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
> Another encouraging example of grassroots action…
A new group is providing a day centre in Berwick for people with mental health problems after a charity previously running the service pulled out.
Newly-formed peer support group Northern Spirit was set up after a day centre service run by Mental Health Matters was abruptly withdrawn from the town, leaving many people who suffer various forms of mental health issues without this much needed retreat.
Run by a handful of volunteers, the group provides a day centre each Wednesday (10am-4pm) at Wallace Green for those suffering from health problems like depression and anxiety issues.
Around 15-20 people attend per week, and any new members are welcome.
“Our aim is to provide a similar service to those individuals that have been left without this vital retreat from daily life,” explained group secretary Andrew Bird.
“We are currently open one day per week but we hope to be able to increase this to at least two days in the future.”
With just one week’s notice that Mental Health Matters was withdrawing from the town, a group of volunteers scrambled to ensure that vital provision would continue.
“My father attends the group on the basis that he has mental health issues, and he has taken the role of chairman and treasurer,” Andrew said.
“I know how he felt about it being disbanded. I know how much it was affecting him and I had met a couple of other members and saw how they were trying to deal with it.
“We set up the group to continue the day centre and to show sufferers that there are still people out there that do care.
“We did not have anybody with any experience other than the fact that we have dealt with mental health issues, but now we have a fully trained councillor on board. She has volunteered and will be available at the centre for people to talk to.”
Northern Spirit is now trying to source vital funding to ensure it can continue to help people from north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
“We are a non-profit organisation and rely solely on income from donations and fund raising,” Andrew said.
“As with all organisations like ours we unfortunately have overheads, such as rental of the premises which costs £1500 every six months, and at present we need to raise funds to continue the service past the six month we have already managed to secure the funds for.”
If anyone has any fundraising ideas that could help, or would like to know more about Northern Spirit, go to northernspiritberwick.weebly.com or facebook.com/northernspiritberwick
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 21 Feb 2015
If you’re wondering why I’ve been so quiet, I’ve been ill, just a regular virus that most people get in winter; the difference is its taken me a couple of month to get back to anywhere near normal, even for me. Due to my varying health issues, including an auto-immune disorder, regular colds and other usual ailments have a tendency to knock the proverbial stuffing out of me; and then, just as I begin to physically heal…Bang, the depression enters, demanding every ounce of attention and strength.
Depression is a strange thing it means different things to each of us who know it; for me He is like a jealous spouse, He wants me all to himself, and should I try to make contact with others – He raves, stamping, shouting, reminding me of all my faults and shortcomings until I yield, and agree I’m only complete with Him alone. This circle continues, wearing me down, until…
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Reposted from Kate Belgrave
A few thoughts as we kick into the year. Interviews from people who’ve been sanctioned at the end of the post:
As you’ll no doubt have read, the work and pensions select committee meets this coming week to hear evidence about benefit sanctions, with sanctioning connected to crime and depression.
Okay. I suppose that hearing will at least draw attention to the sanctions problem and the extent of it. It’s the What Next part that I wonder about. A lot of people know how things are. I spent many hours speaking to JSA claimants at jobcentres in 2014 (have posted some of those interviews below) and at least some of those people had complained to their MPs about sanctions and their treatment at jobcentres. Like many people, I can tell you now that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that stopping jobseekers’ allowance – already…
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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
Fears over the bedroom tax led a Middlesbrough grandmother to commit arson in her own home, a court heard today.
Margaret Rae, 62, set fire to a cloth by placing it over a candle that was burning in her bookcase in the Pallister Park home where she has lived for 58 years.
When the fire took hold, causing £850 worth of damage in the living room, she got frightened and went into the garden, the court heard.
A neighbour raised the alarm and Rae admitted starting the fire at her childhood family home in Delarden Road, where she had taken over the Erimus Housing tenancy from her parents.
Teesside Crown Court heard Rae, who has no previous convictions, had been drinking in the home on the afternoon of April 5, before setting the fire.
When interviewed, Rae was said to be “distressed” and “angry about the bedroom tax,” prosecutor Jenny Haigh told the court.
The so-called bedroom tax – the Government’s spare room subsidy – was going to cost her an extra £30 a week for the three-bedroom home and she feared she may have to leave as she couldn’t afford it.
Ms Haigh told the court this was “playing on her mind” when she started the fire.
Rae, who the court heard has a history of depression, said she didn’t think the other houses, attached to the end terrace property in a block of six, could be affected, but admitted arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.
She said she had only meant to set the cloth alight but the bookcase took light and she got frightened.
The fire was quickly brought under control by firefighters and no neighbouring houses were affected.
Robert Mochrie, defending, began his address by telling his honour Judge John Walford that the Government had been “relentless in the austerity measures” in recent years.
But the judge interrupted saying the courtroom was “not a political platform” adding: “It is clear from the psychiatric report that whatever political persuasions you may have, this can’t be laid at the door of the Government or its proposals.”
> Because they only introduced the bedroom tax. Nothing to do with them, guv. The judge has spoken.
Sentencing her to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, with a supervision requirement, alcohol treatment programme and £100 costs, Judge Walford said he was confident she would not do it again and praised her for clearing up the mess and paying for redecoration.
He added it “spoke volumes” about her that her neighbours had forgiven her and Erimus Housing had not decided to evict her.
“They obviously recognise the feeling you have for that home and why it’s important for you to remain there,” he said.
“It also convinces me that they feel the same way as I do, that you’re not going to do this again.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 22 Oct 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
The economic crisis in Europe and North America led to more than 10,000 extra suicides, according to figures from UK researchers.
A study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed “suicides have risen markedly“.
The research group said some deaths may have been avoidable as some countries showed no increase in suicide rate.
Campaign groups said the findings showed how important good mental health services were.
The study by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed data from 24 EU countries, the US and Canada.
It said suicides had been declining in Europe until 2007. By 2009 there was a 6.5% increase, a level that was sustained until 2011.
It was the equivalent of 7,950 more suicides than would have been expected if previous trends continued, the research group said.
Deaths by suicide were also falling in Canada, but there was a marked increase when the recession took hold in 2008, leading to 240 more suicides.
The number of people taking their own life was already increasing in the US, but the rate “accelerated” with the economic crisis, leading to 4,750 additional deaths.
The report said losing a job, having a home repossessed and being in debt were the main risk factors.
However, some countries bucked the trend. Sweden, Finland and Austria all avoided increases in the suicide rate during the recession.
One of the researchers, Dr Aaron Reeves, of the University of Oxford, said: “A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether suicide rises are inevitable.”
‘Policy potentially matters’
He told the BBC: “There’s a lot of good evidence showing recessions lead to rising suicides, but what is surprising is this hasn’t happened everywhere – Austria, Sweden and Finland.
“It shows policy potentially matters. One of the features of these countries is they invest in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidised wages.
“There are always hard choices to make in a recession, but for me one of the things government does is provide support and protection for vulnerable groups – these services help people who are bearing the brunt of an economic crisis.”
Andy Bell, of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “The study says what we feared for some time: that unemployment, job insecurity and many other factors associated with the recession are associated with poor mental health and suicide.
“It reminds us how important it is to respond to that need and take preventative action where we can, and that primary care is properly resourced and able to identify people who are at risk.”
Beth Murphy, of the charity Mind, said: “Since 2008, we’ve seen an increasing number of people contact the Mind Infoline concerned about the impact of money and unemployment on their mental health.
“Redundancy and other life circumstances brought about by the recession can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts for anyone, whether they have previously experienced a mental health problem or not.
“For some people, these factors can become so difficult to cope with that suicide may feel like the only option.”
Source – BBC News, 12 June 2014