Tagged: mental health issues

Mentally Ill Benefit Claimants Could Be Offered Treatment At Jobcentres

People on benefits who suffer from mental health conditions could be offered treatment at jobcentres, it has been announced.

Up to 40,000 people could benefit from access to a mental health treatment course in jobcentres, costing £25 million over the next three years.

The scheme will provide access to treatments such as talking therapy and online support in jobcentres, with the aim of helping more people with mental health conditions into work.

Mental health specialists will be based at 350 jobcentres across England to provide psychological treatment to mentally ill benefit claimants. Evidence suggests that offering onsite support could improve the work prospects for unemployed people with mental health issues.

The new scheme follows recommendations made by the Mental Health Task Force, established by the Liberal Democrats. The task force explored ways the government could improve the support available for people with mental health conditions.

The Liberal Democrats say they will put equality for people with mental health problems on the front page of their manifesto.

An additional £8bn a year funding will assist the NHS in delivering better care for people with mental health problems.

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“I’m determined to end the out dated attitudes and tackle the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

“People with mental health problems, who haven’t been able to work, often need support to get back to working life.

“It is vital therefore that we provide treatment as early as possible, rather than letting their condition worsen, lengthening their time away from a job.

“I set up a cross Government taskforce to look at what can and should be done to raise our game on mental health. One of the key recommendations is to help people back into work who have a mental health problem.

“I’m pleased to say that I’ve secured the funding to make this a reality and bring mental health services into the job centre for the very first time.”

> So, are ‘Work coaches’ now going to get another string to their bows and add mental health counselling to all the other things they do badly ?   

I know it says Mental health specialists, but that could just mean a work coach who’s done a half-day course.

Source – Welfare Weekly, 19 Mar 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/mentally-ill-benefit-claimants-could-be-offered-treatment-at-jobcentres/

Berwick : New group attempts to plug Mental Health Matters gap

> 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

100 Sickness Benefit Claimants With Mental Health Problems Sanctioned Every Day

Benefits claimants judged as unfit to work due to mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped by sanctions than those suffering from other conditions, according to new data released today.

Policy advisers for the Methodist Church obtained the data using Freedom of Information Requests to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

It shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), because of a long-term mental health problem, are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day.

In March 2014 – the last month for which data is available – approximately 4,500 people with mental health problems who in receipt of ESA because of mental health problems were sanctioned.

Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, warned that the true number could be “a great deal higher than the 100 a day”.

Not included in these figures are people who receive ESA due to a physical illness, but who have a higher risk of mental health difficulties”, said Mr Morrison.

Homeless charity Crisis warned in 2014 of a “shocking increase” in the number of ESA sanctions. In the first three months of 2014 alone, 15,995 disabled people had their benefits docked, compared with 3,574 during the same period the previous year.

Whilst it isn’t possible to say how many of these ESA claimants also suffered from mental health problems, disability is often accompanied by mental health issues – such as anxiety and depression.

According to the DWP data, the most common reason for being sanctioned is that a person has been late or not turned up for a Work Programme appointment.

“Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping”, said Mr Morrison.

He added: “The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed,” said Mr Morrison, who is also the author of an upcoming report on the sanctions regime.

“Churches have increasingly seen people in desperate need because they have been sanctioned. The suffering and injustice we have seen caused by the sanctions system deserves serious scrutiny.”

Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said:

“We’re very concerned about the number of people having their benefits stopped. This causes not just financial problems but added emotional distress.

“It’s unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being sanctioned disproportionately compared to those who have another health problem.

“Stopping benefits does not help people with mental health problems back into work. In fact, it often results in people becoming more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely.

“Sanctions are based on a false assumption that individuals lack motivation and willingness to work, but it’s the impact of their illness and the environment in which they are expected to work which actually present the toughest challenges. That’s why they should only be used as a last resort, when someone simply refuses to engage.”

These figures – and other new data on the sanctions regime – will feature in a report that is due to be launched in the spring by a coalition of major Churches, including the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the Church in Wales.

The Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said:

“With others in the Scottish Leaders’ Group on Welfare, we are, sadly, well aware of the negative impact of sanctions on vulnerable people, often left with no income and no security and no way out of the deeper hole they have fallen through.

“We welcome the publication of the upcoming report. It is important that we highlight these facts and begin to counter this troubling trend.

“We will use the new data in our 28 February conference looking ‘Beyond ’, for which sanctions are a key trigger.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  21 Jan 2015

People With Mental Health Problems Hammered By Sickness Benefit Sanctions

More than 60% of adverse Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions decisions made during the first three months of 2014 were against people with mental health issues or behavioral problems, new figures show.

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a Freedom of Information Request, show that 9,851 adverse benefit sanctions decisions were made against ESA claimants with mental or behavioural disorders between January to March 2014.

This compares to:

  • 508 adverse sanctions decisions against ESA claimants with diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
  • 1,598 against those with diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
  • 571 against people with diseases of the nervous system.
  • 714 against people with injuries, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes.
  • 2,727 against those with other health conditions or disabilities.

A DWP official said benefit sanctions are used to encourage people to “engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres, by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits”.

However, charities and medical experts say people with mental health issues, learning problems and behavioral disorders often struggle to understand what is required of them in return for their benefits. Following strict requirements can prove to be more difficult for these groups of people, without additional support and guidance.

Commenting on similar figures from November 2013, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said:

“We’re very concerned that an increasing number of people on ESA are having their benefits stopped, despite the fact that there are now fewer people in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).

“We know that around half of people in the WRAG need support because they have mental health problems, but over 60 per cent of sanctions are imposed on this group.”

It is unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being disproportionately affected by this increasingly punitive system. This confirms our fears that people are being pressured to undertake activities that are inappropriate for them and are not having their mental health properly taken into account.”

As a result people often become more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see people with mental health problems placed on a scheme which recognises and helps them overcome the challenges they face in finding and keeping a job.”

In total, there were 15,995 adverse ESA sanctions decisions between January to March 2014.

A cross-party report published earlier this week said the harsh use of punitive benefit sanctions is leading to rising numbers of people turning to food banks.

Commenting in response to the report, Salman Shaheen of Left Unity said:

Sanctions mean that tiny mistakes can see people’s benefits stopped. Often people are given unclear instructions. Sometimes the rules suddenly change or appointments are moved. One slip-up and they join the ranks of the hungry.

“Every crackdown on benefits pushes more people into the food bank queues. Abolishing sanctions is the simple answer: no one should ever be left with no income to live on.

“We also need to raise benefits from their current poverty level. And it is vital to tackle in-work poverty by ending zero-hours contracts and raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  10 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/people-mental-health-problems-hammered-sickness-benefit-sanctions/

Draconian Council Tax Rule Unlawful, Says Judge

A draconian rule which saw 3,600 Sandwell residents being forced to pay a higher rate in Council Tax has been ruled unlawful, Inside Housing has reported today.

Labour dominated Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, introduced a policy in April 2013 that prevented anyone who had not lived in the area for at least two years from claiming a reduction in Council Tax, regardless of whether they could afford to pay or not.

 This resulted in a number of affected households falling into arrears or forced to move away from the area. Others were allegedly threatened with bailiffs.

The policy affected around 3,600 local residents and was challenged by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) on behalf of three claimants, two of which have been forced to leave the area due to inability to pay the higher charge.

One of the claimants is a victim of domestic abuse, while another has mental health issues. The third is said to be a widow.

Judge Hickinbottom said that the Council’s decision to strip local residents of their right to claim a reduction in Council Tax, and subsequent legal defense, was like trying to “make bricks without straw”.

He added that the Council had presented no viable defence or evidence and was acting unlawfully by failing to conduct a “race or gender impact of the residence requirement, at or before it adopted the scheme”.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of CPAG, said:

“This ruling confirms what should have been obvious to the Council from the start: it cannot be sensible or right to charge people on low incomes a higher rate of council tax simply because they are new to the area.

“If Sandwell Council had given any thought to this policy, or held a consultation it might have realised this earlier. Instead thousands of people have been threatened with arrears and some people, even those who like these claimants were originally born and bred in Sandwell, have been forced to move away.”

Source –  Welfare News Service, 30 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/draconian-council-tax-rule-unlawful-says-judge/

The Shameful Role of PCS Union Members In the Widespread Bullying of Benefit Claimants

> A masterful summing up of the current situation, by John Wight.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Jobcentres up and down the country.

The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.

The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately“.

Among its findings the report stated: “Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.

The report continued: “Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.”

The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents the majority of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers.

The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, has been a high profile and strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies in recent years, appearing on numerous public platforms and a ubiquitous presence in the mainstream press making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to the cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonisation of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness.

It is a campaign that has largely succeeded in diverting the blame for the worst recession to visit these shores since the 1930s onto the poor. Meanwhile the rich, whose greed lies at the root of the nation’s economic woes, have seen their wealth and incomes increase over the course of the recession, evidence that austerity and economic and social injustice are one and the same.

It is unconscionable that any self respecting trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.

The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court.

Jobseekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre in any town or city up and down the country.

Enough is enough.

This shameful culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful behaviour and treatment of claimants – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.

Making matters worse is the fact that many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why.

The sheer barbarity of this is staggering, plunging people who are already living on the margins into extreme poverty and destitution. In some cases suicide has been the result.

Those PCS members involved would do well to imbibe the words of the American union leader Eugene Debs: “…years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.

Source –  Huffington Post,  25 Feb 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/john-wight/benefit-reform-pcs_b_4851675.html