DAA News Network

UK: People with mental health problems hit by changes to welfare system

Posted 05/6-11 at 21.01

In a letter published in the Guardian newspaper on June 1st, mental health charities and a senior consultant from the Royal College of Psychiatrists warn that the nature and rapid pace of incapacity benefit cuts is having a devastating and potentially fatal impact on those with mental health problems.

They write that, "We've found that the prospect of incapacity benefit reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to their benefits."

The test used to assess eligibility for benefit has been shown too crude to identify the challenges faced by people with mental health problems. The process is increasing the pressure on those already suffering high levels of anxiety and stress.

For example, Liz Woollard, 48, who lives with depression and anxiety, failed the test despite two GPs, a psychiatrist and a senior nurse stating she was unable to work. Following a 54-minute assessment, she was turned down for employment support allowance. The subsequent report stated she "did not appear to be trembling ... sweating ... or making rocking movements".

"It was a couple of weeks before Christmas and I had been out for a Christmas lunch with some friends and they made a lot of that ... They did not have any sympathy or understanding of mental health issues. In that fortnight I had a major depressive episode that left me in bed for three days [but] they virtually brushed over that ... In the written report they didn't mention that - they focused instead on the Christmas lunch I had managed to attend."

She appealed but had to wait 11 months for her case to be heard and the decision overturned. She has now been told that she will have to be reassessed again.

Julie Tipping, from the charity Disability Solutions, said, "It is a constant reassessment process which is just absolutely relentless. It is almost like they want to assess you to death or reassess you until you can't face it any longer and drop out of the system altogether. It is like a deliberate grinding down process. It is devastating to see."


For the letter see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/consequences-benefit-changes-mental-health

For an account of how ATOS, the company with the government contract for carrying out medical assessments, operates, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/renewed-concern-atos-medical-assessments?intcmp=239

Editorial comment: Liz Wollard's experience points to the casual rough treatment meted out by the new assessment system, as well as its apparent total lack of understanding of the complexity of mental health issues. Is whether you are able to go out for Christmas lunch now going to be a standard test for the state of someone's mental health?

As more first-hand accounts emerge of the impact of the new welfare regime, its punitive nature is being clearly exposed. By any measure, the Kafkaesque assessment process amounts to ‘cruel and unusual punishment' of people who need support, not administrative brutality.




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