An article in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal condemns the ‘coercive and punitive’ use of psychological tests and training on benefits claimants, as the DWP moves closer to treating unemployment as a mental health issue. Claimants are even being forced to attend highly questionable Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) workshops.
Power of positive thinking
The authors of the report look at the misuse of psychology and the role of psychology professionals in helping to force claimants on the work programme into mandatory training and unpaid work.
In particular, claimants are encouraged to believe that they are unemployed because of their own shortcomings, especially a failure to think positively and strive to be better.
Those who do not engage with psychological programmes can find their JSA or ESA sanctioned for ‘lack of motivation’.
As a result of this approach, claimants are bombarded with positive thinking messages not only on training courses but also by daily texts and emails, such as:
Nobody ever drowned in sweat
Go hard, or go home
It’s always too soon to quit
The sin isn’t falling down but staying down
Success is the only option
Smile at life
This can be the greatest, most fulfilling day you’ve ever known. For that to happen, you have to allow it
Some claimants, however, far from feeling uplifted by these ‘motivational quotes’ have described feeling anger, humiliation and depression. For claimants with serious health conditions, exhortations such as “Nobody ever drowned in sweat” could even be life-threatening.
> Coming soon – the Pope is a Catholic, study finds….
Austerity policies such as cuts to welfare and local services are driving the rapid spread of food banks in the UK, according to an academic study.
The Oxford University research shows emergency food aid is most concentrated in areas where there are high levels of joblessness and benefit sanctions.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition persistently refused to acknowledge a link between its economic and social security policies and the explosion in food banks.
But the Oxford study, published in the British Medical Journal, shows demand for food parcels is strongest where poverty is accompanied by restrictions on, and reductions in, social assistance.
“More food banks are opening in areas experiencing greater cuts in spending on local services and central welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates.”
The study, which uses data supplied by the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, finds food banks operated in 20 UK council areas in 2009-10. By 2013-14 they existed in 251 areas.
At the same time, the rate of food aid distribution tripled between 2010 and 2013 from about 0.6 food parcels per 100 people to 2.2 per 100.
There were stark variations between local areas, from a low of less than 0.1 food parcels per 100 people in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a high of eight parcels per 100 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
These in part reflected the fact that some areas had more or longer-established food banks, the study found.
Even taking this into account, higher rates of food parcel distribution were still “significantly associated” with welfare cuts and austerity measures.
In particular, the prevalence in an area of benefit sanctions – where unemployed claimants who do not meet jobcentre rules have their payments stopped for at least four weeks – was a strong indicator of food parcel use.
The study says:
“The rise in food bank use is … concentrated in communities where more people are experiencing benefit sanctions.
“Food parcel distribution is higher in areas where food banks are more common and better established, but our data also show that the local authorities with greater rates of sanctions and austerity are experiencing greater rates of people seeking emergency food assistance.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said:
“The government spends £94bn a year on working-age benefits and provides a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.
“The vast majority of benefits are processed on time with improvements being made year on year and the number of sanctions has actually gone down.”
The lead author of the study, Rachel Loopstra, said it was likely to have “underestimated the true burden of food insecurity in the UK” because food aid provision is patchy and data collection is relatively crude.
She called for further research to capture the full extent of food insecurity and food bank use in the UK. One of the last acts of the coalition was to reject a cross-party call for the government to collect robust data on food poverty.
The study is the latest in a string of separate reports linking welfare reform to food bank use, from poverty charities, churches, MPs, and food banks.
Source – The Guardian, 09 Apr 2015
Spending on public health in the region will be cut next year, it was announced yesterday (Tuesday, September 9) – despite Government promises to protect the NHS.
The amounts given to local councils – for services such as smoking cessation classes, obesity clinics, school nurses and drug and alcohol treatments – will be frozen.
The Department of Health admitted that meant a cut in real terms, after inflation, but said it was necessary because “the health budget is under a lot of pressure”.
Furthermore, it comes after cash-starved town halls have already been accused of raiding their public health budgets as they wrestle with huge cuts to their overall funds.
The cut was revealed in a statement to MPs, which announced that public health funding in 2015-16 would “remain the same as last year, at £2.79bn”.
It means County Durham will continue to receive £45.8m from next April. Other frozen allocations include Darlington (£7.8m), Middlesbrough (£16.4m) Stockton (£13.1m) and North Yorkshire (£19.7m).
In response to The Northern Echo, a department of health spokeswoman acknowledged:
“This is a flat cash settlement – so it’s a real terms decrease.
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, linked the decision to the recent closures of medical centres at Skelton and Park End – with Hemlington also under threat.
“It is quite clear that our local areas NHS is being cut for purely financial reasons, with no attention to clinical need.”
Budgets for public health were transferred from the NHS to local authorities last year, as part of the Coalition’s radical overhaul of the health service.
Ministers argued councils were better equipped to tackle problems such as obesity, smoking and pollution and – ironically – that the funds had often been “raided” by the NHS.
The cut comes amid growing pressure to increase spending on the stubborn causes of ill-health, to cut the long-term cost to the health service.
Cash has been diverted to areas including trading standards, citizens’ advice bureaux, domestic abuse services, housing, parks and leisure centres, they found.
But Jane Ellison, the public health minister, said:
“We want to see local areas continue their excellent work to help people lead healthier lives.
“The money has again been ring-fenced, so the focus will remain firmly on improving the health of local communities. This will be further boosted by an extra £5m to target priority areas.”
Source – Northern Echo, 10 Sept 2014