Tag Archives: mental health

A Government That Permits The Psychological Torture Of Benefit Claimants Does Not Give A Fuck About Mental Health


DWP Denial, An Example Of The Shoddy Mental Health Training Given To Jobcentre Staff

This Government do not give a shit about people with mental health conditions, and neither did the last one.  Whilst politicians of all parties offer soundbites and fake sympathy the treatment of people with a mental health condition by the benefits system now amounts to little more than psychological torture.

This is not hyperbole.  Whilst the medical establishment has stood ildly by, and mental health charities have veered between mild disapproval and outright collaboration, the DWP has lanched an all out war on the most marginalised people in society.

Consider the ‘claimant journey’, to use their language, for someone unable to work due to mental ill health.  The first step is to claim Employment Support Allowance, a process which may take months due to a huge backlog of cases.  During this period the claimant will be paid the Assessment Rate, the same amount as mainstream unemployment benefits, and a pittance at currently £72.40 a week.

Finally a dreaded brown envelope will drop through the door from the DWP – an invitation to have your mental health assessed by the notorious Atos.  At this assessment you may be found fit for work, fit for some work, or possibly placed in the Support Group.  What this means is that you might suddenly have your income – your only income – stopped.  The stress this places on people who are desperately in need of stability and consistency can be unbearable.  Is it any wonder that the number of suicides linked to this callous regime grows ever higher?

We know from the number of successful appeals that many of these assessments are wrong.  Equally importantly, these assessments have been ruled discriminatory towards those with a mental health condition in the courts.  It will not be a psychologist and is even unlikely to be a mental health trained nurse who carries out the assessment – it could be a physiotherapist or paramedic, and they will use a crude computer based test to come to their decision.  This decision will be endorsed by a DWP Decision Maker, who will not be a trained mental health worker either and who will never have met you.

If you are placed in the Support Group you will be left alone, for a while.  But you can and will be re-assessed at some point in the future.  When that will be is anyone’s guess, it could be six months it could be six years.  Don’t plan ahead.  Your entire livlihood could disappear at any point with the stroke of an Atos assessor’s pen.

It is those who are found ‘fit for work’ or placed in the Work Related Activity Group, meaning possibly fit for work at some point in the future, who face the full force of Iain Duncan Smith’s tyranny.  If that happens your money can be stopped seemingly on a whim by Jobcentre staff working to unofficial targets to do exactly that.  Thousands of people with mental health conditions face sanctions every month.  The front line advisors, fed a steady diet of propaganda that work is always good for you no matter what,  have no more qualifications in mental health than the person who found you fit for work.  You might even be sent off to a private sector shark like A4e and G4S where a low paid goon with a GCSE in being a twat might ship you off on six months workfare.  If you are unable to attend you will be sanctioned, your benefits stopped, and you might lose your home.  If you miss, or are even late to a meeting the same thing is likely to happen.  The very symptoms that some mental health conditions cause – forgetfulness, lack of organisation, bleak depression that stops you leaving the house – will be used against you to stop your benefits.  Report after report has shown that these sanctions cause ill health, suicidal behavior and desperate poverty.

At this week’s sanctions enquiry Employment Minister Esther McVey went on, and on, about how much the Jobcentre does to protect so-called vulnerable people – and if you’re not vulnerable when you start out then you will be by the time the bastards have finished with you.  But in the Jobcentre Decision Maker’s Guidance, the rules on sanctioning are vague.  Whilst it is acknowledged that someone with a mental health condition may have a ‘good reason’ for not complying with a requirement, the judgement rests with a DWP Decision Maker who has never met the claimant and who is acting on a recommendation from a from a front line advisor, or Work Coach.  The decision to apply a sanction is therefore little more than a guess, and not even an educated one, the training given to Work Coaches on mental health is a disgrace.

The quote in the above picture, which suggests Work Coaches will probably never meet anyone in real mental distress and therefore they shouldn’t worry about it, comes from the Employment and Wellbeing Toolkit (PDF).  This is the training document in mental health for frontline Jobcentre staff who now have such huge powers over unemployed people’s lives. It reveals a breath-taking ignorance of the reality of some mental health conditions.

If a claimant says their mental health is causing such problems they feel like giving up, possibly indicating suicidal thoughts, then Work Coaches should attempt to encourage “Better ability to cope to boost self- confidence and help individual develop a more positive appraisal of their skills and prospects, help to break out of a pattern of reinforcing depression and low mood that can undermine their sense of self worth and purpose.”  If a claimant points out their doctor has told them to avoid stress the advice to the Work Coach is to: “Reflect back that not being able to cope and feeling stressed affects almost everyone at some point, but there are still things that can help.”  Cheer up in other words, everyone has a bad day.

The basis of the training rests almost entirely on the ideological assumption that work is always good for you, in any circumstances.  Even medical treatment should be framed as ‘a step towards employment’.  The toolkit even claims that the “search for a job goal can, in itself, have a beneficial effect on mental wellbeing, in much the same way as having a job can promote better health, because it provides a purpose and meaningful activity.”  Looking for a job is now good for your health as well according to the DWP.  This is fucking mumbo jumbo and if this training document was written by a qualified psychologist they should be struck off.

The idea that work is always good for your mental health dates back to a report produced in 2006 called Is work good for your health and well-being? An independent review by researchers Gordon Waddell and A Kim Burton.  It formed part of the evidence that was used to justify the introduction of the Atos run Work Capability Assessment by the Labour administration.  Conveniently for the party that wanted to strip out of work sickness benefits from one million people, it claims that work is good for both people’s mental and physical health.  This position has come to be regarded as a medical consensus.

However this comes with one vital caveat which is that “account must be taken of the nature and quality of work and its social context; jobs should be safe and accommodating”.  A  later DWP backed report looking into work and mental health specifically notes that the benefits of work do “not apply to some individuals in some circumstances and that the social context and the nature and quality of the work are important factors.”

This follow up report also points out that: “People with mental health problems who do find work are more likely to be underemployed, employed in low status or poorly remunerated jobs or employed in roles which are not commensurate with their skills or level of education (Stuart, 2006). They are overrepresented in the secondary labour market, which consists almost entirely of parttime temporary jobs. Whilst many who have had mental health problems might value the flexibility, jobs in the secondary labour market are often unstable, poorly remunerated or open to exploitation.”

In other words, exactly the kind of jobs that unemployed people with mental health conditions are likely to get are the ones that are likely to be bad for their mental health.  That this stark fact has been ignored lies at the root of the atrocity that is currently taking place in Jobcentres across the UK as Work Coaches are pushed to get people into any job, as quickly as possible.  If they then leave, or get sacked from that job, they face benefit sanctions.

The medical consensus is wrong.  Work is not always good for you.  Some work is good for some people,  and some work is bad for some people. If you spend your life sitting around writing DWP reports on a nice salary then of course, depending on your health condition, you will probably be better off at work than living in poverty on benefits.  But if you are in a low paid, insecure job, where some jumped-up wanker with a clipboard sets time limits on toilet breaks or threatens you with the sack for taking a day off, then work can be very, very bad for you.  Sadly, at the bottom end of the labour market, this is increasingly what work looks like.

The attitude of many employers to people with a mental health condition is appalling.  Discrimination is rife, as it is towards those with any health condition or disability.  The government’s Access To Work fund which is supposed to help disabled people find work is a shambolic disaster. The number of claimants on sickness benefits who find jobs through the Work Programme is tiny, especially amongst those recently judged fit for work by Atos.  There are currently just short of two million unemployed people in the UK and that doesn’t include most of the two million people on sickness or disability benefits who are classed as ‘economically inactive’.

This is the reality of the labour market and no amount of benefit sanctions or Work Capability Assessments will change that.  Instead of employers being taken to task for their shoddy treatment of people with mental health conditions, that discrimination has been weaponised against claimants to cut their benefits.  People with mental health conditions are being sanctioned to death in some cases for the crime of not having a job when there’s no fucking jobs to be had.  It is right that urgent work needs to be done to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health conditions – and that stigma, in part emanates from the DWP Press Office and their snide insinuations that people on benefits are feckless or lazy.  It is also correct that far more should be done to end the prejudice in the workplace that causes people with mental health conditions to become excluded from the work force.  All of these things can happen without blaming claimants themselves for the dire situation.

There is no such thing as a fair benefit sanction, and the claim is not true that these kinds of conditions have always been at the heart of social security, benefit sanctions were barely used prior to 1997.  We live in a society with high unemployment, where real full employment – that is everyone having a job – is deemed neither feasible nor desirable by the very same think-tanks who dream up policies to punish unemployed people.

Benefit sanctions can now last three years and are causing desperate suffering.  It will always be the most marginalised, people with mental health conditions, homeless people, those with already damaged lives, who face the brunt of these policies.   It is time to condemn this mass malpractice to history and work towards a system that provides humane care and security for everybody.  Benefit sanctions must now be scrapped with no exceptions.

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More Sanctions On The Way For Claimants With A Mental Health Condition In Scotland

work-makes-meThe DWP are currently tendering for a pilot scheme in Scotland which will see claimants on both unemployment and sickness benefits forced to attend training and possibly even workfare under the threat of benefits being stopped.

Around 450 claimants in the West of Scotland Jobcentre Plus District are expected to be forced onto the scheme if Jobcentre staff decide they have “low self esteem; and/or limited capability to manage stressful or challenging situations.”

Unlike the Work Programme, this scheme will not be aimed at people who have been on benefits for a long time.  Instead the tender documents state that those referred are likely to be people whose period of unemployment is less than 26 weeks, suggesting people could be sent from the first day of their claim.

The DWP say they expect 20% of participants to enter an “educational training course” including work experience or sector based work academies – both better known as workfare.  It is unclear whether those on the programme will be forced to move into unpaid work, however the tender clearly states that benefit sanctions will be applied in the event of “failure to attend or participate in any meeting or activity, having been notified of the requirement to attend by the Supplier”.

Worryingly this mandatory activity could include referring claimants for specialist support to “manage health conditions” or “advice related to alcohol or substance misuse”.  This could mean Jobcentre busybodies and two bit welfare-to-work companies making decisions on people’s healthcare, not doctors.

One of the key aims of this scheme will be to “promote the positive impact working has on health and well being.”   This is the latest propaganda drive from the DWP, who are also plotting four more pilot schemes around the UK aimed at people with mental health conditions.  Whilst details so far are scant on what these programmes will involve, in the DWP staff newsletter they are being justified by bungling toff Lord Fraud on the grounds that: “Work is good for your mental health”.

According the the Health and Safety Executive the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 487 000.  Work can make you fucking miserable, as anyone who’s ever had a real job is likely to be all too aware.

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Second Suicide Linked To Welfare Reform Reported This Week: RIP Victor Cuff

atos-paralympic-protestAnother tragic suicide has been reported which appears to be linked to the brutal Work Capability Assessments used to strip people of benefits by declaring them ‘fit for work’.

According to South East London newspaper, the News Shopper, Victor Cuff, aged 59, hung himself in May after his sickness benefits were cut.  The newspaper reports that Mr Cuff had previously had suffered from depression and an inquest into his death heard that he had been “feeling down” and was having money problems after his sickness benefits were reduced.

This is the second suicide linked to withdrawal of sickness benefits which has been reported in just one week. On Monday the Bristol Post featured the story of Jacqueline Harris who took her own life after being found ‘fit for work’ resulting in her benefits being slashed.

Anyone who claims these suicides are not linked to welfare reforms has probably never been poor.  The trauma of poverty can be devastating and perhaps the worst part is looking to the future and seeing little way out.  For those suffering from depression – and many people without any money end up suffering from depression – the feelings of hopelessness can be even more acute.  People on sickness benefits were poor already.  To make them even poorer, via a system of inhuman and crude  computer based tests, is breathtaking cruelty.

Attitudes towards mental health are hopefully slowly changing.  Several high profile people have spoken out about their own experiences and been well received by most of the public.  There is no doubt that this has helped remove some of the stigma associated with mental health.  But sadly this seems to only apply to the rich or famous.  The same newspapers who praise the bravery of well known personalities like Stephen Fry and Alistair Campbell accuse poor people with mental health conditions of being scroungers and benefit scum.

Few people are depressed enough to qualify for sickness benefits anymore.  The vicious regime run by French IT firm Atos has declared hundreds of thousands of people with mental health conditions ‘fit for work’, often even against the advice of their own doctors.

One of the most serious symptoms of depression is suicidal thoughts and behaviour.  Not everyone will report these to the Jobcentre, and even if they do they are unlikely to receive any real support.  They certainly are unlikely to get their benefits back, which is what they need.

It is hard to imagine a more callous system than one which requires people who claim they are feeling suicidal to prove it, often at a series of repeated assessments.  Yet that is the way people with no money now face being treated if they expect to be able to eat whilst they manage their condition.  These deaths are far from the first tragic events linked to welfare reform and sadly they will not be the last.

(above pic from a memorial service held by disabled campaigners outside the offices of Atos, the company responsible for carrying out the Work Capability Assessment)

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The Cannabis Diaries – A Review

Well it was dirty work but someone had to do it. the void can claim to be the first to have read the complete and unabridged Cannabis Diaries on the Talking About Cannabis (TAC) website penned by our favourite prohibitionist, one Debra Bell.

And it’s hard to know where to start. First up Debra can’t write and even mentions that the agent interested in publishing her book has now disappeared saying:

“She wasn’t sure she could guide me as to how the Cannabis Diaries should look as a book.”

In other words it’s crap Debs.

But this piece is not intended as a literary critique but rather to offer an insight into the mind of the Daily Mail’s favourite nutjob. And Debra’s mind is a frightening place.

But let’s start with her son William. Now make no mistake, at times Willam sounds like a fairly normal stroppy teenager, at others he comes across like a spoilt little shit (although it’s important to remember that we only have one side of the story).

And it appears to be true that as a young teenager William stole more than most and did begin using pot quite young. It’s equally clear that by the time Debra wrote her diaries this behaviour was coming to an end.

The main and most concerning point of the whole diatribe is that despite Debra’s claims of her son’s cannabis psychosis there seems to be no evidence for this and a string of health professionals seem to share this opinion.

Which means that the entire Talking About Cannabis organisation is founded on a lie.

Debra has taken her son to a drugs counsellor, her GP and a psychiatrist with not one of them confirming her fears for her son’s mental health. She chooses to ignore them all.

The psychiatrist told her: “that he is not suffering any major mental illness, that he doesn’t need medication, and that maybe getting a job is what he needs.”

This wasn’t good enough for Debs who then took her son to see a GP claiming:

“The next day I went to talk to our GP about the fact that I was convinced more and more that Will had become ill through his addiction, and my concern was that he was heading for psychosis and schizophrenia. I explained that if someone could convince Will that he was suffering from an illness that would not go away by itself, he might be able to avoid worse problems than he had already. The doctor told me to bring Will along and he would do what he could.”

At the meeting between William and the Doc it seems that her GP has more concerns for Debra’s attitude than her son’s sanity:

” The doctor told me that the way I was talking to my son was dysfunctional. As I tried to explain why I’d challenged my son, he told me he wouldn’t listen to anything more I had to say and began smiling down at his folded hands, shaking his head.”

Why Debra is so intent on proving her son has developed ‘cannabis psychosis’ is beyond us, perhaps being a minor celebrity has gone to her head, she certainly doesn’t appear to be thinking straight.

In fact one of the more intersting aspects of the Diaries is that as William matures there appears to be a role reversal occuring. Debra becomes more and more hysterical whilst William begins to emerge as quite a nice bloke, who obviously loves his Mum and is having trouble dealing with her irrational behaviour.

This quote is particularly telling:

“‘I’m not sure why I’m phoning. I know that the last time you told me you didn’t want to see me again and told me to fuck off in the village.’”

It was William making that remark not Debra, after she had screamed at him in the street a couple of weeks earlier.

Debra is furious after William, having offered to pay her a grand to make up for some of the things he nicked as a young teenager, quite predictably fails to come up with the cash.

This seems to be Debra’s only bugbear these days but it’s still been enough for her to cut her son out of her life. And it’s not like our Debs is short of a bob or two, in fact she is apt to make disparaging remarks about the lower classes and at times comes across like a Grade A snob.

Visiting her son in his local caf’ she says:

“Even this area seemed quite pleasant in the sunshine, but what café these days doesn’t have filter coffee? Come again? This place is as terrible as it looks on the outside. Surrendering to a cup of Nescafe, and toast spread with Stork margarine, (what? are we back in the 1960s here?)”

On families facing genuine drug problems she says:

“Drug addiction was what happened to poor, uneducated people, who knew no better, not to people from caring families with everything to live for. “

William went to a top public school and his father is a Barrister. William is unlikely to be so lucky given that any potential employer is quite likely to google him and find intimate details of his personal life as well as spiteful comments such as:

“he would be in filthy clothes that stank of weed, often with urine stains down the crotch, his hair unwashed.”

and commenting on his new girlfriend:

” I couldn’t understand how she could find our son attractive”.

Here’s a tip William, if funds are low then a visit to your local, friendly libel lawyer might make the financial situation look a bit brighter.

It’s perhaps testament to Debra’s arrogance that even though she wrote these diaries she still comes across as being a self-obsessed and thoroughly unpleasant old cow. Every paragraphs drips with pleading self-pity and a stark refusal to accept that the blame for many of son’s problems can be laid squarely at her feet.

At times William begs her to stop publishing the diaries:

“‘Listen’ he said when he phoned. ‘I love you right, but could you please stop writing about me. All my friends have been reading what you’ve written, most of which is lies anyway, and I don’t want people to know about everything I do and say. You’ve got to stop’.”

Even when her other son talks of being taunted at school over his brother being a ‘drug addict’ Debra keeps on fearlessly publishing claiming she has to warn other parents of the evils of cannabis (and she uses the word evil) and fuck the impact it has on her kids.

It’s quite clear that she didn’t publish these diaries to help her son or her family and given her recent media appearances it’s clear that this is purely about one thing … self-promotion.

Debra has big dreams:

“Over the past three years I’ve written two books which I know are urgently needed in the world, and they sit there looking at me from out of their WH Smith file covers, waiting to be published.”

We’d place a bet that these books contain New Age dribblings which is something Debra appears quite fond of. She is warned by a friend that people might think she’s a crackpot if she carries on talking nonsense about crystals and pledges to self-censor from thereon in – we wonder what else she self-censored ‘cos this dame is truly batshit insane.

And this is the woman who calls for a scientific approach to drugs education, no wonder self-proclaimed cannabis expert Mary Brett has so easily bamboozled her with pseudo-science.

When it somes to science Bell is even flaky on the basics:

“I wish I knew more about the moon and why, unlike the sun, she cannot always be seen and certainly not in the same place two nights running.”

Yup, Debra Bell seems to think the Earth is flat.

Back to William and his heroic attempts to try and establish a truce with his mother end in failure after a text he sends her is returned:

“I texted him back to say that my son had died a long time ago, to be replaced by a weed, and that he should now leave me to mourn in peace.”

Even Debra’s younger children are becoming distressed by her treatment of William. Her second eldest refuses to meet with his mother and William at the same time telling his Dad:

“I’ll meet him on my own. I hate it when Mum has a go at him, it’s not fair on the rest of us, she didn’t have to do that, it was awful.”

Nowhere in her whole diatribe does Debra ever attempt to analyse her own considerable role in this family breakdown which is a shame because the end result is that she’s likely to lose her son altogether, and who could blame him.

Dealing with people living with mental health difficulties can be tough and William is probably best off out of it until his Mum develops some insight into her own extreme and self-absorbed behaviour.

That seems unlikely though whilst Debra’s crusade is backed by charities like Addaction and SANE, who really should know better as well as bunch of Tory MPs who probably don’t.