Memorandum submitted by Cedric Knight
after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper
I am responding to the Committee as a result
of the Green Paper, "A new deal for welfare: Empowering people
1. Firstly, I am rather disappointed that
the consultation time for the document is only about three weeks
[This referred to the time between publication of the Green Paper
and deadline for the Committee's consultation. I will advertise
the DWP's 21 April deadline, although its consultation is on very
limited areas. I am the newsletter editor for Fellowship of Depressives
Anonymous, a small national self-help organisation, and I think
it would have been vastly preferable if there had been time for
information about the consultation to be circulated among networks
such as ours to allow the people potentially affected to comment.
I am responding, however, in a personal capacity.
2. While I have never personally been on
incapacity or sickness benefits myself, I can say that there is
already great concern among users at the various mental health
agencies where I volunteer. Practically everyone I know through
these schemes would love to work, both for self-esteem and their
personal means, although many have attempted to do so in periods
of relative wellness and it has precipitated relapse or worse.
There is therefore panic in response to what may have been heard
on the newsboth about the recurrent stress of the All-Work
tests (perceived as being carried out in a biased, unsympathetic
way that is ignorant of episodic stress-related illnesses) and
possible reductions in the benefit levels. Really, the representation
in the media of the proposals could have been managed in a better
3. The "Work Focussed Interviews"
I suspect will be not only bestressful, but about as useful as
"Restart" schemes for people onJSA/IS in the early 1990s.
If "Restart" reduced levels of people on Income Support,
it ironically only did so by pushing large numbers onto Incapacity
Benefit. Genuine understanding of individual circumstances (rather
than random attacks on self-esteem by somesemi-compentent outsourced
HR consultancy firm) may be possible to a degree, but not without
providing some surety and removing the threats of effects on entitlement
to benefits. I have accompanied people (for reasons of emotional
support rather than advocacy) to medical assessments and I have
observed the deleterious effects of "assessment", particularly
before but even afterwards. (How would you like yourself and your
livelihood and entire future to be assessed by someone in a position
of power that you'd never met?) Increasing the frequency of "assessment"
for people with mental health problems wouldbe, to put it bluntly,
cruel, pointless, and morally wrong.
4. The proposed reduction of benefits to
JSA levels until interviews or medical assessments have been completed
is utterly illogical. People should not suffer because the benefits
agency have not yet arranged an assessmentpeople would
be punished for bureaucratic machinations out of their control,
a sure recipe for "learned helplessness" (a cause of
depression and anxiety). In any case, usually but not always,
there would have been an assessment by the patient's own GP or
psychiatrist. Right to appeal is largely welcome,but again would
be highly stressful, without increased funding for advocacy organisations.
5. The extension of voluntary schemes such
as "Pathways to Work"seems to be the only positive proposal
in the Green Paper; sanctions are unnecessary. The Work Credit
system seems excessively complicated, where a Basic Income scheme
would be much more comprehensible and less threatening. Therapeutic
earnings are a useful way for people to incrementally build up
confidence and a direct reward system, and could be extended.
It is also vital that there is no danger that ability to do voluntary
work could undermine claims to "incapacity" (I may send
some evidence to this effect once I have obtained permission).
Voluntary work is socially, personally and economically productive,
and there are many who can cope with this but not with any existing
paid work in their area.
6. It's hard to see how Employment Advisors
would fit in at a surgery, although some DEAs are currently perceived
7. The reported suggestion that GPs should
receive inducement for getting people off IB (!) is unlikely to
be welcomed by the medical professionals, because as described
above, often be in direct conflict with their duties to patients.
So far as I understand it, this was not a serious suggestion,
and I hope whichever anonymous (PR?) official put it forward has
been told how absurd/ignorant it is!
8. Finally, the emphasis on "workplace
health" is understated and too vague, since it is the main
barrier to people re-entering paid work. The truth is that "Incapacity
Benefit" does represent a real incapacity, the incapacity
of organisations and modern working practices to accommodate people
who are vulnerable. The rise in stress-related IB claims can be
directly correlated to the loss of job security and collective
support throughout the 1980s, as well as with a continuing increase
in impersonal bureaucracy, paperwork and "targets" particularly
in the public sector (we all know people who have been forced
out of work in the last few years by exactly this). To genuinely
re-enable people to come off benefits, without increasing the
suicide rate, will require a difficult social shift. It could
be accomplished by assessing workplaces, not by assessing individuals,looking
at things like staff turnover perhaps along the model of the HSE;
and also by using social psychologists to look at ways of increasing
satisfaction with work (the Layard report is a promising move
in this respect). Back in 1997-98, there was a New Labour commitment
that every new policy would be assessed for its impact on mental
health (can't remember the name of the documentit was pre-NSF).
This has obviously been forgotten, but would also be a very useful
practice to achieve a healthier society, which should be an end
in itself, and as a consequence, a greater proportion of people
able to work. I am happy to be listed as a respondent to the consultation
as an individual.