Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 8

Single Gateway to Benefits—Memorandum by member of the Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry Section, Royal College of Psychiatrists

The proposal made by the Government in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill that there should be a single gateway to access either Incapacity Benefit or Job Seekers Allowance will pose considerable problems for people who have psychiatric disability. At present persons who have severe mental illness are exempt from the medical examination for Incapacity Benefit, a regulation which is not only sensible in that it avoids potential hardship and suffering with severe illness but also efficient in that it prevents unnecessary work at the Medical Examination Centre. However, in the new Bill such severely disabled persons will be called up for an interview with a Benefits Agency Officer to examine their likelihood of being able to obtain employment. This proposal could have a number of serious consequences.

1. Patients with severe mental illness receiving a summons for such an interview may well react adversely. This could include stress reactions which in turn could provoke a relapse of their condition.

Some patients would choose to ignore such a summons and thus put themselves in great peril of losing all benefits.

Some patients might well misinterpret such an interview request in a psychotic fashion so that their subsequent behaviour might be not only irrational but extreme with danger particularly to themselves.

2. It is highly unlikely that there will be any savings made in Incapacity Benefits as a result of Benefit Agency Officers interviewing people with severe mental illness at the cost and effort of summoning such people, sending reminders, providing travelling expenses, together with the cost of the Benefit Officers time in interviewing persons with severe psychiatric disability is not only inefficient but wasteful of resources.

3. If this Bill goes ahead unamended then it will be necessary for Benefit Officers to have special training in dealing with people with severe mental disorder in order to ensure that they do no harm to the claimant at the interview. Such training would need to be subject to a validation both in terms of its content and its effect. Such an exercise might be seen as necessary only by virtue of ill-considered regulations.

It is accepted that there are a number of individuals who have a history of mental illness and have been unable to get back to work because of the lack of either occupational rehabilitation facilities or employment opportunities. Frequently such persons have made efforts to find employment but have encountered prejudice and discrimination so that their motivation has waned. It is very important that the Benefits Agency Officer undertaking this interview will be able to direct such individuals to rehabilitation courses, training courses, or work opportunities which will give them a real chance to gain employment, otherwise the exercise will be another episode of failure in their lives.

Recommendation

1. Persons with severe mental disorder which as defined by the current regulations governing Incapacity Benefit should be exempt from attendance at an employment interview.

2. Benefit Agency Officers must be trained in those interview techniques which can deal with persons who have mental illness problems in a sympathetic and yet effective manner.

3. It is essential that Benefit Agency Officers be able to offer relevant advice and effective means by which persons with a psychiatric history may be able to return to work.

L G MEASEY

Chairman

Rehabilitation and Social Section

Royal College of Psychiatrists



 
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