: “Claimants are only asked to meet reasonable requirements taking into account their circumstances and I think, as you will find with the pilots as they are under way, that again this is about how we can integrate support for claimants and importantly provide them with the support and the guidance to help them get back to work.”

Ms Whiteford insisted the reality is people with mental health problems are being “disproportionately sanctioned”, adding that has been clear for “some time”.

Ms Patel replied: “For a start, the Government has been listening and we have responded to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, hence the reason we will be trialling and piloting the new scheme.”

She reiterated staff in jobcentres are trained to support claimants with mental health conditions, adding: “There is no evidence to suggest mental health claimants are being sanctioned more than anybody else.”

Shadow work and pensions minister Debbie Abrahams told Ms Patel: “You may have inadvertently slipped up there.

“There is clear evidence from last year that 58% of people with mental health conditions on the Employment Support Allowance work-related activity group were sanctioned.

“Obviously that’s over half and that’s the equivalent to 105,000 people – 83% in a Mind survey say that their health condition was made worse as a result of this.”

Data released by the mental health charity Mind recently revealed the scale of sanctions imposed on people with mental health problems being supported by out-of-work disability benefits.

Obtained by the charity under the Freedom of Information Act, the figures show that there were up to three times more benefit sanctions issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to people with mental health problems last year than there were people “supported” into work.

There were almost 20,000 benefits sanctions received by people who were out of work because of their mental health last year, while only 6340 of this group were successfully supported into a job during the same period.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

“Today’s news, from a Freedom of Information request made by the mental health charity Mind, shows that three times as many people are subject to benefit sanctions as those who have been supported back into work.”

“We in the British Psychological Society have become increasingly concerned about benefit sanctions and a number of other issues concerning the psychological welfare of those on benefits.

“We have repeatedly sought a meeting with the Secretary of State and his team and now repeat that request so that his Department may become aware of the most up-to-date psychological research and opinion on these issues.

“There are approximately 250,000 people receiving the benefit Employment and Support Allowance who need this support primarily because of their mental health. People can be sanctioned – have their benefits cut – if they fail to participate in work-related activity, including missing appointments or being late for meetings or CV writing workshops.

“However, many people with mental health problems find it difficult to participate in these activities due to the nature of their health problem and the types of activities they’re asked to do, which are often inappropriate.”

The government has a duty to monitor the impact of its policies, and to make the results public. Sanctions are founded on theory and experimental behavioural science, which adds a further dimension of legitimacy to calls for a review into the impacts of sanctions on people.

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

Work Programme continues to harm people with mental health problems

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The Government’s Work Programme is making the lives of people with mental health problems worse, and having a detrimental impact on people’s ability to work, research by a leading mental health charity has found.

A report from Mind said the flagship scheme, which requires people to take unpaid work allocated by contractors or face losing their lifeline benefits, was taking entirely the wrong approach and actually damaging people’s motivation and capacity to work.

The research found that most people who are on the scheme because of their mental health problems reported worsening health issues due to their experiences of it.

83 per cent of people surveyed said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse or much worse.

The latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that less than 8 per cent of people being supported by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have moved into employment through the Work Programme. Around half of people on ESA are being supported primarily because of their mental health problems.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“These latest figures provide further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme. A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned.”

Even more worryingly, the majority of respondents to our survey said the Work Programme was actually making their health worse, and as a result they had needed more support from health services and felt further from work than previously. Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”

Additionally, over three quarters of people – 76 per cent – said the Work Programme had actually made them feel less able to work than before they were coerced to participate in the scheme.

The results resonate with figures released in a number of previous years suggesting that people on the Work Programme are actually far less likely to return to work than people who are simply left to their own initiative.

In the first year of the £450 million programme, just two out of 100 people on the scheme returned to work for more than six months.

In 2013 Labour’s then shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne described the scheme as “literally worse than doing nothing”.

Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer wrote:

“Cutting someone’s support for failing to meet certain requirements causes not just financial problems but a great deal of psychological distress too.

Mind was one of a group of six mental health organisations to respond to a Work and Pensions Committee Welfare to Work inquiry within which we voiced concerns with the system and made a number of recommendations for improving benefits and back-to-work support. A number of schemes deliver far more effective support to people with mental health problems, at a fraction of the cost of the Work Programme.

WorkPlace Leeds, for example, delivered by Leeds Mind, costs much less than the Work Programme and achieves far better outcomes, with nearly a third (32 per cent) of people with severe and enduring mental health problems gaining paid employment. Schemes such as these are far more helpful and effective in supporting those ready and able to work into fulfilling, appropriate paid employment, relevant to their individual skills and ambitions.

We wholeheartedly support the Government’s aspiration to halve the disability employment gap by helping a million more disabled people into work. However, this will only happen if bold changes are made. As the Welfare Reform and Work Bill makes its way through Parliament, Mind is calling on Employment Minister Priti Patel to overhaul the benefits system, by focusing less on pressurising people and investing more in tailored, personalised support. We’re calling for everyone with mental health problems on the Work Programme to be taken out of this scheme, and instead given alternative support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges they face in getting and keeping a job.”

There are perverse political incentives for pushing people onto workfare programmes. The DWP has simplified its performance measures and now primarily targets the move by claimants away from benefits, or “off-flow”, as a simple and intuitive measure of performance. However, this gives no information about how individual jobcentres perform in supporting claimants to work. Some may have found work but, in more than 40 per cent of cases, the reason for moving off benefits is not actually recorded.

The government does not track or follow up the destination of all those leaving the benefit system, and so the off-flow figures will inevitably include many having their claim ended for reasons other than securing employment, including sanctions, awaiting mandatory review, appeal, death, hospitalisation, imprisonment, on a government “training scheme” (see consent.me.uk  and the Telegraph – those on workfare are counted as employed by the Labour Force Survey, which informs government “employment” statistics.)

Workfare programmes offer further opportunity for imposing sanctions, too. Last year, Iain Duncan Smith met a whistle-blower who has worked for his Department for Work and Pensions for more than 20 years. Giving the Secretary of State a dossier of evidence, the former Jobcentre Plus adviser told him of the development of a “brutal and bullying” culture of “setting claimants up to fail”.

“The pressure to sanction customers was constant,” he said. “It led to people being stitched-up on a daily basis.”

The whistle-blower wished to remain anonymous but gave his details to Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister Esther McVey and Neil Couling, Head of Jobcentre Plus, who also attended the meeting.

“We were constantly told ‘agitate the customer’ and that ‘any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to ­sanction’,”  he told them. 

Iain Duncan Smith and his department have repeatedly denied there are targets for sanctions.

“They don’t always call them targets, they call them ‘expectations’ that you will refer people’s benefits to the decision maker,”  the whistle-blower says. “It’s the same thing.”

He said that managers fraudulently altered claimants’ records, adding: “Managers would change people’s appointments without telling them. The appointment wouldn’t arrive in time in the post so they would miss it and have to be sanctioned. That’s fraud. The customer fails to attend. Their claim is closed. It’s called ‘off-flow’ – they come off the statistics. Unemployment has dropped. They are being stitched up.”

The Department of Work and Pensions no longer meets the needs of people requiring support to find work. Instead it serves only the requirements of an ideologically-driven, irrational and authoritarian government.

 

Related

The Government are under fire for massaging employment statistics

A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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

Figures released in February by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that suicide rates, which had fallen consistently since 1981, are now at their highest in over a decade. It is primarily male suicides which have increased.

The figures for 2013 give a total of 6,233 deaths by suicide, 252 more than in 2012.

Suicide rates are highest in areas of high unemployment, with the north-east of England having the highest rate and London the lowest. Older males are now the most at risk, with 45-59 year olds having the highest rate.

The link between the welfare “reforms” and increased suicide risk has been highlighted by Mind, amongst other organisations. The charity has found that people with mental illnesses are having their benefits cut more than those with other kinds of illnesses.

There has been growing concern regarding how benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals and last year, revelations that the Department for Work and Pensions had internally investigated 60 suicides related to benefit changes led to calls for greater accountabilty and transparency.

As an organisation, Mind is supportive of those with mental health problems being helped into work. But they find that often people are pushed before they are properly well. Research published last year by Mind found that people with mental illness were having their benefits cut more than people with other illnesses.

Most of the telephone calls to Mind’s national helpline are from those wanting to talk about suicide and self-harm, followed by advice on support services, mainly advocacy and welfare benefits.

Kauppinen, who has worked at Mind for 10 years, said that the team used to help people with mental health problems remain stable. But she said they have seen more clients in crisis in recent years.

“We see people in crisis every week,” she said. “I started here in 2005, but when it came to 2010-11, it became crisis work rather than having people just stay where they are.”

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said:

“Pressurising people by threatening to stop their benefits causes a great deal of financial problems and emotional distress, with some people attempting to take their own lives as a result.”

“While the right type of employment can be beneficial to wellbeing, the support offered to those on mandatory back-to-work schemes such as the Work Programme is far too generic to effectively help people with mental health problems move towards employment. We need to see an overhaul of the system with more tailored specialised support and less focus on sanctioning.”

Kauppinen added: “There is very limited mental health awareness from people assessing clients in the new Work Programme. They find it very difficult to ask questions and you can see that the assessors are awkward. It takes a long time to train someone in mental health awareness.”

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the Samaritans, their number is: 08457 90 90 90.

Related:

Benefits and suicide: “You have to be strong to ask for help”the Guardian.

377683_445086432227557_1770724824_n (1)Thanks to Robert Livingstone