The Conservative manifesto launched today gives no further clues about which benefits they intend to slash in order to cut £12 billion from the social security budget. The manifesto does, however, include plans to look at enforced treatment for people with long-term health conditions.
The 83 page document repeatedly confirms the Conservative’s plan to find £12 billion in ‘welfare savings’. But little more than a page is devoted to the details of how ‘welfare savings’ are to be achieved.
The manifesto confirms that the household benefits cap will be lowered from £26,000 t0 £23,000 – with exemptions for people getting disability living allowance or personal independence payment.
There is also confirmation of the freeze on working age benefits for two years from April 2016, with exemptions for some benefits, including disability benefits.
The manifesto pledges that the Conservatives will ‘work to eliminate child poverty’ which, in the Conservative’s view is caused by ‘entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency’ .
To aid their attack on poverty the Tories have also committed to review how people with long-term treatable conditions ‘such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity’, can be helped back into work. People who refuse help will face having their benefits cut, as the manifesto explains:
‘People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.
There is also a promise of ‘significant new support for mental health, benefiting thousands of people claiming out-of-work benefits or being supported by Fit for Work’.
Whether refusing this help, likely to be primarily online and telephone-based cognitive behavioural therapy, will also lead to benefits cuts was not discussed in the document.
However, there is no doubt that conditions such as anxiety and depression are regarded as ‘treatable’ conditions by the DWP. There is, therefore, no obvious logical reason why they should not be dealt with in a similar way to conditions such as substance dependency, which will very frequently have a mental health element.
The Tory manifesto also promises to extend the right to buy to tenants of housing association homes. Whether some claimants in social housing will consider voting for Tory benefits cuts in the hope they will then get a chance to own a home of their own remains to be seen.
But, for most claimants, the Conservative manifesto simply prolongs the terrible anxiety of not knowing how deeply their benefits will be slashed if the Tories win power on May 7th.
Source – Benefits & Work, 14 Apr 2015
A radioactive man, who has been told not to be in close proximity with other people, has been found ‘fit for work’ by government officials.
Peter Foley, 54, from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, was stripped of his sickness benefits by officials from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite being banned from standing in queues at his local Jobcentre.
Mr Foley is undergoing radioiodine treatment for an overactive thyroid, which means that his body gives off radiation that could be harmful to other people.
The condition has led to an alteration in Mr Foley’s brain chemistry, leading to depression, anxiety and involuntary tremors. Mr Foley says the experience of having his benefits removed had a detrimental effect on his health and worsened his symptoms.
Mr Foley told the Wakefield Express:
“I am amazed that the DWP decided I am fit for work, even though I am radioactive because of the radioiodine treatment I’m having.
“I’m not allowed near anyone, or on public transport and yet they say I should go to work. I wasn’t even allowed to stand in the queue at the job centre as I had to tell them about my condition. I had to fill in the paperwork in the doorway.
“I have been unable to work because of my overactive thyroid for around five months now.
“The condition has altered my brain chemistry and it gives me terrible tremors and severe depression and anxiety and this situation is just making it worse.”
Intervention from the Wakefield Express has resulted in Mr Foley’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being reinstated.
His daughter Samantha Foley said: “I can’t thank the Express enough. I’m so pleased the DWP have changed their minds and given my dad the back pay he was owed.
“It was absolutely ridiculous and a huge worry for us.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “For someone to claim benefits they need to provide evidence to back up their claim.
“Mr Foley has now provided additional information and has been awarded Employment and Support Allowance.”
His ESA payments have been backdated.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Mar 2015
A scandalous picture of suffering, trauma and destitution is painted by a former Work Programme adviser who was tasked with getting claimants off the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness benefit.
Speaking to the press for the first time since she quit the job last year, Anna Shaw (not her real name) says:
“Some of my clients were homeless, and very many of them had had their money stopped and were literally starving and extremely stressed. Many had extreme mental health conditions, including paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder and autism.
One guy [diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and homeless] came to see me for the first appointment and mentioned that he had not eaten for five days. I offered him my lunch, thinking he would refuse it out of pride, and he fell upon it like a wild animal. I’ve not seen a human being eat like that before.”
Shaw can only speak out anonymously, because when she resigned, after just a few months in the job, her employer made her sign a confidentiality clause.
She believed that the majority of her ESA caseload of about 100 clients were not well enough to have been on the government’s welfare-to-work Work Programme, but should instead have been signposted to charities that could support them with their multiple problems.
“Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me,” she says. Shaw says she received no training in working with people with mental health issues or physical disabilities.
Under the government’s welfare reforms, Shaw’s clients would have completed a controversial test, called the work capability assessment (WCA), currently conducted by contractor Atos, and been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA because they were judged capable of working, albeit with appropriate support.
Shaw’s employer was subcontracted by one of the 18 “prime providers” the government pays to implement its Work Programme to get jobless people into employment. However, Shaw says she was never given a copy of her clients’ WCA, which details their health conditions, so it was difficult to provide the support they needed.
Shaw thinks many of her ESA claimants wanted to work, but the “fundamental issues” – their physical and mental disabilities, often coupled with situations such as homelessness or domestic abuse – were not dealt with.
“Every person who came in needed specialist help on a whole range of things, and to be supported, not under imminent threat of losing their benefit the whole time.”
She believes many of her clients had been wrongly assessed as fit to work. “I had a woman with multiple sclerosis who had been domestically abused and was suffering from very severe depression and anxiety, and she had a degenerative condition and she was deemed fit for work,” she says. “I gave people advice under the radar about how to appeal … but it was absolutely not in our remit to encourage people to appeal.”
The most recent government figures (to June 2014) show that only 2% of longer-term ESA claimants find sustained employment. Independent research by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion has found that disabled people are about half as likely to find employment as non-disabled people. Last week, a report suggested that officials were considering cutting ESA, which is paid to around 2 million people, by as much as £30 a week as the chancellor, George Osborne, seeks a £12bn cut in the welfare bill.
Shaw says she was expected to enrol claimants on back-to-work courses.
“It was very much ticking boxes. My managers were just obsessed with compliance with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We would be penalised as an organisation if we didn’t sanction people who failed to show up… but with ESA they realised there was very little chance of getting these people into work. They were kind of parked.”
In the past year, sanctions for ESA claimants who fail to turn up for interviews with their job adviser have increased more than sevenfold. In each case, claimants lost at least one week of their benefit money, even if they said they were too ill to get to an appointment.
“One minute we had to sanction and the next minute we were told absolutely not to sanction,” says Shaw. “I think this was in response to [hostile coverage to sanctions in] the press… so the advice was given that we weren’t sanctioning them but we weren’t to let them know we weren’t sanctioning them… so they would come for appointments.”
According to one of Shaw’s former colleagues who is still working for the organisation, sanctioning has intensified.
“She said: ‘It’s got a lot worse since you left and now we’re having to sanction all the ESA claimants if they don’t turn up for appointments,’” says Shaw.
Two months ago, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, stated that the WP “revolutionises the way we provide support to those who are the hardest to help, supporting a move from dependency to independence and getting people into work so that they have financial security for the future”.
But Shaw’s revelations contradict the ministerial architect of welfare reform. She says:
“I felt that my job was really a non-job and as long as I ticked the boxes, they didn’t really care what I did with them… but they missed the point that these were actually human beings that I was coming into contact with, and going home every night wondering if these people were still alive.”
Shaw’s claims are backed up by a recent report, Fulfilling Potential, compiled by a WP client, Catherine Hale , with support from Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Of the 500 people on ESA who responded to an online survey, 82% said their WP provider made no effort to adapt jobs on offer or make it easier for them to work. Only 7% said their adviser had a copy of their WCA.
A spokesman for the DWP says Work Programme providers “have the freedom to design any work-related activity so it is appropriate to the person’s condition”, and the DWP “offers more money to providers for helping the hardest-to-help groups into work, such as people on ESA”.
But there is no breakdown of how much of the £1.37bn WP expenditure from June 2011 to 31 March 2014 was spent on helping ESA claimants. He insists that sanctions are “used only as a last resort” and “about 99% of ESA claimants don’t get a sanction”. He adds that the DWP is looking at how to share information about clients’ medical conditions with WP advisers.
Source – The Guardian, 05 Nov 2014
Hundreds of thousands of employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants face being stripped of their benefits if they refuse to undergo treatment for anxiety and depression, under radical plans being proposed by ministers.
Existing welfare rules mean it is not possible to require claimants to have treatment, such as therapy or counselling, as a condition of receiving ESA. However, it has emerged that the roll-out of further mandatory pilot schemes are planned over the next few weeks.
One trial began last month, looking at combining “talking therapies” with employment support. Three further trials being launched this summer are intended to test different ways of linking mental health services with support for benefit claimants seeking work:
- Using group work “to build self-efficacy and resilience to setbacks” faced by job seekers
- Providing access to online mental health and work assessment and support
- Third parties, commissioned by Jobcentre Plus, to provide telephone-based psychological and employment-related support
The aim is to get people with mental health problems off benefits and back into work, so saving the government crucial spending on the welfare bill.
The proposal will, however, raise ethical questions about whether the state should have the power to force patients to undergo treatment. According to the statistics, 46% of ESA claimants have mental health problems.
The Telegraph claims a senior government source told them:
“We know that depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. Cognitive behavioural therapies work and they get people stable again but you can’t mandate people to take that treatment.
“But there are loads of people who claim ESA who undergo no treatment whatsoever. It is bizarre. This is a real problem because we want people to get better.
“These are areas we need to explore. The taxpayer has committed a lot of money but the idea was never to sustain them for years and years on benefit. We think it’s time for a rethink.”
Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, the mental health charity, said:
“If people are not getting access to the support they need, the government should address levels of funding for mental health services rather than putting even more pressure on those supported by benefits and not currently well enough to work.
“Talking therapies can be effective, but it is often a combination of treatments which allow people to best manage their symptoms and engaging in therapy should be voluntary.”
Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health minister, said mandating mental health treatment for benefit claimants would not work and was “not a sensible idea”.
“The idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won’t work,” he said. “It is not a question of whether tough love is a good concept.
“You actually need someone to go into therapy willingly.”
Read the full story in The Telegraph
Source – Benefits & Work, 14 July 2014
A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems.
All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just 5% of respondents move into work, while 60% of people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut.
The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult.
80% of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70% were worried about their benefits being cut.
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem.
For most people (90%), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment.
“The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work.
“It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes.”
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems.
“There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
“We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
The report has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society.
Read Catherine Hale’s report here
Mind is promoting a campaign in support of changes to the current system, which you can read about and sign up to here
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014
Shocking new figures show that the North is the anti-depressant capital of Britain.
The region takes up six of the top 10 places in England for use of the drugs, with poverty and deprivation being blamed for the widespread problems with people’s mental health.
NHS data shows doctors here prescribe more anti-depressants per head than anywhere else in the country, with more than one million prescriptions handed out in the last three months of last year.
In the former industrial heartland of East Durham there are 45 prescriptions for every 100 patients – the second highest rate in the country.
And six of the 10 most-prescribing areas are in the North East, including Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tees, Newcastle West, and North Durham.
Mental health charities said depression and anxiety were strongly tied to deprivation, with some laying the blame at the government’s door. Easington MP Grahame Morris, a member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: “We’re fighting a rearguard action to protect our community.
“I see in my surgeries every week people displaying symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression as a consequence of the government’s policies.
“I had a gentleman come to see me on Friday who was 60-years-old, had worked from being 15, and he’d had to give it up due to a crumbling spine.
“He’d been put in a fit for work category when he couldn’t walk for 20 paces, and his benefits were suspended for eight months while the appeal is heard.
“There’s a definite link between the Government’s policies of austerity and welfare reform and the impact it’s having on people’s mental health.”
Doctors in Sunderland made 41.2 prescriptions for every 100 people in the area, while Gateshead gave out 40.7.
Other badly affected areas included Salford, St Helens, Barnsley and Blackpool – all former industrial areas. Richard Colwill, from the mental health charity SANE, said the figures should be treated “with caution” because they might be inflated by repeat patients for drugs which are used for a range of other conditions.
But he argued they “should be no surprise” because of the strong links between depression and “unemployment, debt and homelessness”.
He said: “SANE’s own experience suggests that it is not only the high demand for treatment that is concerning, but also the dwindling supply.
“The Government’s relentless agenda to cut expensive community and inpatient services often leaves healthcare professionals with little to offer other than medication.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “We know that reforms to the welfare system are taking their toll on the mental health of many people. Depression can affect anyone, regardless of background, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of someone developing depression.
“Unemployment, financial difficulties, a problematic housing situation and physical health problems can all put stress on people, which in turn can lead to mental health problems.”
A spokeswoman for clinical commissioning groups in the North East said: “It’s well-known that poverty and mental health are linked, just as poor housing and mental health are linked.
“As the North East has some of the highest areas of deprivation in the country, it’s not surprising that there are higher numbers of people who need support for mental health issues.
“It’s important that people realise that while sometimes medication is required, there are alternatives for those with mild to moderate depression or anxiety.
“Talking therapies work very well and can act more quickly than perhaps antidepressants or other medical treatments.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit making three million households better off.
“We have also expanded the ESA Support Group so greater numbers of people with a mental health condition now qualify for the benefit.
“We are transforming the lives of the poorest in society and bringing common sense back to the welfare system – so that we can continue to support people when they need it most right across Britain.”
> But then, they always say that… whatever the question was.
Source – Newcastle Evening chronicle 20 April 2014
By Helen Sims
As I write this I am recovering from what we campaigners call ‘Brown Envelope Disorder’ – or ‘White Envelope Disorder’ (since it applies in equal measures now). It is what happens to a disabled or ill [benefit claimant] when a brown or white envelope appears on the doormat, particularly those marked ‘DWP’ –Department for Work and Pensions.
I was upstairs, waiting for my painkillers to kick in, when the letterbox went. For an ‘everyday’ person, it is normality. It is part of life. However, if you are disabled or an ill benefit claimant, living under the constant threat of an ATOS assessment or benefit sanction, [the sound of the letterbox] immediately causes the blood pressure to rise, and panic to kick in.
I’m sat on the bottom of the stairs, shaking and looked at the brown envelope (marked DWP) on the mat. Even though I know (rationally) that ATOS assessment envelopes are usually white, and that I am not due to be assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the government’s replacement for Disability Living Allowance – for at least a year, the effect on me (and so many other ill and disabled people) is a reaction of pure fear. I sat there, unable to move, almost as if I was frozen to the spot. Rationality doesn’t come into it anymore. They play games, change dates, change criteria; so even if you think you know what’s what, (and when), for me (and so many others) the fear is still there. My heart begins to pound so loudly that I can hear it in my ears, and my palms begin to sweat. The rational part of me says ‘pick it up and open it. It’ll be fine’. The vulnerable, anxiety prone, part of me knows it is coming.
If I want to keep my life the way it is, I will have to go through a Disability Assessment for PIP, which is stacked against me. I will have to justify my right to the small amount of support I get. I will have to justify myself, my existence, my attempt at as normal a life as I can. I will have to sit there while someone judges me, and asks me leading, (unfair) questions, that are designed to deprive me of support and the things that able-bodied people take for granted.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and cannot walk or stand unaided. I suffer more or less constant pain, anxiety and depression – not to mention a few other things. The anxiety and depression have been made worse by this government and the media’s portrayal of disabled people as ‘scroungers’ and fakers. They have deliberately misled the public on the levels of benefit fraud, and we are paying the price.
I continued to sit on the bottom of the stairs, with all this going through my head. I feel worthless, and I know that I will be stripped of my Disability Living Allowance by the transition to Personal Independence Payment. I know that I am luckier than some. I have my husband (and his Pension Credit) to help us live, but for me it’s about independence. It’s about being able to behave like a ‘normal’ wife.
As things stand, I can help my husband pay the bills, I can take myself to the doctors or hospital appointments, I can go out (when I feel well enough), and see friends. I can feel like a ‘normal’ person. If they take my DLA, they take all that too – and I have spent years fighting to keep self-esteem and independence and to build a life for myself. I can’t lose it!
At this point, I am beginning to hyperventilate. ‘Be rational,’ I try to tell myself – ‘be RATIONAL!’ I fear the assessment itself even more than the consequences of it. Sitting on the stairs, I’m imagining all sorts of things. The assessor’s eyes look at me, and judging me. She looks tidy, she looks together, she tells herself. Yes I can, and I’m so lucky. What isn’t so lucky, is that I can’t sleep due to pain and anxiety….even though I’m so very tired.
I’m tired by life, and I’ve been made even more tired by government lies, and persecution, and the feeling that I have to struggle even more than I do already. Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to any of us? Haven’t we been through enough? I start to cry. Eventually, mid panic attack, I ring my sister, who tells me to breathe deeply, and reminds me that whatever this government says or does, I am a person…and I am worth something. She tells me that if it is the assessment, I’ll handle it, and that they have no right to make me feel like this…in my own home. I tell her I’ll open the envelope and call her back, which I do.
It turns out, that is just a letter confirming my benefit amount, and my level of claim. I curse myself, knowing that I should have checked with a fellow campaigner before panicking, but like I said rationality doesn’t come into it anymore; and besides, there are so many other people like me (and worse off) that don’t have the campaigners to turn to, and don’t have the information at hand. Who cares about how they feel? This government certainly doesn’t!
As my heavy breathing subsides, I go back upstairs, and I’m physically sick in the toilet bowl. No one should be going through this. It is psychological torture, and I’ve had enough. This government needs to be held to account for its actions. There needs to be a proper impact assessment done on the Welfare Reform policy, because what I went through today is only a small part of it. It is causing pain, suffering, panic, malnutrition, isolation, homelessness, and even suicides. Somebody, somewhere, needs to make it stop… Now!
Source – Welfare News Service, 22 March 2014
Socially, the dual strategies of exalting consumerism and increasing control have been central to the neoliberal project. Consumerism and control can be viewed as opposite sides of the same coin. People are encouraged to aspire to ever greater levels of conspicuous consumption, modelled after the lifestyles of a celebrity elite that is plastered all over the media and broadcast into everyone’s living room. Shopping, which was once a means to an end, has been transformed into the UK’s favourite leisure pursuit. At the same time, however, more and more people are excluded from the workforce (sometimes forever) by the movement of industry to areas of cheaper labour, and many others are stuck in low paid work with no prospect of advancement. Large portions of the population are only able to achieve the widely advertised ‘ideal’ lifestyle through illegal means. A highly unequal, consumer-oriented society entices people to break the law, which was illustrated dramatically by the riots in London and other English cities over the summer of 2011
Neoliberalism requires expanded mechanisms of social control to police the lawlessness and social fragmentation that its policies produce. Levels of imprisonment have been rising in many western countries, reaching staggering proportions in the United States in particular.
In 2011, 0.7% of the US population were in prison, with 2.9% in prison, on probation or parole. Among African Americans, almost 7% of adult men were in prison, and one in three African American men can expect to go to prison during their lifetime. ‘In the US’, comments David Harvey, ‘incarceration became a key state strategy to deal with the problems arising among discarded workers and marginalised populations’. Rates of imprisonment in the United Kingdom have also been rising, almost doubling since the early 1990s.
The dual drive to increase consumption and control the casualties of wealth redistribution is bolstered by modern, individualistic notions of mental wellbeing and mental abnormality. Even before the age of ‘neurobabble,’ ideas like ‘mental illness’ located problems with behaviour and emotions within the individual, usually in a defective brain, but sometimes in subconscious mechanisms or defective cognitive structure.
In this way the complex nature of how people relate to each other and to their environment was dislocated from its social context. In recent years, almost all human activity has been claimed to be explained by neuroscience – from economics to the appreciation of literature. These ideas sit well with neoliberal thinking, with its emphasis on the individual and its distaste for ‘society’.
The concept of mental illness is useful partly because it provides a conveniently elastic justification for control and confinement to complement the criminal justice system. Once someone is labelled as sick and needing treatment, almost anything can be justified. As soon as the bizarre, disturbing and occasionally disruptive behaviour we call mental illness is attributed to a brain disease, its origins and meanings no longer have to be understood. It simply has to be corrected, with drugs or Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) or whatever else it takes. Normal considerations of the autonomy of the individual can be dispensed with. ‘Health’ trumps freedom in mental health law.
Neoliberal policies breed communities that no longer have the resources or the motivation to accommodate difference. As people are increasingly displaced from family and friends, as social support networks collapse and as work becomes casualised, the social integration that helped some people withstand emotional pressures in the past is often no longer available. Psychiatric facilities are in demand to manage the consequences, and the language of mental illness enables this to be done without revealing the social breakdown at its root.
In England, over 50,000 people were forcibly detained in a psychiatric institution during the year leading up to April 2013, which was 4% higher than the figure for 2010-2011 and represents an increase of 14% since April 2007. This is despite strong financial and political incentives to reduce the use of hospital beds.
The idea that mental disturbance is a disease that is easily amenable to treatment has also enabled the extension of control out of the hospital and into the community. In 2008, a ‘Community Treatment Order’ (CTO) was introduced in England and Wales that allows patients to be treated against their will while they are living outside hospital, even if they have no ‘symptoms’ at all. The orders do not require that people have a history of violence or suicidal tendencies. A CTO can be made simply on the basis that, without treatment, the person presents a risk to their own ‘health’.
When they were introduced, it was estimated that approximately 450 CTOs would be applied per year. In fact, over 6000 were made in a year and a half to April 2010. The use of these orders continues to rise, with a 10% increase during the year between April 2012 and April 2013. Community Treatment Orders almost always stipulate that the individual has to receive drug treatment that they do not want and do not like. Potentially, someone can be forced to receive these mind-altering chemicals for the rest of their life, even if they have full capacity to make decisions about their treatment.
As well as helping the prison system to deal with the fallout of neoliberal policies on individual stability and community cohesion, the more mundane medicalisation of unhappiness has also bolstered the neoliberal project. The promotion of the idea that depression is a common medical condition caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals has helped displace responsibility for suffering and distress away from the social and economic arena onto the individual and their brain. The mass prescription of antidepressants reinforces the idea that it is individuals who need fixing, but psychological solutions, such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), can also perpetuate this way of thinking.
Some of the reasons so many people are currently identified as depressed likely stem from the same factors that have led to the rising prison population – that we are encouraged to want what we cannot easily get.
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman talks of how consumerism is driven by producing and maintaining feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. People cannot be allowed to feel satisfied. There must always be a lingering discontent to drive people to consume more, coupled with the fear of becoming a ‘failed consumer’. Yet, for many, work has become increasingly pressurised, insecure and unrewarding and as demands for increased productivity and efficiency increase, more people are excluded from the workforce through sickness, disability or choice
Debt, as well as crime, is used to fill the gap between aspiration and income. But with debt comes stress, anxiety and feelings of vulnerability and loss of control. There are so many opportunities to fail, and ‘success’ is ever more improbable.
The proliferation and expansion of mental disorders creates myriad possibilities for failure. As varying moods, inadequate attention and excessive shyness are pathologised, more and more people are encouraged to believe they need to get themselves ‘fixed.’
Just as cosmetic surgery promotes the impossible ideal of eternal youth, so mental health promotion increasingly suggests there is a perfect state of mental health to which we all need to aspire, and which we need to work on ourselves to achieve. People are encouraged to exist in a perpetual state of frustration and disappointment with themselves, looking ever inward so they do not think to challenge the nature of the society they inhabit.
Ideas about the nature of mental health and mental abnormality are intrinsically linked to the social and economic conditions in which they emerge. Neoliberalism and its ‘no such thing as society’ champions have helped to produce a biological monster that subsumes all areas of human activity within a neuroscience paradigm and, by doing so, banishes the philosophical tradition that acknowledges human experience as irreducibly social. We can only begin to challenge this impoverished view of humanity when we understand its political functions and the ends it serves.
The psychological is political!
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I’m indebted to A6er, who seems to have found an answer to a question left hanging in Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games – part 4.
In a letter to my Jobcentre’s manager I asked :
Independent advisers. Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.
Their reply :
Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.
A bit ambiguous, you might think. They’re not actually saying you cant, they do seem to be saying “we dont want you to”.
However, A6er has located an up-to-date Freedom of Information request and reply from the DWP on the whatdotheyknow.com site.
View the full document at : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/196795/response/486014/attach/html/3/Response%20634.pdf.html
The highlights, as they apply to this case –
DWP Central Freedom of Information Team
e-mail: [email address].
Our Ref: 634
24 February 2014
Dear F. Walker,
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request which we received on 10 February 2014.
I’d like to know what the rules on taking support to jobcentre appointments, in particular signing on are.
I suffer from anxiety and my doctor has given me a note saying I suffer from anxiety and should have someone at all jobcentre appointments.
My advisor was unhappy with this and I would like to know if I am allowed support or not.
Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf.
DWP will treat the person acting on behalf of the claimant with the same customer standards
as the claimant.
> That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it ? Judging by the sort of customer standards this claimant has witnessed…
The person acting on behalf of the claimant is expected to maintain the same
behaviour standards as the claimant and treat our staff with courtesy.
Claimants can have a variety of people accompany them such as Representatives,
Appointees, Corporate acting bodies or Personal acting bodies.
Guidance for staff includes the information provided below:
A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making
enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several ways,
including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of entitlement
and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or appeal, or helping
them manage their finances. This can be at any stage of the customer’s business with DWP.
Representatives may include:
advice or welfare rights organisations
professionals such as social workers, community nurses or doctors
DWP Central FoI Team
There is quite a lot more than you can – and should – review at the link above, but this extract proves that yes, you can have a representive with you, and the inclusion of advice or welfare rights organisations would seem to fit the category of independent legal adviser.
So – was I lied to by the Jobcentre, or do they just not know their own rules?
And which of those options do you think is worse ?