Tories discuss stripping benefits claimants who refuse treatment for depression. Senior ministers now believe the rules should be reviewed in order to reduce the “huge” numbers of people who are declared unfit for work due to mental health problems.
By Tim Ross, The Telegraph
Hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants face being stripped of their state allowances if they refuse to undergo treatment for anxiety and depression, under radical plans being drawn up by ministers.
Existing welfare rules mean it is not possible to require claimants to have treatment, such as therapy or counselling, as a condition of receiving sickness benefits.
Senior ministers now believe the rules should be reviewed in order to reduce the “huge” numbers of people who are declared unfit for work due to mental health problems.
The first moves towards potential reform are expected in a series of pilot schemes to be launched within weeks.
The trials, jointly designed by the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, will test ways of combining treatment for mental health problems with support to find work.
According to the government, 46 per cent of benefit claimants receiving Employment and Support Allowance, the main benefit for ill and disabled people, have mental health problems.
This means that the proposal to enforce treatment could apply to an estimated 260,000 claimants, who receive up to £101 per week each in ESA.
Estimates based on government figures suggest the state spends up to £1.4 billion a year – more than £3.5 million per day – on ESA for these claimants with mental health issues.
The reforms however, would apply only to those claimants judged to be capable of some work in future.
Those who are judged to be incapable of work due to the severity of their conditions would not be targeted under the plans.
Tory ministers hope to persuade senior Liberal Democrats to back the idea of mandating treatment for benefit claimants with common mental health problems.
The proposal will raise ethical questions about whether the state should have the power to force patients to undergo treatment.
It could lead to a fresh row with campaigners and charities who have claimed that the coalition’s welfare reforms already target vulnerable people with poor mental and physical health.
Conservatives could include the proposal for mandatory treatments in the party manifesto next year as part of the next phase of reforms to the welfare state.
A senior government source said “a huge number” of claimants on ESA who cannot work have treatable mental health issues such as “depression and anxiety”.
“We know that depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. Cognitive behavioural therapies work and they get people stable again but you can’t mandate people to take that treatment,” the source said.
“But there are loads of people who claim ESA who undergo no treatment whatsoever. It is bizarre. This is a real problem because we want people to get better.
“These are areas we need to explore. The taxpayer has committed a lot of money but the idea was never to sustain them for years and years on benefit. We think it’s time for a rethink.
“At some point something has to be done. Right now it’s an open ended contract.”
The source suggested that successful treatments could reduce the numbers of people with mental health issues claiming the benefits by up to 90 per cent.
Benefit claimants receiving ESA, are typically paid up to £101 per week if they are deemed potentially capable of work and are placed in the so-called “work-related activity group” of welfare recipients.
If they fail to abide by conditions such attending work-focused interviews, their ESA payments can be reduced as a sanction. No conditions are currently applied requiring claimants to undergo treatment for health problems.
One trial began last month, looking at combining “talking therapies” with employment support. Four jobcentres are taking part.
The intention of the scheme is to give benefit claimants early access to experts who can help them prepare for work while they are receiving treatment for mental health issues.
Three further trials being launched this summer are intended to test different ways of linking mental health services with support for benefit claimants seeking work.
One of these schemes is designed to analyse effectiveness of “group work” to help build the “resilience” of individuals who are out of work and suffering with poor mental health.
Another trial will see whether better results can be achieved by hiring specialist private organisations outside the NHS and welfare system to take control of providing a combination of psychological and employment support to claimants.
A final pilot scheme will assess the effectiveness of offering online tests and therapies at improving individuals’ health and job prospects.
Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health minister, said mandating mental health treatment for benefit claimants would not work and was “not a sensible idea”.
“The idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won’t work,” he said. “It is not a question of whether tough love is a good concept.
“You actually need someone to go into therapy willingly.”
Yet again we see the government targeting the vulnerable in our society for repressive and bullying policies. And again we see just how out of touch the government is with the reality of modern life and the debilitating effects of serious health conditions.
The fact is that many people who experience mental health problems want to be able to live a ‘normal’ life – something people who do not live with mental health problems take for granted. The ability to form and maintain relationships, the ability to hold down a meaningful job, the ability to be able to live life in relative security, and the ability to cope with the demands of modern living are a few examples.
It seems that the government has learned nothing from the woeful failure of the Work Capability Assessment – especially in the area of mental health. They have learned nothing from the deaths that occurred as a direct result of people with mental health problems being pressured by bureaucracy into complying with unreasonable requirements and sanctions. Or the deterioration of people’s mental health as they are forced to comply with demands they are just not able to cope with – full stop.
Many people living with mental health conditions are living on the edge. It is an achievement to get through each day and wake the following morning. Coping with the basics of daily living becomes a trial of life and death. That is the reality.
The horrendous cuts to mental health services have left tens of thousands of people experiencing serious mental health problems to cope alone – often with no support whatsoever apart from the very occasional 10 minute appointment with mental health professionals. The inevitable result is that those people’s mental health will not improve, and may become much, much worse – effectively disabling them. That is the reality.
As we have seen since this government has been in office, they don’t like to face reality – especially the reality of the effects of their fascist policies. Instead they attempt to bully and cajole anyone they perceive as being a burden – anyone unable to contribute to the corporate money machine.
This is not government. Government is ensuring that each member of the citizenship is catered for – even at times when they experience difficulties in life. It is understanding that people are not all the same and never can or will be. It is understanding that there will be those in such a large group of people who may never be able to contribute to the economy, and as a humanitarian society there needs to be support so those people can be the best they can be – which is good enough.
In this government all we have are clones trying to make everyone else a clone. In reality life is not like that, and that is a concept that must be accepted if a society is to grow and if government is to be effective.
Until that day, we will see the policy makers producing half-baked ideas with little thought or understanding of reality – which is what we are seeing in this latest debacle of an idea.
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