Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by MACA (the Mental After Care Association)


1. MACA is a leading national mental health charity serving people with mental health needs and their carers. We are partners with over 50 health and local authorities, and housing associations. We provide a range of community-based services for people with mental health needs. This includes employment training and assistance for people who are trying to obtain work.

The New Deal for Disabled People

2. There is a common perception that disability covers only people with a physical or sensory impairment or a learning disability. As the Committee will know, people with an enduring mental health need also come under the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. But we have found that sometimes in the past this vulnerable and socially excluded group of people can sometimes be inadvertently sidelined when proposals around disability are being drawn up.

3. MACA has welcomed in principle the Government's New Deal for Disabled People. The Personal Adviser Service (currently being piloted across the country), properly resourced and structured, could be a significant step forward of people with mental health problems in their attempts to move into work. But it will only be effective if Personal Advisers have the training and skills to assess the capabilities and needs of individuals with mental health problems. We cover this more fully below, in the context of the SWFG.

The Single Work-focused Gateway (SWFG)

4. MACA has two concerns about the single gateway proposals. First, we are concerned that it will be compulsory for new benefit claimants to attend an interview. Although the Government has said that there will be no compulsion for people to go on to work, this process could be extremely stressful for people with mental health needs.

5. Many people in this group rely wholly on their benefits to survive. There have a real and genuine fear among about anything which might suggest their benefits will be reduced or stopped. Indeed, for some a formal interview may simply be too much of a barrier to overcome, and they will therefore lose out on benefits to which they have a right.

6. For this reason, we propose that the interview be voluntary rather than compulsory. In addition, we believe it is essential that individuals are allowed to bring a friend or relative with them to the interview.

7. Second, we are concerned about the training on mental health which will be undertaken by interviewers. For example, in a 1996 survey of people with mental health needs, a third said they had been dismissed or forced to resign from jobs because of their psychiatric history1. In addition many such individuals, because of their illness;

  • have low self-esteem and lack confidence
  • often do not have up-to-date workplace skills
  • may be loath to declare their illness because of the stigma and discrimination associated with it (a problem which DFEE and the Employment Service have acknowledged)

will require flexible working patterns and hours to accommodate what may be a fluctuating capacity to work.

8. Add all this together, and you will see that interviewers will need to have a wide range of both professional and interpersonal skills if they are to be able to assist individuals with mental health needs. We are pleased to have had some assurance from the DFEE about the training of Personal Advisers for the SWFG interviews (see letter of 16 March 1999 attached), but this too important an issue to be taken for granted.


9. To conclude, we support the principle of the New Deal for Disabled people and the single gateway. But for it to work in practice for people with mental health needs,

  • interviews should not be compulsory
  • individuals should be allowed to bring a friend or relation with them to the interview
  • interviewers must be fully trained in assessing the capability and requirements of people with mental health needs, including an understanding of the stigma attached to mental illness.

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