Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Training and Guidance in Skye and Lochalsh

  Training and Guidance in Skye and Lochalsh is an outreach project of TAG NHS Highland which has 12 years experience of working with people who are recovering from mental health problems. The aim of the project is to support our trainees through courses which will enhance their self-esteem, encourage them to get back to work, or to go on to further study, or voluntary work. We have a reasonable success rate, bearing in mind that some of our trainees have severe and enduring mental illness and are not usually expected to be able to be part of a workforce.

  Many people with a mental illness are deeply concerned by the new proposals within the new Welfare Reform proposals. The compulsion to look for and prepare for work is especially alarming.

  The Personal Capability Test that will determine what people can do must allow for some flexibility. People who suffer from mental illness can be well one day and be in a crisis the next day. The compulsion to look for and prepare for work may put many people in a crisis. Many people who suffer mental ill health have difficulties with everyday existence. A minor problem to a normal person can be a crisis for someone with a mental illness. The Benefits Medical Agency Services GPs who conduct the Personal Capability Assessments lack specialist health knowledge. Specialists in mental health must be employed in assessments for the complex health issues that claimants with mental ill health face on a daily basis.

  There needs to be massive investment in Mental Health provision throughout the United Kingdom. The current level of investment is very inadequate. Waiting lists are too long. The help and support provided is often short and minimal. Over one-third of Incapacity Benefit claimants have mental health problems. The Government must invest heavily to improve the mental health provision. The most effective treatment for many mental health problems is cognitive behaviour therapy. So why is this particular therapy virtually impossible to obtain?

  The cross-section of people that will be compelled to prepare and look for work will range from people with mild conditions to severe conditions eg suicide attempts because of pressure. Suicide attempts in Highland are three times the UK average.

  The stigma surrounding mental health is widespread. Indeed 25% of the population do not believe mental illness exists! And yet, according to government health statistics, one in four people currently suffer from mental illness

  The national media is unhelpful by targeting benefit claimants as scroungers and frauds. Much of society obtains their information about the world through the national media. Negative media coverage of disabled people and people receiving incapacity & disability benefit must be challenged.

  Much more must be done to challenge stigma in society. National advertising campaigns; disability awareness in and out of the work place. Disability awareness provided to all employees across the country. Widespread publicity that challenges disability and mental health stigma in every corner of society.

  Occupational Health must be widely available both in and out with the work place. More investment in the NHS to provide a broader range of health support to incapacity benefit claimants.

  Benefits Agency and Job Centre staff (at all levels) to be given comprehensive and detailed training in all areas of disability awareness. Benefits Agency staff must be friendly and supportive to claimants at all times. That all information relevant to the claimant be given freely without the claimant having to ask for it.

  Many people receiving Incapacity Benefit would like to return to work at some point. Many are put off by the complexities of the benefits system and unhelpful benefits staff that provide the minimal of basic guidance. Many are afraid to undertake voluntary work for fear of losing their benefits. The benefits system is far too complex and inflexible to allow IB claimants to try out work confidently.

  Professionals must trust claimants much more and be guided by their experiences and knowledge of their illness.

  There is a general lack of awareness and information available for claimants to make informed choices and decisions. The under investment and lack of mental health services (NHS and non-NHS) only compounds problems.

  Incapacity Benefit claimants:

    —    are not "the problem"—they must be part of the solution;

    —    hold the key to solutions in their experience and knowledge; and

    —    have a right to the information they need to make informed choices about their lives.

Kenneth MacKenzie and Vicki Samuels

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