It’s probably coincidence, but on the Hexham Courant newpaper’s website the headline
Conservative Guy Opperman has been returned as Hexham MP
is followed by several other bullet-point local headlines including:
– Man found hanged at Hexham bandstand
– Hexham restaurant to close after cutbacks
– Otterburn bus firm loses council deals
…which could well be a portent for the next five years of austerity – more deaths, closures and cutbacks.
> The story about the restaurant in particular is indicative of the future – it exited to give employment to people with mental health problems –
Tynedale people with mental health problems are being robbed of an employment lifeline after Northumberland County Council pulled the plug on funding.
The Tans vegetarian and seafood restaurant in Hexham’s St Mary’s Chare will close within weeks following the withdrawal of financial support for its operator, the Opus Employment Project.
The service, provided by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) but funded by the council, has operated in Hexham for over 20 years,
Its role is to act as rehabilitation service for people with mental health problems, helping them embed into society through work, training and voluntary work as part of their recovery process.
The project employs seven members of staff, and there are currently four volunteers. There are currently a number of clients working at the restaurant.
The news of the impending closure of the project and the restaurant has rocked members of the community, particularly clients who have used it as a way of working their way back into society.
Philippa Long has worked at the restaurant for the past four years and said it has transformed her life, as it allows her to interact closely with members of the public.
She said: “Usually, we start in the kitchen and make things to be sold, and that gives you a sense of pride in your own work.
“Then you get to the point where you serve thanks to all the support you are given, and it makes such a big difference to your confidence and outlook on life.
“It has been life changing and quite a lot of people have gone from the restaurant to get other jobs from there.
“Closing this will be devastating to all the clients, and there’s a lot of people with less ability than us that are going to be struck a lot harder.”
In addition to clients, the news has been hard to swallow for customers and volunteers of the restaurant.
Having visited the Tans as a customer for the past 16 years, Janet Brown was so moved by the service that she started volunteering when she retired.
She was upset that the county was to cut the funding, saying that it was a much needed project for people living with mental health problems across Tynedale.
She said: “What strikes me about the project is that we see the clients come in and stand nervously at the back but, within weeks, they are serving and talking to people because of the great atmosphere here and the training they receive.
“You can see their confidence building week on week, and it is a unique service which is one of a kind in the country.
“It’s a model for how to deal with mental health issues within the community, and Tans is a flagship enterprise and NTW should be aiming to keep it open at all costs.”
A spokesman for the county council said funding was being withdrawn after discussions between NTW and the council, had concluded the Tans restaurant and Opus Employment Project had “poor linkages” to mainstream education and employment opportunities.
It also found that the service offered little in terms of promoting personalised outcomes and independence.
The spokesman said: “ They also serve a diminishing number of people, now supporting only about a quarter of the number of service users they were designed for.
“We are now embarking on individual reviews with the current service users and their families, discussing with them both existing alternative services in West Northumberland which could support them to become more independent and new services currently under development.
“For some people, the option of individually designed support arrangements using personal budgets may be the best option, and we will be offering advice about how this could work.
“No date has been agreed for closing these schemes, and no date will be set until the right alternatives have been found for all current service users and arrangements have been made for the staff working in the schemes.
“We recognise that the Tans restaurant has been a popular part of Hexham life for a long time, and if those involved wish to explore keeping it open on a different basis, the council would be able to talk to them about sources of advice.
“But the most important priority for the council and NTW is opening up new opportunities for people whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 08 May 2015
Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:
The Scottish National Party has criticised the UK government for failing benefits claimants with mental health problems.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate today [7 May 2014] on Improving the Employment and Support Allowance application process for people with mental health problems, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP will condemn the UK government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for its shortcomings with regard to people with mental health conditions.
According to a Freedom of Information request, in 2013, 58% (6 out of 10) ESA claimants hit by sanctions were vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty – an increase from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 – indicating that people with mental health problems are being inappropriately sanctioned.
Commenting, Dr Whiteford said:
“The UK government must do more to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.
“I have seen an increasing stream of people with quite serious mental illnesses over the last couple of years who are falling through our now very frayed social safety net because of Welfare Reforms. I’m sure it goes without saying that many people with a mental illness won’t ever need to depend on the benefits system. But some of those with more severe mental illnesses do require support, and some of them are extremely vulnerable.
“A key problem is that too often assessors and decision makers have little or no relevant background information about claimants’ complex medical histories, and too rarely seek input or opinions from claimants’ clinicians.
“A report recently published by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, SAMH, details findings on how the experiences of living in poverty affect peoples’ mental health, and how SAMH service users with mental health problems have been affected by UK government welfare reforms. A truly shocking finding was that 98% of respondents said that welfare reforms were impacting on their mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, while 79% were facing financial impacts such as reduced income.
“In six cases reported to the 2013 survey, SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to the welfare reforms.
“The information is there in black and white, and the UK government cannot continue to ignore it.”
> I’ll bet you anything that they can…
Source – Welfare News Service 08 May 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!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Former Tory MP Edwina Currie, has once again caused fury after criticising the work of food banks, arguing that they end up making people poorer and put local shops out of business.
Writing for The Spectator’s Coffee House blog, she claims that the Trussell Trust is “having a field day”, as they do they not own a “single food bank” preferring to “merely advise” other organisations – the Trussell Trust operates over 400 food banks nationwide – citing the “170 per cent increase in people using food banks” in the previous 12 months.
Edwina Currie argues that “anyone with their wits about them can grasp” that the more food banks there are supplying free food, the more “takers” they will have queuing at the door.
> After all, that’s the world as it appears to Tory MPs (even ex- ones). Grab anything that’s going – expenses anyone ? Here, take as much as you can carry…
In addition, she claims that as the use of food banks is equated to a rise in poverty, “well-meaning groups” are using the data as a stick to “beat the government” with. However, in their bid to “do something to help” they “may be perpetuating the problems that brought people to their doorstep in the first place”.
> Presumably by “ perpetuating the problems that brought people to their doorstep in the first place” she means by helping people to stay alive. If they were allowed to starve to death, they wouldn’t need food, would they ?
In her opinion there are three categories of people who use food banks:
1. People with long-term issues, such as addiction, alcoholism and mental illness
This category will struggle whether there was prosperity or recession she says, adding that services for them are frequently atrocious, with long waiting lists . Rather than acknowledge that it may be NHS funding that is the problem, she blames Councils saying she “despairs” when they divert money from health programmes to food banks, adding that it is a “dereliction of duty”. Using Manchester as an example, she say’s the £240,000 they have spent on food banks would be better spent on addiction clinics.
2. People with short-term problems, such as debt, or late benefit payments
Mrs Currie argues that despite food bank operators claiming it is for “emergencies only”, they continually help the “same faces” coming to claim their “free tin of soup”. She cites how Canada made the same claim “over 25 years ago” and that there is now a lot of “soul-searching about their role in maintaining people in a hand-to-mouth existence instead of confronting failure and helping them change course”.
> Perhaps those “same faces” are people who’ve been given long term sanctions as a reult of government policy ?
3. People who are not poor
Once more, Mrs Currie claims “benefits can be substantial”, arguing that this category of people make a deliberate choice to stay on benefits in order to get the “free food”.
> Really ? These will presumably be the same people who have wide-screen TV’s, foreign holidays and keep the pub trade going almost single-handidly. Strangely, I’ve never actually met one of them in real life…I’d love to find out their secrets 🙂 File under : urban myth, I think.
For Mrs Currie, the Government should “tackle this perverse incentive”. However this is easier said than done as the “kindly” food bank operators rarely have resources to visit their users homes. She believes – like herself – they would be “incensed” at the “well-fed dogs, the obligatory wide-screen TVs (aha !), the satellite dishes, the manicures and mobiles – and the car parked outside” adding “Desperate? No, not all of them”.
> So she’s advocating a means test ? No free food until you’ve sold everything you own.
For her, food banks and the free food they give, are supporting a “black economy” and pauperising those they seek to help, comparing their actions with that of giving money to ‘homeless’ beggars on the streets of London; saying it encourages “more of what it seeks to relieve”. Furthermore, she continues by saying food banks are having a “pernicious effect” on the local economy. She claims the reason why some Liverpool streets – where she grew up – have betting shops and pawnbrokers only, is because there is no need for a food store “if enough local residents can get their groceries for nothing. Adding that the absence or indeed closure of a food store “affects everyone, including those who don’t qualify for the food bank”.
These latest controversial comments come just one week after Trussell Trust Foodbank Network manager for Northern England – Anne Danks, “condemned” Mrs Currie’s claims that families were using food banks as they spent their cash on “tattoos and big screen televisions instead of food”.
She added: “Edwina Currie’s comments are just a ridiculous stereotyping of people who come to the food bank and of the people who live in poverty, and things like the Benefits Street programme reinforce the attitude of people like Edwina Currie who actually have no idea of what food banks do. It’s my job to help people realise food banks are not places used by ‘wasters’ and ‘scroungers’. The reality is our users are simply people who don’t earn enough because food and fuel prices have skyrocketed.”
Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Rob Flello said he was ‘incensed’ following a comment by Edwina Currie that she could not see how emergency food aid would provide a long-term solution.
Rob Flello said: “Mrs Currie’s remarks are outrageous. I find it astonishing that a former health minister who claims to have her finger on the pulse should express such ill-informed views that are completely divorced from reality”.
He added: “I invite Mrs Currie to spend a day with me in the Potteries talking to people who run and use food banks. Only then may she realise how out of touch she really is.”
> Another attempt to put the blame for poverty squarely on the poor, unemployment on the unemployed, disability on the disabled… it’s amazing that anyone still falls for this nonsense.
Source – Welfare News Service 29 Jan 2014