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.
An extremely interesting article originating from Durham University…
In this post, Lynne Friedliand Robert Stearnlook at the role of psychological coercion, notably through the imposition of positive affect, in UK Government workfare programmes. There has been little or no debate about the recruitment of psychology/psychologists into monitoring, modifying and/or punishing people who claim social security benefits. This silence raises important ethical questions, including about the relationship of psychology to the medical humanities.
Whistle while you work (for nothing): positive affect as coercive strategy
– the case of workfare 
The growth and influence of discourses of positive affect in systems of governance and ‘technologies of the self’ has been widely observed. ‘Strengths based discourse’ is a significant policy imperative in health and welfare reform and underpins ‘the application of behavioural science and psychology to public policy’ via the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or ‘nudge unit’. Positive affect plays an important supporting…
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