Tag Archives: MIND

Middle Class Solutions To Working Class Problems Is Why Charities Like MIND Keep Getting It So Wrong

didnt-go-to-work-todayIain 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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Charities and Workfare: The Sad Truth

Many charities are still some of the biggest exploiters of the government’s workfare scheme despite the public outcry over the last couple of weeks.  Whilst several, most notably Oxfam and Marie Curie, have made clear statements that they will no longer be involved in forced labour of any kind, many more are being typically evasive.  Barnardos (@barnardos),   Cancer Research (@CR_UK) and the British Heart Foundation (@theBHF) have chosen simply to ignore the hundreds of people who have contacted them expressing outrage at their use of forced labour.  Others, such as the Salvation Army and Age UK have wobbled, but are still using workfare.

Far more concerning is the number of charities still happy to profit directly from workfare as contractors of the government’s Work Programme scheme.  According to Chris Grayling the Work Programme is the largest Welfare to Work scheme seen since the 1930s.  Figures just announced show that since June last year 370,000 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants have been referred onto the Work Programme scheme and around 20,000 claimants on Employment Support Allowance (ESA, the replacement for Incapacity Benefit).

The Work Programme is a mandatory scheme under which unemployed and sick or disabled claimants can be forced to undertake ‘Work Related Activity’ for up to two years.  In the case of JSA claimants this could include a period of six months workfare, often with a private sector employer.  Despite the lies told by ministers Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith, a now apparently censored document reveals that claimants have been forced to work at Pizza Hut, ASDA, Wilkinsons and many other household names from the private sector.

As ever, the ‘Work Programme’ scheme was contracted out largely to the private sector.  40 prime contracts in 18 regions were selected to manage the programme, and despite Cameron’s claims that the voluntary sector would be at the heart of the Work Programme, just one of these contracts was awarded to a charity, the Careers Development Group.  The rest have been awarded to profit making companies such as much maligned fraudsters A4e.  The contracts have been estimated to be worth 3-5 billions pounds.  To place this sum in context, George Osborne’s cuts have wiped £11 billion from welfare benefits, including savage cuts to housing benefit which have already led to many families losing their homes.  Yet he is happy to dish out almost half of that sum to private companies, for a scheme so apparently flawed that they daren’t even tell us if anyone has actually found work due to Work Programme.

Some of that cash is intended to flow down to the 289 sub-contracters who have been brought in to provide ‘specialist support’, often for the most vulnerable claimants.  The vast bulk of these are charities including household names such as MIND, SCOPE and Action for Blind People.  However all is not well on the Work Programme gravy train.  Some charities have pulled out, many are claiming a lack of referrals has made the scheme uneconomic, others are concerned that the payment after results system means they do not have the capital to develop workfare provision.

Shamefully not one charity has pulled out over concerns that some people are being bullied into forced labour in supermarkets under the scheme.  Neither have any raised concerns that many people, including sick and disabled claimants, have had benefits sanctioned  and been condemned to poverty and possible homelessness as a result.  Whilst some charities, including MIND and SCOPE have issued statements that they will no longer use forced labour in their shops, they appear unrepentant about profiting from a scheme that involves forced labour on an industrial scale.

Disability Works is a consortium of disability and mental health charities which was formed to maximise income from the Work Programme.  After facing heavy criticism when the workfare row first blew up, a statement was issued by mental health charity MIND, which attempted to clarify their position:

“Mind is a member of Disability Works UK, a not-for-profit consortium of eight disability charities that have come together to provide tailored support to people who are ready to enter the workplace.

Through Disability Works UK, our local Minds may be involved in offering specialist support to people with mental health problems helping to improve their skills and boost their confidence. 

Well-structured and meaningful volunteering can be an excellent way to prepare people for paid work.

However, we believe that forcing people to volunteer is not the best way forward.

Disability Works UK will not play a role in imposing sanctions and will only seek contracts with providers whose values are compatible with our own.”

This is disingenuous to say the least, in fact it might best be described as a deliberate distortion of the truth.  Benefit sanctions are at the heart of the Work Programme and all of the prime contracters and sub-contracters are aware of this.  Disability Works may not play a role in imposing sanctions, they don’t play a role in paying out benefits either.  Only the DWP can sanction someone’s benefit’s (obviously).  Member’s of Disability Works however are contractually obliged to report any ‘Compliance Doubts’ to the prime contractors who in turn send them onto the DWP, who are the ones who  administer a benefit sanction.  A ‘compliance doubt’ may mean that a claimant has refused to go and work in Poundland for no pay, or has failed to turn up for an Interview Skills workshop, short training course, or other activity.  If Disability Works do not follow this procedure and refuse to report compliance breaches,  then they are in breach of contract with their contractors and ultimately the DWP.

The Work Programme Provider’s Guidance* (PDF) clearly states that:  “Sanctions are a tool to encourage participants to actively engage with support offered. Where a participant has failed to comply with a mandated activity, you are required to follow a process for raising a compliance doubt.

Whilst it is true that providers can appeal that in some circumstances a claimant (on ESA only)  is vulnerable, the end decision will be made by the DWP.  Sick and disabled people are not exempt from benefit sanctions as is clear:  “If one of these participants fails to undertake WRA (Work Related Activity) without good cause, a sanction will apply. The Work Related Activity Component (WRAC) will be reduced whilst the ESA participant is sanctioned.”

All of the charities involved in Work Programme, including Disability Works have signed up to this, and indeed are profiting from it.

The big disability charities are attempting to treat both their users and the general public as fools.  Whilst corporate slime like Tesco and Burger King have at least attempted to be honest about their role in workfare, the big charities are using weasel words to completely misrepresent their involvement in the scheme.  The likelihood is that the members of Disability Works will make far more money out of workfare than Tesco ever did.

The nature of the Work Programme makes it very difficult to know for sure exactly what is going on at grassroots level.  Providers have been given free reign to mandate claimants to all kinds of activities, with many of their programmes kept confidential under the handy smokescreen of commercial confidentitality rules.  Some charities may only be partaking a small role, such as provide housing advice to homeless participants, others may manage the full spectrum of a person’s activity on Work Programme.

Were Disability Works to publish a full outline of their Work Programme provision then this may go some way towards developing some much needed transparency in the scheme.  As it stands the statement from MIND suggests that they may well be involved in mandating people to forced labour.

Under current rules, claimants on ESA cannot be mandated to workfare, although they can be  mandated to up to 15 hours of training a week amongst other activities.  For those claimants on JSA the situation is very different and they could face forced labour for six months.  Thousands of people with disabilities and mental health conditions have been bullied onto Job Seeker’s Allowance by the flawed Work Capability Assessment, many of them will no doubt have been mandated to workfare.

Those on ESA, many of whom have fluctuating conditions, are just if not more vulnerable to benefit sanctions.   Should a mandatory appointment or training scheme with one of the charitable providers happen to fall on a ‘bad day’, and the claimant is unable to attend, they are very likely to face sanctions.  All of the charities have been happy to go along with this as long as it kept lining their pockets.

The members of Disability Works, (who can be found here) should be ashamed for colluding in this attack on the most vulnerable in society.  That they allowed themselves to put aside the needs of their users in favour of juicy government contracts is a disgrace.  That they are still participating, and profiting from the scheme which is bringing misery to thousands, shows they do not deserve the support of those appalled by forced labour.   Until they clearly, and unambiguously reject the Work Programme they should be condemned along with Primark and McDonalds and all other organisations happy to profit from workfare.  Anything other than an absolute condemnation of the Work Programme, workfare and benefit sanctions will be seen as yet another gross betrayal of the very people these charities were established to support.

*Disclaimer: this document may change at any time to cover up for government lies.

A full list of charities and other organisations with Work Programme sub-contracts can be found (for now) at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wp-supply-chains.pdf

Above pic from: http://crippencartoons.wordpress.com/