Psychologists for Social Change and Recovery in the Bin response to news of Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions’, position on the Samaritans’ Advisory board.
As a group of psychologists (Psychologists for Social Change) and service users (Recovery in the Bin) we are deeply concerned at news that Esther McVey has a role on Samaritans’ advisory board and believe that holding this along with her position as secretary of state constitutes a conflict of interest.
We think a position advising the Samaritans is incompatible with the beliefs she has been shown to hold based on her record in government. Esther McVey is a conservative government minister with a long record of voting and working to reduce support for those requiring welfare benefits. She has consistently voted against any increases in welfare benefits, including for people who are unable to work through illness and disability and, over a three year period, supported a reduction in total welfare spending 29 times. In addition she has consistently voted to reduce housing benefit for those social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (‘the bedroom tax’).
People experiencing financial difficulties are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems (Kiely et al., 2015), being associated with self-harm (Barnes et al., 2016) and depression (Mirowosky & Ross, 2001). Increases in suicide rates have also been associated with times of economic crises (Branas et al., 2015). As such the Samaritans have become something of a lifeline for people suffering the consequences of the reduction and removal of crucial welfare support. It is frequently recommended by stretched Mental Health Services for whom crisis services may be minimal or non-existent, meaning the Samaritans can sometimes be the last resort for people who may feel suicidal.
Representatives of Recovery in the Bin, a group of mental health service users, have described this as an issue of trust and respect, experiencing her decisions and their consequences as abusive and detrimental to their mental and physical health. They drew attention to the fact that the United Nations have found the UK government and particularly the DWP guilty of ‘grave & systemic’ human rights abuses which have caused a ‘human catastrophe’ for disabled people. Therefore they state it is wrong to have a human rights abuser on a charity board, especially when that charity is supposed to help people who are harmed by her decisions.
Representatives from Recovery in the Bin noted that benefit cuts are a leading cause of crisis for mental health service users. Service users and more who are now discharged through service cuts feel betrayed by the Dept of Work and Pensions who have been shown to disproportionately discriminate against mental health claimants as court cases demonstrate. They are also the sole group targeted for employment as a “health outcome” which amounts to sanctions, workfare and removal of benefits.The insertion of Job Centre Plus into libraries and GP surgeries leave service users feeling that there are virtually no safe spaces left from the very government department they are affected by. Some will not not feel able to use the Samaritans until this additional imposition is rectified by the removal of Esther McVey.