Iain Duncan Smith must be pissing himself. A report released at the end of last year by mental health charity MIND could not have gone further in endorsing the core ideas that lie behind his bungled and brutal welfare reforms.
The report is titled “We’ve Got Work To Do” and claims to demand ‘fundamental reform’ of the workplace and social security system to better support people with a mental health condition. Sadly it is calling for nothing of the sort and is underpinned by the exact same lies and toxic assumptions that have driven both Tory and Labour welfare reforms.
Just like the DWP, MIND have adopted the flawed medical consensus that work is good for your health. The charity does acknowledge that this isn’t actually always true, but falls short of saying that work can be bad for your health, instead arguing that “inappropriate or poor quality work can have as negative an effect on people’s mental health as not being in work”. They base this opinion on research carried out in Australia that found that “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.” In other words work can be worse for your mental health than being unemployed, rather than just equally bad as MIND claim.
It is not nit-picking to point out the discrepency between what this research found and what MIND say it found because it reveals the charity’s opinions to be based on ideology, not facts. This same factual slippage occurs elsewhere in the report when MIND begin by saying that most people with mental health conditions want to work, which later becomes everyone with a mental health condition wants to work. The truth, as revealed in the footnotes to the report, are that only around 58% of people out of work due to a mental health condition strongly agreed they wanted to return to work whilst 20% did not feel they were well enough.
These two distortions – or let’s call them lies – have allowed the despised Work Capability Assessment, benefit sanctions and workfare all to be misrepresented as ‘support’ or ‘help’. In truth these measures destroy lives. The medical consensus that work is good for you does often not apply to those on the lower end of the income scale who face being forced by Jobcentres into the kind of work likely to make them ill.
MIND’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer claims at the beginning of the report that there have been “improvements in how people with mental health problems are supported”, although it is unclear what they are. There then follows an emotive story about someone’s journey through the benefit system after leaving work due to depression. This is actually where their journey would stop, because unless they could provide reems of medical evidence to the Jobcentre they would be disallowed benefits for giving up work. That this reports begins by misrepresenting the benefit system as it currently functions just shows how removed these giant disability charities have become from the lives of those they claim to support.
Instead the ‘fundamental reform’ they call for is actually more of the same or worse – such as the dangerous idea that sensitive health information from the Work Capability Assessment should be passed over to Work Programme providers like A4e and G4S. This is like your boss having access to your medical history and appallingly MIND seem pretty relaxed about this as well.
Much of the early part of the report is taken up by calling for improvements in the working environment for people suffering mental ill-health. Which is fine, everyone wants that, except greedy employers who worry it might cost them money or who harbour nasty little prejudices about mental health. According to MIND themselves this is about 40% of them. Yet one of MIND’s recommendations is that the Maximus run ‘Fit To Work’ service – the new telephone helpline which will be used to certify time off instead of GPs – should more effectively engage with employers. About the only decent thing about Fit To Work, which is designed to bully people back into the workplace before they are better, is that currently you have the right to keep your boss out of any discussions.
The final part of the report discusses what future welfare-to-work schemes should look like for those with a mental health condition. The charity are calling for “new specialist scheme for people with mental health problems on
ESA”. A scheme which should be run by those who “have expertise and experience of working with people with mental health problems”. And here lies the real reason for this report. It’s a fucking advert to any incoming Labour Government to give MIND a lucrative contract to run a new welfare-to-work service.
There is no longer any doubt that endless Atos assessments, workfare and benefit sanctions are creating a crisis in the lives of those with a mental health condition. The tragic death toll rises ever higher. Yet nowhere in this report does MIND call for these brutal policies to be scrapped. Even if MIND were handed a contract to be nicer to people on ESA this would still leave those who have been found fit for work abandoned and dumped onto mainstream unemployment benefits alongside those whose condition is at yet undiagnosed. On twitter yesterday MIND claimed they couldn’t call for sanctions to be scrapped for people who are unemployed because it wasn’t a key issue. If your mental health condition isn’t bad enough to be able to claim ESA then tough shit seems to be the charity’s response if you get sanctioned.
The thing is, naked profiteering aside, MIND are not bastards. They have dedicated front line workers who don’t get paid anywhere near enough and are sincere committed people. Workers who would probably agree that benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment should be scrapped immediately. They see the carnage that is being caused everyday.
The problem is that reports like these are overseen and commissioned by highly paid charity executives who live lifestyles that their service users and lowest paid staff can only dream of. These lifestyles lead them to make assumptions based on their own distorted experience of the world. Over time they become unable to avoid inflicting solutions to the problems faced by working class people based on their own middle class values because that is all they know. Often these solutions are utterly bizarre, like the boss of homelessness charity Thamesreach Jeremy Swain’s obsessive belief that the biggest problem facing homeless people is that beer is too cheap. You read that right. Too cheap.
It is near impossible for someone on a huge salary who does a job they love to understand why someone may not feel up to working at present. That, to someone like MIND Chief Executive Paul Farmer, really does seem like madness. Likewise charity bosses have no real understanding of why it might be dangerous to allow other bosses to snoop around your health records. Bosses think bosses are lovely people who would never abuse their powers – or at least not without a damn good reason. And bosses know best, they tell each other that all the time.
Charity bosses in particular have their own view of themselves as benevolent experts confirmed everyday by politicians and journalists who would far rather talk to them than someone on the dole. Their whopping salaries provide further proof of their own ability. As do arse-licking middle managers who continually tell them how wonderful and clever they are, to their faces at least. So Paul Farmer must be is right because he’s Paul Farmer and MIND are right because they are MIND and anyone criticising them just doesn’t understand. Because they are not experts.
That’s how MIND alongside other disability and anti-poverty charities can so easily dismiss the demands of grassroots campaigns comprising of disabled people and benefit claimants. Groups which are more or less united in calling for benefit sanctions and the WCA to be scrapped completely. These people are not experts. At worst they might even be service users. And you don’t want them getting too uppity. Before you know where you are you’ll have working class people running organisations together to address working class problems. Then there’d be nothing at all for poor Paul Farmer to do. He might even have to get a real job.
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