Walking together in the name of social justice

An open letter about the benefits system

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 13:51 -- admin

We are a collective of Clinical Psychologists, Counselling Psychologists, Psychotherapists, other professionals and concerned citizens in South Devon who are unable to continue to observe the impact of the current benefits system on the people we work with and remain silent.

Traditionally the ‘psych’ professions have remained apolitical, however as highlighted by the recent call by the British Psychological Society (BPS) in partnership with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC), British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP), and UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) for the suspension of the benefit sanctions system, there is an increasing movement towards using our professional knowledge base to raise awareness and promote change – indeed many would argue it is our ethical duty.

While the response to the Improving Lives Green paper is relevant to our concerns the aim of this letter is to raise awareness and compassionate action regarding the detrimental effect of the PIP and ESA processes on the mental health of people who are already experiencing emotional distress and can be considered to be living with mental health difficulties and/or the complex nuances of learning disabilities or acquired brain injury. For brevity we refer to ‘mental health’ but the issues outlined here also effect people with  learning disabilities, acquired brain injury and other complex difficulties such as Chronic Fatigue and Multiple Sclerosis.

As professionals working with clients considered to be experiencing severe and complex mental health difficulties we have been informed of some concerning and frankly shocking experiences of the PIP and ESA assessment process and seen decision reports which highlight an alarming lack of understanding of common mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression, and even less understanding of difficulties related to PTSD, complex trauma and childhood adversity leading to diagnosis such as personality disorder. 

In a number of cases we have been able to assist by supporting clients to appeal and have had some success with this. However, this does not reconcile the fact that not only is the appeal process a stressful and often re-traumatising experience for clients for whom this can serve as a re-enactment of aspects of their past, but a symptom of a process that is not fit for purpose.

To echo the statement made by the BPS briefing paper ‘Call to action on Work Capability Assessment reform’; we are extremely concerned regarding the number of reports regarding the appropriateness of the training and healthcare backgrounds of the healthcare professionals completing the assessments and the undue focus within assessments on physical conditions even when a mental health problem is the primary difficulty or cause of incapacity.

Tyneside Mind have produced a powerful film 'BUT I'M HERE FOR MENTAL HEALTH' in collaboration with service users whose experiences of the WCA are represented in the film by actors. Many people find the process of going through the WCA difficult and distressing, and this is very much reflected in the representation of the process in the film. The film is available at: http://walkthetalk2015.org/news/video-im-here-mental-health. The fact that so many people whose primary  difficulty is mental health related continue to find the WCA, ESA and PIP process so stressful, insensitive, inaccurate and unfair shows that we need urgent reform.

Professionals, family, and friends of people with mental health difficulties have observed the PIP process to exacerbate difficulties, increase feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, shame and thoughts of suicide. Leading to psychological therapy effectively being put on hold and the person supported through the crisis period until the process is over. However, restrictions on the number of sessions NHS services can offer often means a frustrating sense of sessions being lost to the PIP process. For example, it is an all too common experience that trauma-focused therapy has to be put on hold until the PIP process is complete and a sense of safety re-established. For others the PIP experience exacerbates feelings of worthlessness and undermines the validation of their needs and the seriousness of the impact of past abuse and neglect.

Recent comments made by George Freeman MP and the debates in parliament this month highlight that a lack of understanding of mental health in our society is a pervasive problem, so it is no surprise that this is reflected in our current benefits system and the recent statements made by disabilities minister Penny Mordaunt who said urgent reforms were needed to “restore the original aim of the benefit” with reference to recent court rulings in favour of people with mental health difficulties.

As shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams has stated "Instead of listening to the court's criticisms of personal independence payment assessments and correcting these injustices, the Government has instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings”, this undermines the seriousness of the day to day challenges people who are experiencing mental health difficulties face. There has been an outcry and before tightening the measures which will make it even more difficult for people with mental health difficulties to receive PIP there is due to be a period of consultation, although it is unclear who or which organisations will be included in this.

As Capita is currently considering how best to reflect mental health difficulties in the PIP assessments we echo the BPS, BACP, BPC, BABCP and UKCP in urging the government and Capita to seek appropriate consultation with service-user groups and mental health professionals. The current system is not fit for purpose. People living with mental health difficulties, learning disabilities and acquired brain injury are being let down – this cannot continue.

We urge you to attend the next PIP debate on the 19th of April and to speak out for people with mental health difficulties. 

Signed (in alphabetical order):

Charlotte Bolt, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Sammy Browne, Assistant Psychologist
Dr Kelly Camilleri, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Dominique Clancy, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Dr Lealah Hewitt, Clinical Psychologist
Yasmin Hussein, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Sophie Lee, Assistant Psychologist
Dr Sandra Major, Clinical Psychologist
Annie Mitchell, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor
Dr Nikki Swan, Clinical Psychologist
Dr Christine Ward, Clinical and Community Psychologist
Joshua Williams, Assistant Psychologist
Dr Miranda Wrigley, Clinical Psychologist



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There is a momentum growing amongst psychologists who are pressing for social inequalities to be addressed. Here is a statement produced by clinical & health psychologists, calling on policy makers to address the impact social inequalities have on mental health...

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