A powerful new film captures the desperate real experiences of being judged “fit for work” for people with mental health problems.
Tyneside Mind launched a short film highlighting the real experiences of three local people with mental health problems undergoing Work Capability Assessment.
The film ‘But I’m here for mental health – three stories of the Work Capability Assessment’ used actors to tell the genuine stories of individuals who were deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos Healthcare despite the severity of their mental health problems and the significant barriers they face to get into work.
Local MP’s were invited to the showing which was be aired for the first time at Northumbria University Cinema last week.
The film tells the story of two men unfairly dismissed from work due to ill health and one woman whose sleep apnoea and depression prevent her from being able to work. In a particularly poignant moment in the film one man, who can’t write because he has carpal tunnel syndrome, has to admit to his elderly mother that he has contemplated suicide since losing his job as she fills in the application form on his behalf.
Another scene depicts a lady standing on a bridge thinking about ending her life because she has been told she is fit for work.
“It’s been really traumatic and very confusing for people,” said Oliver Wood, vice chairman of Tyneside Mind, who has himself now been back in work for two years after claiming benefits due to a mental health problem.
“They don’t really understand the process or how, when they are really very unwell, seeing senior hospital consultants and receiving support from mental health services, they are being declared fully fit to work because they are physically capable.”
Currently 37% of all North East appeals against decisions to change or remove Employment Support Allowance are successful, which rises to more than two in five for cases involving mental and behavioural disorders.
But Oliver points to Department of Work and Pensions figures for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear which suggest that over the past eight months an average of 2,200 claimants a month – including many with mental health problems – have had their benefits sanctioned and 1,700 a month have given up their claims.
One fear is that many people with mental health problems may be suffering in silence, due to the increasing “stigma” of being on benefits.
The film uses reconstruction to depict service users’ real stories, interspersed with verbatim quotes from Tyneside Mind service users.
With funding from The Millfield House Foundation and support from Helix Arts and Tyneside Mind, the film has been produced by Meerkat Films to help raise awareness of the devastating impact this assessment process can have on vulnerable individuals with complex and fluctuating conditions.
The release of the film also coincides with the Litchfield Review – the fourth annual Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment, which is currently used to determine eligibility for the out-of-work benefit Employment and Support Allowance.
Over a third of assessments involve people who have applied primarily due to a mental health problem and many more applicants experience a mental health problem alongside other illnesses or disabilities. Yet, the film aims to show that the assessment is not suitable for people with mental health problems, and often actually pushes many people further away from the workplace by exacerbating their mental health problems and directing them to inappropriate support and expectations.
Stuart Dexter, Chief Executive of Tyneside Mind, said: “At Tyneside Mind we help people every week with benefits-related enquiries, and our resources are increasingly stretched.
“The people we represent are still not getting a fair outcome from the Work Capability Assessment. The assessment process is not sensitive enough to recognise the impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work, and can cause a great deal of stress, especially for those who get an unfair decision and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. This film aims to highlight what it’s really like for the many individuals subjected to this process and urge the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently improve the system.”
Steve, whose name has been changed, but who speaks of his experience of the Work Capability Assessment in the film, said: “The whole assessment process was so traumatic that I really didn’t think I’d be able to recover from it, let alone talk about it.
“Unfortunately I know that there are so many others like me who have felt humiliated and had their views neglected.
“Tyneside Mind suggested I get involved with this project and I wanted to help because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of the way vulnerable people are being treated. I hope this film will help change things so nobody else will have to endure what I did.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Dec 2013
Campaign launched to give voice to people supported by benefits
The vast majority of people believe benefits are an important safety net for people in need, a new campaign has revealed today.
But one in four people who claim benefits have hidden the fact because they worry what people will think.
More than seventy charities and community groups have joined forces to launch Who Benefits? – a campaign to give a voice to the millions of people supported by benefits at some point in their lives.
Polling carried out for Who Benefits? – brought together by The Children’s Society, Crisis, Gingerbread, Macmillan Cancer Support and Mind – reveals overwhelming public support for the principle that benefits should be there for those who need them. 81% agree that ‘benefits are an important safety net to support people when they need help’, while two-thirds (64%) agree that ‘we all benefit as a society when support from benefits is available for those that need it’.
But despite widespread public support, more than a quarter (27%) of those who currently claim benefits say they have hidden this because of what people will think. This rises to half (47%) of 16-24 year olds who have been supported by benefits. And more than half (51%) of all those who had never been supported by benefits said they would feel embarrassed to claim.
The poll findings come on the back of the recent British Social Attitudes survey which showed a softening of public attitudes towards benefits and unemployment.
Who Benefits? argues that the overwhelming majority of those on benefits really need the support, yet too often their voices are ignored, misrepresented or at worst they are blamed for their situation.
The campaign, which launches today, is asking people to share their stories. Hundreds of people who have been supported by benefits have already shared their stories through the website and through social media with the hashtag #WeAllBenefit.
Laura is one of the hundreds who shared their story. She said: “I’ve needed support from benefits because, as a mother of four, daily life can be a real struggle. Before we received support I was forced to borrow from family and friends. I’m a full-time mum, and my husband has been working as a full-time mechanic for six years.”
“Receiving support from Child Tax Credits is not a lifestyle choice for me – it’s a necessity. It helps me to put food on the table for my family, buy clothes and school uniforms for my children and prevent the gas and electricity from being cut off. Without this support I don’t know how we would survive.”
Who Benefits? asks politicians of all parties to do more to understand the lives of people who have been supported by benefits, as well as focus on the real reasons that people are struggling, like low wages, the high cost of living and the housing crisis.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Life is full of ups and downs, it can be unpredictable. But no one should go hungry because they lose their job or go into debt because they are on such a low wage. And it is reassuring to see that the public support this view.
“At a time when families up and down the country are feeling the squeeze, it is important – now more than ever – that society supports those in need. The overwhelming majority of people who get benefits really need them; whether they are working, looking for work or unable to work.”
Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “At Crisis we see every day how support from benefits lifts people out of homelessness, or prevents them from ending up on the streets in the first place. With this support we see people moving into work and on to a better life. Yet all too often the realities of people’s lives and situations are just ignored. That’s why we want people to get involved with Who Benefits? – to ensure real voices are heard.”
Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, said: “None of us know what is around the corner for our family, which is why it can come as a huge blow to someone who’s already having a tough time to be labelled or stereotyped. It is great to see that the vast majority of the British public are behind giving support to those who need it, and we hope that our campaign will encourage more people to come forward to share their stories of how benefits have supported them.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “Support from benefits makes a huge difference to the lives of many people with mental health problems, allowing people to stay well and retain their independence; or help with the additional costs that come from having a disability.
“Lots of individuals with mental health problems face stigma and discrimination, as their condition is less visible than a physical disability. These new statistics suggest those who claim benefits experience double the stigma.”