Sunday, July 02, 2006

Law change to welfare benefits: Very Bad.....

Funny that Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton thinks that the system which will replace incapacity benefits will "help the mentally ill". Sorry John, me old son, the opposite is true. The current system isn't practical nor helpful and that people with mental health problems have to go through various "tests" to prove they are incapable of work but this new system sounds worse.

From my own experience of being active in the mental health user movement much of my time was helping people fill- in endless minefield of forms for Incapacity benefit and Disability Living Allowance. The increase in distress was palable as claimants have to "prove" they are unfit to work. The decisions are usually made by some low-level civil servant, who lacks training, in the DWP (Department of Works and Pensions) and even then they get it so wrong (incorrect advice etc.). Further anxiety and misery for the claimant if there is an appeal.

Hutton wants to replace benefits with an employment support allowance. The number of people with mental health problems has risen from 16% in 1988 to almost 40%. And the government with its penny pinching policies argue that they will save £7bn a year if they can get disabled people off benefits and into jobs. But the issue remains, there has been a substantial increase in people labelled with mental health problems.

The mental health charity Mind argues that "increased compulsion/sanctions – the ‘carrot and stick’ approach may force people still unwell to sign up to work plans for fear of losing benefit."

On the one hand, the government argues, severely disabled people would receive a higher rate of benefit and have no obligation to look for work but on the other hand, it would be compulsory for claimants to be assessed as able to take part in schemes designed to help them back into jobs, including counselling, training and advice. Those who refuse to take part would lose their benefits. Hutton states that he is working with other charties and agencies to create a new test which will be better at recognising people with conditions like depression. But when will this happen, after the Bill has been giving its first reading..? Who will be involved..? Counselling? Does that mean there will be an increase in funding as waiting lists in the NHS are unbelievable? And what kind of training and advice will people get?

Questions and more questions, John!

As Disability Alliance argues: "All the evidence shows that the vast majority of disabled people want to work but face considerable barriers, huge risks, discrimination, prejudice and a hostile press and media environment."

There are real problems about assumptions held about people labelled with mental health problems when applying for jobs and stigmatisation is one of them. I have, along with others, been cross-examined by various occupational health departments about my past mental health history and having very personal and traumatic experiences dredged up for the benefit of potential employers. This is undoubtedly stressful and it increases so much mistrust. So to say that employers need to be educated on mental health issues is an understatment. And what kind of "education" Hutton has in mind is anyone's guess.

But here's my thoughts, John, on saving £7bn. What about: removing troops from Iraq, shove PFI schemes, chuck Trident, tax the rich and tell the Royal Family to get jobs (there are jobs going at Asda or maybe just privatise the lot of them by selling them off to various casinos in Las Vegas). Stop screwing powerless people and give them real support and help and let them choose whether they are ready to get a job. Not on your terms, John.

Disability Alliance has the press-releases about the proposals and the Green Paper. And you can see Brendan Barber's (TUC) rather pathetic and lacklustre comments (obviously still hoping for a peerage)

Update: 4/7/06

John Hutton defends the indefensible