Thursday, November 26, 2015

Workfare Abandoned! Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements Both To Be Scrapped


In a major victory for campaigners, two of the main workfare programmes are to be abandoned the DWP has quietly announced today.  Private sector contracts to run Community Work Placements and Mandatory Work Activity will not be renewed says the department in their response to George Osborne’s spending review.

Community Work Placements involve six month’s forced full time work for the long term unemployed, whilst Mandatory Work Activity is a four week short sharp shock of workfare used to punish claimants who were judged not to have the right attitude by Jobcentre busy-bodies.

Hundreds of charities have pulled out of both schemes or boycotted them completely after furious campaigning from Boycott Workfare, Keep Volunteering Voluntary and claimants across the UK.  Recent performance figures showed that only half of those referred to forced community work actually started a placement.  Eighteen months after Community Work Placements began the DWP is still avoiding telling us whether anyone has actually found a real job through the scheme.  The department is claiming the programmes will not be renewed to save money.

This is not the complete end of workfare, with some claimants still facing forced work on the Work Programme, at least for now.


‘Fit for work’ tests have normalised the suffering of sick and disabled people

Halfway into a decade of austerity, the biggest threat posed by the Conservatives’ cuts may not be the suffering they are causing mentally ill, sick or disabled people but something altogether more lasting: that their suffering is becoming normalised.

I can think of no other reason why the work capability assessment – the now notorious test used by the Department for Work and Pensions to determine who is eligible for out-of-work sickness benefits and who should be classed as “fit for work” – remains in place.

This is a benefit assessment that has been proven to make people’s conditions worse, and that time after time has been linked to the suicides of people who were declared “fit for work” and had their sickness benefits removed.

It has now been more than 18 months since the mainstream media – including this paper – reported the death of Mark Wood. Despite struggling with multiple mental health problems, the 44-year-old was found “fit for work” in 2013 (Wood’s doctor described him as “extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever”). Four months later, he was found dead in his home weighing 5st 8lb.

Any social security system requires a process that can accurately – and humanely – determine who needs out-of-work sickness benefits (and who is physically and mentally fit to be on jobseeker’s allowance, looking for work). This can’t be a test based on suspicion but one that values the opinion of the disabled person and their own doctor, rather than a stranger hired by an outsourced private company. Instead of a crude box-ticking judgment of impairment, any assessment needs to appreciate how someone’s health actually affects their ability to get and keep a job.

What exactly is the DWP waiting for?


Terrorism or austerity - a death is a death

Why is the government so determined to protect British people from dying at the hands of terrorists, but completely unconcerned about British people dying as a result of its own policies? Why are some deaths to be prevented at all costs, whilst others appear to be simply viewed as the collateral damage of a political ideology?

After six years of being told that it was absolutely essential to slash public spending, with all the harm that has caused to the most disadvantaged people in society, it was remarkable to see David Cameron deliver a defence review in which money seemed to be no object, and in which an unforeseen extra £6 billion for Trident was a minor detail.

On the other hand, we have sections of the population, particularly the poor and disabled, living in fear and actually dying due to those 'essential' spending cuts, and the government policy of making the weakest bear the greatest burden.

No doubt some will say that this is an extreme statement of the situation. But we have just had a report linking the government's Work Capability Assessment to an extra 590 suicides. We have had coroners attributing deaths to that same policy. We have a list compiled by Black Triangle of deaths they associate with welfare reform. We have a prediction that the figures on 'excess winter deaths', to be released tomorrow, will be the highest for fifteen years. We can argue about the exact figures, but it now seems undeniable that significant numbers of people have died, and will continue to die, due to austerity and welfare reform.

So we have to ask ourselves, why are these deaths so much less important or newsworthy than deaths brought about by terrorism? Why does the fear engendered by terrorism command so much in terms of resources and media attention, whilst the fear and death brought about by callous government policy is almost totally disregarded?


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fit-For-Work Tests May Have Taken Serious Toll On Mental Health – Study

Research links additional 590 suicides and 725,000 antidepressant prescriptions over three years to impact of work capability assessment.

More deprived areas such as Liverpool showed the greatest increase in mental health problems
More deprived areas such as Liverpool showed the greatest increase in mental health problems

Tougher “fit for work” tests to assess eligibility for disability benefit may have taken a serious toll on mental health in England, according to a study that linked the tests to 590 extra suicides and hundreds of thousands of additional antidepressant prescriptions.

In what is believed to be the first research of its kind to examine the mental health impact of the work capability assessment (WCA) in England, experts said there could be “serious consequences” of the policy to move people off benefits, which they said had been introduced without any evidence of its potential impact.

Published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the analysis follows research published last week which found that debt, austerity and unemployment were significant factors in the rising number of British men who have killed themselves since the tests were introduced in 2008.

Disability rights campaigners and mental health charities have long called for an overhaul of the assessment scheme, following anecdotal evidence of adverse effects on mental health.

One million recipients of disability benefit had their eligibility reassessed under the WCA tests in England between 2010 and 2013, according to researchers from the University of Liverpool.
The researchers calculated that these assessments were linked to an additional 590 suicides, 279,000 extra cases of self-reported mental health problems and the prescribing of an additional 725,000 antidepressants between 2010-13.

This is equivalent to a 5% rise in total suicides, 11% increase of self-referred mental health problems, and 0.5% more antidepressant prescriptions.

The researchers believe they have ruled out the impact of deprivation, economic trends and long-term trends in mental health, but the methodology can only identify correlations between WCA and the increase in mental health problems. It cannot say definitively that WCA is the cause.

Benjamin Barr, from the public health department at Liverpool University, who is the report’s principle author, said: “The pattern of increase in mental health problems closely matches the increase in assessment of the work capability assessment.”