Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Tony Chatterton


  I am writing as a parent of two adult sons who experience Bi-Polar 1 disorders and whose conditions have dominated their adult lives. Their mother also experiences a severe form of this condition.

  I am also a professional who has worked alongside Community Mental Health teams for the last 25 years. I continue to work "face-to-face" with people with enduring mental health conditions. Therefore I see the whole issue of Incapacity Benefit relating to mental health from a professional as well as a personal experience.

  I have supported individuals with mental problems when they have needed to interact with Employment Services, either with meeting with Disability Employment Advisors, or with meetings with other DWP staff, or with Benefit Medical Assessment doctors. My concern has always been around the ability of the assessing Jobcentre/DWP employee to be able to understand the implications of the mental illness presented by the client. I have supported individuals who wanted to work and arguably were able to do so and also supported those who most definitely were not able to work but were having to attend a meeting because the system demanded it.

  I need to address my concerns using my eldest son as a case study (his brother's condition and experience is very similar). He has experienced chronic mental illness since the age of 17 and has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act many times in the last 18 years. His illness following an episode requiring hospitalisation, takes more than a year to settle before he can begin to think about developing employment again. He has had two spells in employment in the last seven years, both of which were very difficult for him. Quite simply he could not cope with pressure, which increased his stress levels and produced further bouts of severe illness. He claims IB and DLA and recently was encouraged to engage with an Employment Development project which led to him undertaking some permitted work which he still does. This permitted work (two days a week) plus one-day Voluntary work seems to have produced the right balance in that his health is the best now that it has been in the last 10 years. Having said that he still has "off" periods when he can experience delusional thinking at work. This has been put down to the stress of getting to and attending work. If he did not work this would also produce a stress in itself and therefore it is the right balance that is needed.

  So what would happen under the new proposed legislation as far his IB entitlement is concerned? Would he be exempt from the Personal Capacity Assessment on the grounds that the presence of the mental disease severely and adversely affects his mood, or would the fact he engages in permitted work deem him capable of more work? Who would state this was the case to the satisfaction of the DWP? I presume and hope this would have to come from a Consultant Psychiatrist. In the event the Consultant felt the illness was improving to the extent that his mood was less adversely affected, then my concern is switched to the ability of the assessing DWP employee who would be work focussed.

  I recently supported a client with an IB Medical assessment and went into the interview with him. This individual had been mentally ill for 10 years. In a space of 15 minutes and with little evidence from Consultants and GPs, this doctor attempted to assess my client's mental health from an employment point of view. The assessment in my view was very poor and ineffective although it did result in my client being permitted to stay on IB. Presumably a DWP employee in the future would have less medical information regarding a client and more worryingly, may not have a good knowledge and insight into mental illness. The risk is that an individual could be encouraged to take on more than they can sustain, with a higher risk of failure and re-occurring illness. If this happened to my son, the knock-on effect would be very significant, not only to him in terms of being ill again and failing a further attempt at more employment, but it would cause equally high levels of distress to his partner and family who would have to manage the trauma of what happens to him when he becomes manic.

  I do believe strongly that people need employment to sustain good mental health. My penultimate job was with the Shaw Trust for 10 years as an Employment Development Officer for people with mental health problems, so I know full well the benefits of work to people with mental health conditions. My concern is around:

    —    People with enduring mental health conditions being encouraged to take on work without careful consultation with mental health practitioners.

    —    The level of expertise needed by DWP staff when dealing with people who have experienced enduring mental health conditions.

  I would see the solution as being DWP Liaison Officers networking with Mental Health services, establishing protocols and ensuring appropriate considerations are made regarding any individual known to both services. Failure to do this will have the potential to result in more failure experienced by the person who is ill, with knock-on effect on family and the huge cost of the treatment needed together with the time it takes to return the individual's health to where it was previously.

Tony Chatterton

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 May 2006