Welfare, employment and mental health in the 21st century.

It cannot have been a coincidence that this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day was centred around the workplace. It certainly reflects a world in which working is seen as the epitome of recovery, rather like the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle. According to this mindset, self-actualisation is achieved by having a full time job and becoming one of those infamous ‘hard working people’ that the Tories regularly talk about when trying to butter up that section of the electorate who pay their taxes to keep MPs in the manner to which they are accustomed.

I don’t know which alternate reality the UK government live in, but in this universe jobs are no guarantee of recovery, in fact they can often impede it, and exacerbate symptoms of mental health problems. Given that many people end up ill precisely because of their jobs, where they often spend most of their day, it seems bizarre that anyone would make a sweeping generalisation about work being helpful to those with emotional or psychological issues, and being a sign of complete wellness. On the other hand, if you follow the doctrine of neoliberalism it makes perfect sense, as the idea of minimalist state assistance is at its core. Things like the welfare state and the NHS are examples of socialism, are therefore evil and must be demolished.

Of course this is disguised as ‘austerity cuts’. The fact is that austerity hasn’t worked, and it is only a smokescreen for a neoliberal agenda. It has been established, even by the IMF, that neoliberalism and austerity cuts stunt growth and increase inequality. This of course is no problem for those who implement these policies as they are too rich and powerful to be adversely affected. But it affects everyone else and in many cases ruins what lives they had. An unstable job market where ‘flexibility’ is the key buzz word, zero hours contracts and the constant fear of being made unemployed and unable to put food on the table is not likely to promote good mental health. And when it comes to people with diagnosed mh problems, the idea that they can deal with their illness and all the added stressors of modern day employment is a sick joke.

We all know that thousands of people have died as a result of the Tories’ welfare cuts, through procedures like the Work Capability Assessment (unless you only read the mainstream media, in which case I can only presume you have stumbled across this page by accident and think that is ‘fake news’). People are starving to death, becoming more unwell after being denied payments for things as ridiculous as not turning up for a job centre appointment when you never received any notice of said appointment taking place, and taking their own lives as existing any longer just prolongs the living hell of being threatened by the DWP and there seems to be no end to it. If the public had had the foresight to vote in the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn, it’s quite possible that many lives could have been saved, as they had pledged to end the WCA and make PIP (Personal Independence Payment) assessments fairer, although what they meant by ‘fairer’ was not made clear. Not that you would know this if you watch the MSM, as they have completely ignored the subject of welfare cuts and the Tory driven breach of human rights as stated by the UN on several occasions. Now with Brexit and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, along with the ability of the government to bypass Parliament and rubber stamp Bills without a debate or Commons vote through the Henry VIII powers, it seems that things can only get worse for all of us. In fact the Tories have already started ignoring embarrassing defeats in Westminster, as shown by last night’s Universal Credit debate which they lost unanimously. UC will be rolled out as planned even though it will leave many people without money for 6 weeks and force them to use food banks. The fact that the Tories get away with this (apart from the fact that the MSM does not report such defeats) shows that the wider public has no time for benefit claimants, and consider them a burden which is expendable; indeed, less than human.

As someone with mental health issues I am used to being treated as a subspecies and whenever I have had jobs I rarely mention any diagnoses as I know that the mentally ill are deemed even lower than the average benefit claimant. Stigma is a real problem, especially when applying for jobs. The double standards of the general public on this is astounding. On the one hand they want us to stop being lazy scroungers and get a job, as obviously all people with mh problems are not really ill, just playing the system, but on the other hand we might be dangerous, and most likely stupid/inept, as after all we are nutters, and no one wants to work alongside one of those.

I remember one job I had working in a kitchen where the people I worked with knew of my problems (I told them I had depression). One day I picked up a knife and walked across the room to use it to chop up some food. A ‘colleague’ told me that he wondered what I was going to do with it. That kind of ignorance about mh issues is pretty widespread in society. If you have a job and have mh problems the chances are that you deal with any triggers or stressors on your own, as people just don’t understand (or want to understand) mental illness. This is of course added pressure and if you live in a small town (like me) you have the extra worry that someone will know you from somewhere and identify you as a nutjob. People are never the same with you again after they find out that you are officially a headcase. They either ignore you, abuse you or are extra specially nice to you, presumably in case you produce an axe from your trouser pocket and start hacking them to death if they say anything remotely negative about you. But that of course assumes that you got the job and were honest about having a mental illness, which is unlikely, especially if you have something like schizophrenia. Yet people with such a diagnosis are told they have to look for work, when they cannot be honest about their health and expect to be ‘successful’ in being employed, and even if they were, there wouldn’t get support at their job and would be ostracised, making them more paranoid and increasing the chance of a relapse or hospital admission. Why the Tories think it is worth pursuing this vindictive welfare policy when it clearly costs more than it saves is beyond any naïve member of the public, but some of us know they are not called ‘the Nasty Party’ for nothing.

Until mh stigma is eradicated for ALL mental health diagnoses there should be an acknowledgement by the government that it is more difficult to get a job when suffering from a mental illness. It is also obvious that when in a job anyone with mh problems/who is disabled should be well supported and have access to a ‘work counsellor’ who they can offload any worries and stressors to. This doesn’t have to be exclusively available to those with diagnoses/disabilites; anyone who is stressed or unhappy in their job should be eligible for such a service. Of course this would cost money, which apparently is the main reason for welfare cuts, that and the idea that work is the best route to recovery. It is unlikely therefore that every workplace will be obliged to employ an internal counselling service/support system for people with disabilities/mh problems. But was that ever the real reason for cutting disability payments? Some of us can see a parallel in the actions of our government and that of the Nazi government of the 1930s. But contrary to their ideals, work is no guarantee of recovery, or measure of good mental health. It is nothing more than a means of surviving for most people, which is another reason why so many hate those on benefits; jealousy. For the Tories the glorification of work and shrinking of the welfare state is a good excuse to euthanise those who need state support to exist, and with a faithful MSM and a dumbed down society they can get away with anything, literally, anything.

Seroquel Susie

The Invisible Whiteness of Being, Philip Thomas

When it comes to matters of race and culture, whiteness is plainly invisible. What do I mean by that, and how can I make such an assertion? Over the years I worked as a consultant psychiatrist, in multi-cultural inner-city Manchester and Bradford, and multi-cultural rural Gwynedd in Wales (where the English were counted as an ethnic minority), I attended my fair share of cultural ‘sensitivity’ training events. At first I found such sessions useful; I’d always been fascinated by cultural difference for reasons that will become clear. But as time passed I began to feel increasingly uneasy about empirical approaches to cultural difference.

This is because we white people were never the objects of scrutiny in these events. Whiteys didn’t have culture; we were invisible. Our culture is so soft, so gentle, we don’t notice it and take it for granted. Like the anthropologists of an earlier generation we assumed we could understand the essence of other people’s cultures as though our own cultural beliefs and assumptions had no effect on how we interpreted other cultures. All we had to do was to learn the objective ‘facts’ and that qualified us to work with people who were different fromourselves. One problem with this is that it overlooks the problematic historical relationships that exist between us and non-European people, historical relationships grounded in
colonialism, slavery, oppression, and the wholesale imposition of White European cultural values and beliefs on non-Europeans. How did this insight become clear to me?

To trace the origins of my personal enlightenment, I have to say a little bit about my own family of origin, where I was born and brought up, and quite a bit about my parents. It is fortuitous that I’m writing this sitting in the departure lounge of Terminal 2 at Manchester Airport, surrounded by people from all cultures and ethnicities, as I wait for a plane to take me via Hong Kong to Melbourne for the funeral of my much-loved Uncle John, my mother’s ‘baby brother’. There’s a sense in which I’m retracing a family journey, one that my Uncle made nearly 50 years ago when he emigrated from Liverpool to Australia with his wife as part of a new wave of Anglo-Saxon colonialism that began after the Second World War and continued into the 1970s. It is of course a deeply moving moment for me, but it has positioned me in the right emotional frame of mind to write about very personal matters. So,here we go.

The first eighteen years of my life were spent in North-East Wales, literally a stone’s throw from the English border, an area that until the nineteenth century was largely rural. But as the Industrial Revolution exploded in Manchester, Lancashire and the Potteries, the coal and brick clay that lay beneath the hills and marshes that bordered the River Dee became a valuable asset. At the end of the nineteenth century John Summers moved his
steelworks from Stalybridge to reclaimed land on the Dee marshes. Consequently the population of what came to be called Deeside exploded, as the new factory drew in people from Liverpool, Lancashire, the Potteries, and of course, Ireland.

My paternal great grand-father and mother, Frederick and Annie Jowett moved from Leeds to Deeside at the end of the nineteenth century. The surname Jowett is thought to be of Norman origin, and descended from the Jouets who accompanied William the Conqueror in the Norman colonisation of 1066. Frederick and Annie were of course not Norman aristocrats, but honest working class Christian socialists, God-fearing, abstemious and hard-working.
My paternal grandfather, Bencie Thomas came with his family from Aberdare in the Welsh valleys to become a highly skilled blast-furnace man at the new steel works. He had a dangerous job, responsible for deciding the precise moment to tap the furnace and release its molten charge of white hot steel. He married Mary, Frederick and Annie’s eldest daughter, shortly after the end of the First World War, a conflict he didn’t fight in because he was in a reserved occupation. There is a family story, how true it is I cannot say, that on the night of their wedding, Mary told Bencie in no uncertain terms that he “…was never to use that heathen tongue in my house”, referring to the Welsh language. The first Welsh Nationalist M.P., the late Gwynfor Evans, described in his book Land of my Fathers (the first Welsh history of Wales) how the English had suppressed Welsh culture for centuries by stopping the
Welsh using it. Bencie was a Welsh-speaker. His Welsh Methodist hymnal in which he wrote in an immaculate copper-plate hand the first lines of his twenty or so favourite hymns (in English, for Mary) is one of my treasured possessions. Then, in 1924, their only child, Roy, my father, was born.

All this is a way of framing my first experience in practicing racism at primary school when I was nine. A new girl joined our class. She had flame red hair, freckles, piercing blue eyes and white eyelashes, a true Celt. Her family left the farm in rural Wales because her father found better paid work in the steelworks. Her appearance and the fact that she spoke Welsh faultlessly set her apart from the rest of us. Those differences singled her out for the most appalling racist abuse. It was her name more than anything that became the butt of crude jokes and derision. She was called Ebrillwen. Only much later did I discover that it meant white April, a beautiful and poetic way of marking through the Welsh language the birth of a daughter in the snows of April. It gives you a glimpse into the love of nature in Welsh culture, and how this is tied poetically to identity. Now to my mother’s side of the family.

My maternal grandfather, Walter Mercer, was a self-made businessman who moved from rural Wiltshire to Liverpool shortly after the end of the First World War. He started a successful printing business in the City, and then built it up again from scratch after it was flattened in the Blitz in the war. His business was successful, and he lived in a comfortable semi-detached house in what was then a middle-class area of Birkenhead, over the river from Liverpool. He married Minnie Love, a beautiful Irish Protestant girl from a large family in Bundoran, County Donegal. The Loves may have originated in Scotland, so-called Ulster Scots, but there is a family story that the name was an Anglicisation of the French Lamour, and that their ancestors were Huguenots who fled the Catholic persecution of Protestants in France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. The edict safeguarded tolerance for Protestant worship in Catholic France and the Low Countries. If true, it would explain two important aspects of my life: my love of European and French culture, and the unseemly blend of hatred and mockery of Catholicism that I was exposed to at home from an early age.

But there’s more. Minnie Mercer died three months before I was born, leaving my mother in a profound state of grief during the last stages of her pregnancy. In the early months of my life she nursed and loved me through tears, sadness and despair because her dearly loved mother would never see her first grandchild. But my mother made up for the loss, because as long as I can remember I have felt a closeness to Ireland, its people and especially its humour. This is as important today as it was when I was a child.
It partly explains why I have always found girls of Irish descent irresistible, especially Catholic ones. After all, I married one!
We are now in a position to understand how complex whiteness is. It isn’t a two-dimensional thing, a shallow layer daubed over my personality, a thing that can be dismissed in terms of cricket, warm beer and loyalty to the flag. The more I met and became friends with people from non-European cultures, the more questions this raised for me about my culture, and especially what I suppose what some would call my cultural identity. It’s worth noting in passing that I dislike this expression because it implies that who we are is fixed and unyielding. I believe that who I am changes from moment to moment as part of a complex interaction between the social and political environments I find myself in, who I am with, and how the mood takes me.

I began to see that what it means for me to be ‘white’ is riddled with contradictions, conflict and paradoxes. Let me give some examples. When I open my mouth people assume I’m an educated English middle class male. Well, I was extremely fortunate in having had a superb education in a state school, but my accent changed dramatically in October 1967, when I encountered really privileged middle and upper class white males in my first week at medical school. I consciously lost my Deeside accent so as not to stand out from the crowd. My accent marked me out as different; in the eyes of these unthinking young men it marked me as inferior, a pleb, or so it felt.

In fact I had always been acutely aware of the class system throughout my childhood, because of the disjunction between my father’s and mother’s class origins. I’d always felt neither middle class nor working class. I was a Janus figure looking both ways, liminal and borderline. Consequently, the class system held a morbid fascination for me; this was one reason I joined the Navy as a medical officer after I qualified. I had to find out more about it.

Then there was religion. In my teens I lost all religious belief. My scientific education converted me into a secular rationalist who could not admit to the possibility of a life outside the body, the resurrection and so on. That remains my belief, but my view is more nuanced these days. Medicine places you in a uniquely privileged position with fellow human beings in the most extreme states of abjection, despair and distress. I realised that although it didn’t work for me, religious faith of whatever hue brought great comfort and meaning into people’s lives. This forced me examine the partisan nature my early religious experience, mocking Catholics and the Pope. I still feel ashamed about this, as I do about the way we racially abused Ebrillwen.

Then there was the issue of gender and sexuality, and I have to be very careful here. For obvious reasons I was much closer to my mother, and as I matured I rejected the working class notion of masculinity my father offered. What I witnessed in my family life, the patriarchal nature of white working class culture, filled me with horror and disgust. I could see how, in many different ways, this made women unhappy and deeply dissatisfied with their lives. I also rejected the dominant notions of white working class male sexuality. I have always disliked the bluster and macho nature of male company. At university I much preferred the company of women and my growing number of gay male friends, so much so that I know at one point my father was ‘worried’ I might be gay. I think that’s why he had no qualms about me marrying a beautiful Catholic girl of Irish heritage.

So where does this leave me? It made me increasingly aware of and close to other liminal beings, who like me, existed in the spaces between the conventional pillars of identity, Black, South Asian, LGBT and disabled people, people who became my friends, and who helped me to understand so much more about myself and what it means to be human. It made me realise that the mainstream view of whiteness is so riddled with contradictions, half and selective truths, that it can only be sustained by suppressing and oppressing all other forms of difference lest it be found out.

This, after all, is the great lie of colonialism, a political enterprise piloted by the English against the Welsh (never forget Owain Glyndŵr), perfected on a grand political scale against the Irish, Africans and Asian people, and the indigenous peoples of North America, Australia and New Zealand, before reaching its liberal apotheosis in slavery, the subjugation and exploitation of indigenous peoples in the interests of trade, profit and the economy.

I wince in anger, horror and despair when I hear a British (Brutish?) Foreign Secretary recite the opening lines of Tennyson’s Road to Manadalay – a paean to colonialism – in the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in Yangon, Myanmar. Has he forgotten his otherness?
It also helps me to know that my family’s history is peppered with diasporas: a Yorkshire family travelling to a new life on the banks of the River Dee, a young woman from County Donegal arriving in Liverpool to make a new life for herself, a shy young Welsh man travelling across Wales leaving his roots, language and culture behind, Uncle John travelling across the globe as an economic migrant, just like the thousands who followed in the wake of the Windrush.

Then I wonder how similar their experiences were, and realise there would have been no similarity. Uncle John was a successful White business man with entrepreneurial skills that were valued in the host country. Most of the first generation African-Caribbean migrants met with outright hostility and racism. “No Blacks Here” on factory gates and boarding room doors. Then I think of my putative Huguenot ancestors, escaping religious persecution in Catholic Europe. Many settled in London’s East End. The Jamme Masjid Mosque on Brick Lane was originally built as La Neuve Eglise in 1743 for Huguenot asylum seekers. Then it became a synagogue for the Jews fleeing the pogroms in Russia and Poland at the end of the nineteenth century. And I see the reception that Syrian and other refugees fleeing terror and destruction receive today in our media and from the politicians on the Right. Our pompous, self-aggrandising whiteness has a very selective memory, Foreign Secretary, and remembers only those stories about its origins that suit its purpose.

© Philip Thomas
October 2017

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…DWP paranoia


A discussion initiated in RITB about the psychosocial impact of living in fear of DWP processes which have the power to cause; debt, poverty necessitating the use of foodbanks, deterioration or long term harm to physical and mental health, eviction, homelessness, attempted and completed suicide:

• Just saying that the DWP are causing us ‘stress’ doesn’t even begin to cover it and people can’t understand why people are killing themselves over the ‘DWP experience’”

• If we don’t share it, people don’t realise how the DWP are wrecking our chances of good physical and mental health.

• I just find it so hard to actually enjoy having a physically better day because I feel guilty and paranoid.

• Everything about benefits is so counterproductive to being as well as you can be, as and when you can.

• It feels like punishment reinforcement and grinds you down and down and down.

• It has also made me paranoid about having ‘happy’ photos on social media. I know that 90% of my time is dominated by despair as does my GP, Support Worker and genuine friends. Even a ‘happy’ picture can be taken on a suicidal day. In fact one of my best pictures was taken a few hours after I had written a letter to assisted suicide clinics asking them to take me on mental health grounds. I remember Fightback advising people to only post stuff on social media which reflected exactly what they said on their forms and I see their point entirely.

• This is a really important point. I’m afraid to post any positive or happy pictures or statuses under my own name on facebook. It increases isolation because on the one hand to help maintain friendships people want to see positive things, on the other I’m afraid to focus on the positive in case the DWP looks at my facebook page and assumes it is reflective of the 99 other days.

• The dwp have a facebook team in Scotland, they google claimants they are assessing and social media use was used against a claimant at a tribunal. This is why more people feel safer using a pseudonym which goes against FB’s policy of ‘real names’. Voluntary work has also been used against claimants as showing ‘fitness for work’ demonstrating zero understanding of the fact that stress vulnerability can mean that for some people working voluntarily maintains their stability but the pressures of paid employment destabilises it. Levels of voluntary work have always been high amongst mental health service users and former service users, because of stress vulnerability and because of being unable to fit working conditions not supportive of mental health i.e. insecure, temporary, low paid, poor conditioned work which offers limited tolerance of sick leave. These are the working conditions most likely to be offered to unattractive employees with large gaps in their CV’s which cannot be concealed. People with long histories are not desired by employers with an increasingly disposable workforce they can pick and choose.

• Totally conscious of the evil watching eye if the DWP when I write. FB is one of my main social outlets/point of connection – especially when I’m housebound. Which is a lot. But there’s lots I don’t say that I’d like friends/people more generally to know about. But U don’t write it coz I worry about this

• HUGE factor! Kept me trapped indoors for well over a year around PIP claim. Thought I was being scrutinised, filmed all the time. Thought anyone asking me for directions or for change in the car park was a set up. Made me so much more paranoid and more unwell and restricted me from doing anything remotely beneficial. It still haunts me all the time but trying so hard to not let it now. One letter from them though and I think it will all kick back in. It got to the stage where I thought any car driving past, any plane flying over my house was filming me. I thought the TV and my computer were filming me at home. I didn’t want neighbours to ever see me in case they were keeping notes on me. I remember a little old lady asking me to read something on a packet for her in a supermarket and I did and for weeks after I was terrified. Another time a man asked me for change in a car park and he had his phone in his hand and I was convinced I was being filmed. I have always been prone to paranoia but it got completely out of control when I was being reassessed. It has taken really intensive work with my Support Worker over a year to undo the harm from the assessment, reminding me constantly of the validity of my claims, that I am genuine and have nothing to feel guilty about, the unlikelihood of any of this and that I suffer enough and should not let the DWP dictate my life any more than they already do. So much easier said than done though once you get stuck in that mindset and fear you could lose everything you depend on and be publicly shamed by people who have zero understanding of how debilitating your invisible illness can be. There was even a time when I wanted to write them an explanation letter every single day to explain and justify my actions.

• Scared to open the door due to not always using my stick, and furniture surfing instead indoors, or opening the door to a ‘Daz doorstep challenge’ setup, that I heard was their way of catching out ‘fakes’ years ago. Scared to leave the house with just my stick even going to a car directly outside and using a wheelchair the other end. Scared to walk the distances I can manage for fear of being accused of being able to do more. Like others, I have had paranoia about being recorded and 2 psychotic period’s, one where I thought they were on my street and in my house and had decided I was a psychopath and not deserving of support or benefits. One where the DWP could get inside my head and were inside my head day after day quizzing me about my abilities. Scared to smile or laugh. Constantly paranoid outdoors. Felt paranoid sharing this. Paranoid about telling doctors what I can and can’t do. Paranoid every time my psych used to say to me ‘you’re walking well’. Scared to tell or show anyone what I can do – feels vulnerable for anyone to spend much time with me, because then they’re able to see over time what I can ‘usually’ do.

• DWP are utilising paranoia etc to weaken us, it is a tactic that pertains to democide.

• Until I got the letter saying I had my money back I could not settle, my PIP started in December and only got sorted now. It impacted in every area of my life, the complete invalidation of peoples illnesses is awful, the DWP are cruel

• Watching all of you go through this “brown envelope” thing is like watching friends get tortured. That is the best way I can put it. It’s senseless and cruel. It is clearly nothing but a systemic, governmental, genocidal process that is horrifying on the scale of other intentional genocides. I am sick for all of you.

• Whoever said if you stand up to bullies they’ll go away was talking through their shitehole, every day is an anxiety-ridden nightmare, no-one can help, I am alone. They won’t stop until I’m gone, that’s their raison d’etre now, from social care agency to search and destroy unit in the space of a year or two, it’s a cull. Terrified of the mega judgmental outdoors, and the television and Facebook are an extra level of hell, with their faux documentaries & dismal manufactured opinions,’ oh, I saw someone get out of their mobility scooter & go in a shop the other day, they’re all on the take’. There is no hope.

• The fear very rarely goes away of a double -whammy. F*cked over on DLA -PIP etc -then (for me and I would guess most) impossible schedule on a “Job Search”. Have been trying to look for Plan B’s -but thin on the ground

• Since 2010 I have become much more nervous going out – even in my wheelchair. I feel paranoid about any strange cars or vans, and also feel that the average person on the street has become much more judgemental.

• Just go into hiding. No social visibility. I hate the game to play for the form to be completed, the residual self-doubting of your own disability is awful after you have been made to feel like you’ve had to manipulate a broken system. Amongst all the anxiety and sleeplessness it’s hard to manage this and remain able to value yourself. I’ll never forgive them.

• I was advised by a welfare advisor in 2011 to cease all publicly advertised activism and to only do things which were strictly under the radar. I feel like I’m part of a world war underground resistance whereby I can never speak of previous public voluntary work, can never speak or write in my own name, be photographed or filmed, which makes attending any event in the age of mobile phones and live streaming impossible. This has cut me off at the knees in terms of the contribution I can offer to; peer support, alternative and user defined approaches, teaching. I withdrew from research because of the fear of being visible in any way, professional colleagues understood why and share my anger at being hamstrung. My world has become smaller, some days I am afraid of standing by the window as my voices tell me that the cars across the road have long range camera’s spying on me. That the council have CCTV monitoring every time I leave the building. That the webcam and mic must be switched off or else I am under surveillance. That my phone is being tapped, neighbours are being paid to watch me for signs of fraud, and that undercover operatives are in my supermarket (I’m too paranoid to state which supermarket).

• My voices now echo what I’ve read and listened to in the media over the last 7 yrs and for a few months everything I read I heard in my head in the voice of Ian Duncan Smith which was deeply distressing. Voices call me a ‘useless eater’, and if I go outside will tell me that strangers are ‘proper people’ unlike me because I have no economic or productivity value. I know that my voluntary contribution was highly valued by professionals, but now I’m too afraid to do it so I feel useless and worthless. I used to be proud of what I used to contribute voluntarily, now I feel like scum, and my voices tell me I’m scum. I’m afraid to claim legitimate concessions, do an Adult Education course, speak to people, and are afraid to make any noise in my home because of fearing an anonymous malicious report because they typically occur in our immediate community by people who are uninformed or unhappy with their own circumstances. I so wish I could sing, I would love to sing again but I’m afraid to sing in my home in case neighbours hear me and view it as being self-indulgent and lazy.

• I now treat every GP appointment as a Work Capability Assessment and fear that if DWP intrude into primary care further I will cease all physical healthcare.

• I fear the DWP more than being sectioned and would rather die than face their processes. I know I am living on ‘borrowed time’ but I have no escape because I am unable to get into full-time work and sustain it. The fear of DWP is without doubt now worse than what took me into services in the first place. It has taken my hope, my potential, my future.

• I feel that everyone, including some peers now judge me on the basis of whether I am employed or not, that no amount of voluntary work could ever match up to the gold standard of being employed.

• I took the dwp to tribunal for pip the whole thing took 9 months and it made my paranoia massive i got to point when i thought they were spying on me all the time thankfully they gave me pip in end but it was a big fight took up so much of my anxiety 24/7 glad it’s over for a few years.

• Being treated like a criminal as it went to court. I’ve not been able to go to that part of town since.

• IDS decided to put tribunals in courts there was never any reason for them to be there…

• I am currently in work so relatively ‘safe’ but do worry about the what if’s. I’ve lost three good jobs because of my mental health which was really traumatic each time but applying for benefits was relatively straightforward and the money came through within a couple of weeks. With recent welfare ‘reform’ I feel I’ve lost my safety net.

• That’s part of why they are doing this. They don’t want people to have a safety net. That way we are more compliant workers willing to put up with worse and worse conditions. And those who can afford it will get private insurance. I am in work too and I worry about what will happen should I lose it – whether because of my health or because of losing funding for my post. Insecurity and precarity are the tactics.

• So much of this resonates with me. I even avoid seeing and talking to friends (more than illness dictates) because I get paranoid one of them might mention me to someone else who might shop me to the DWP. I try not to have a searchable presence online, and I find myself checking around on the street before I leave the house to see if anyone’s watching. I don’t volunteer for an organisation I care about and which could really use the help, even though I’d like to try, because I think they’ll use it against me.

• I can relate to every word you’ve said. I avoid friends for the same reason and have lost some of them as a consequence – purely through this DWP fear; have done everything In my power to wipe any traces of myself offline (though have been a bit freer lately because I really want to be transparent – to be who I am illness and all – but since this thread that is now really making me anxious again) and there are certain voluntary organisations who are crying out for help round here who I know I could be useful to, and thus it would potentially benefit me too – yet I do nothing due to fear of DWP scrutiny, of demonstrating any kind of capacity which could suggest to them I could do certain things reliably when I know I absolutely couldn’t. The assessment process was so traumatic and made me more ill than my usual baseline Ill so I would never do anything that would invite being reassessed again and risk losing yet another year to the daily terror it invoked.

• This makes me so sad, human potential crushed

• Potential crushed – this. It was a huge contributory factor in my letter to the assisted suicide clinics. Continuing to live like this is intolerable. It is the complete antithesis to being supported in being able to make the best of what you can and of contributing what you can. I am trying to challenge it personally at this current time but one push from the DWP and I know I’ll be back right over the edge. Every contact from them makes life that much more precarious. For those on here subjected to repeat assessments it is nothing more than sadistic.

• Independent living of people with physical/sensory/intellectual difference meant being supported. Now it doesn’t, & I’d say even less so for mental health.

• Mad people have contributed much voluntarily which Trusts, charities & uni’s have benefited from. This vital contribution is being lost because of the fear it will go against claims. It’s never mentioned that before 2010 voluntary work as an unofficial outcome had been supported by many professionals.

• Charities etc. have lost a committed ‘as and when able to be’ workforce of often very talented, caring people.

• You have to be incapable as a claimant, and the fear & paranoia they induce makes people’s lives harder to live so you can end up becoming what they require. Then services require positivity and recovery the complete opposite of the dwp which skews all healthcare relationships.
It seems so easy to some people, to escape all of that by being employed. The welfare system doesn’t support part-time working without PIP & self-employment will assume a full time min wage before Working Tax Credits. The rise of shift/temp/unsocial/zero hrs hasn’t helped anyone’s wellbeing. Then there’s the never talked about issue of people who are unemployable. People with very long gaps in their CV who won’t even be attractive to employers for insecure work.

• I had pseudonyms for years as both an artist and musician to stay off the dwp radar, tried to think I liked it as it was a strategy per se but felt like a physical manifestation of being controlled so got rid of them. It stops me from pushing forward my art (even though it is the one true constant I have). To explain any of this to galleries curators etc just seems like I’d come across as a fraud or I’d be asking them to be complicit. Just realised the comparisons with everyone’s paranoia/fear, that this so flippin STASI

• They have taken the concept of independent living to mean self-sufficient living – which is total bullshit. Independent living means living your life and getting the support you need to live it, including financial help.

• My ability to trust any health care professional was severely comprised by my experience of mental health services especially inpatient and secure provision, but now the collusion of healthcare professionals with the DWP especially since latest ‘Work and Health’ proposals and changes to ESA as it becomes embedded into Universal Credit means I no longer feel able to consult with a GP about any health concerns physical or madness. Having said this I don’t feel this is paranoia just being sensibly cautious. I am however very worried about Scottish Government proposals for claimants for new disability benefits to be asked for informed consent for DWP to have direct access to our medical records. How can it be informed consent if the choice is let us see your medical records or we will take all your money that you need to survive and you can just go away and curl up and die.

• The Scottish Government has just consulted on their Social Security Bill and are due to take over provision of disability benefits which will replace PIP DLA and AA as well as carers allowance and some of Social Fund benefits such as funeral payments. Although at the start of process there was a lot of rhetoric about treating everyone with respect and dignity and fairness as well as involving current claimants of disability benefits in drawing up proposals for new benefits, but in reality what’s gone into the Bill is making a lot of entries that things will be worse under the new Scottish Social Security Agency then they are under the DWP if that is possible for you to even imagine. Also feel the involvement of people with experience of claiming benefits has been really tokenistic and we have not really been listened to. Their whole approach seems to be driven by the need to protect the public purse rather than the rights of disabled people. Very very disappointed.

• I think that it becomes paranoia for some of us when it infiltrates everything you do 24/7 as it did for me for over a year, it even affected what I did locked indoors 24/7. My claim was genuine and still is but no matter how much my doctor reminded me I have nothing to feel guilty or worry about it totally took me over. I think I am now back to sensibly cautious. I have a brilliant GP who absolutely refuses to let the DWP compromise how he supports his patients but know when he retires and the next generation of doctors are less likely to question colluding with the DWP that it will be like being thrown to the lions. It is awful how all this is affecting our trust in consulting about our health and could result in dangerous consequences for many of us. I am in England and I had to agree to full access to my medical records for my PIP claim which I absolutely hated doing and added to how traumatic it was. There is so much sensitive stuff in my notes and I can’t bear even genuine doctors having access to it. My GP tried to reassure me saying they can’t even be bothered to read the medical evidence we submit and don’t have the time or resources to ask for access to more records. Nonetheless it feels like a gross invasion of privacy and just as you say it is not informed consent at all, it’s the worst kind of ultimatum: you lose everything you need to survive if you refuse consent.

• Does anyone else feel this constant guilt for being on benefits? However much I understand where the guilt comes from (outside ideology) it never goes away.

• Yes constant

• Yes all the time and deep shame, like I no longer qualify as human in others eyes.

• If you can volunteer you’re ‘fit for work’ and can be stripped of all disability benefits, social care support and on a JSA path to destruction.

• That’s the worst position – the JSA and temp poor conditioned work see-saw

• Trusts, charities and mental health projects need to be careful with suggesting voluntary work as a key part of recovery when people have lost ESA because of it, ditto ad hoc paid work unless under Permitted Work AND viewed as supporting ‘recovery’ AND be prepared to write supporting letters to that effect. Failure to do so can mean rapid suspension whilst investigated. Permitted Work and whether this goes for or against a Work Capability Assessment is unclear.

• I understand why some people do peer, recovery college type jobs whilst privately hating the line they have to toe, because where they exist that’s better than precarious manual work, the only problem is if the shit hits the fan personally they’re in no better a position than people fast food and retail where you’re out and back into the worst end of the DWP mincer.

• I used to have security, the system was so much fairer and easier to negotiate and with support. Now, it feels like they have a list and when your time is up they will get you and they will crush you to death whilst hoping you will jump before you’re pushed.

Useful resources:


*RITB is aware that Universal Basic Income instead of progressive taxation can be viewed as a ‘solution’ to the punitive welfare system of the last 7 yrs, we firmly promote caution, please see our blogs on this issue:


UBI (Universal Basic Income): The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-1Universal Basic Income (UBI) has one intrinsically good feature: it ends the harmful idea that human worth is tied to a person’s ability to labour and produce profit. Instead it says every person is intrinsically valuable and everyone deserves the necessities to live and take part in society.

After this however the Devil is in the detail. UBI is a tool and tools can either help or harm. Unfortunately too much discussion of UBI neglects the essential details that determine if the versions of UBI being proposed is harmful or helpful. So here briefly are the necessary features of UBI that are required for it not to harm people:

One question to ask yourself is: Would I be content to live on the level of UBI I am proposing? Unless the answer is Yes, you are proposing a UBI that is regressive and harmful.

1. Level
UBI must be set at a level that provides for an income that allows a person to live on it, in dignity and inclusion with society. In the UK the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimate [1] the minimum income for a single person to live in society is £17K. Currently Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) is £73, this is not enough to live on and anyone proposing this level will be harming people with their UBI ideas. Unemployment benefit has been devalued over the previous 4 decades, if we were to have it at the level of proportion of earnings it was 40 years ago, it would be £140 plus payments for rent and disability on top. So under the subject of level it must also be asked- is UBI to be parallel to existing social security systems, or a replacement? If a replacement if must also feature discussion of how housing is to be provided, regulated, and paid for.

2. Funding
UBI must address ongoing inequality and seek to reduce it over time, this is best achieved by funding it through a progressive and just tax regime. Currently the global consensus is against taxation in general and particularly against a progressive system. In the UK alone there is a tax gap of circa £120Bn [2] which is not being addressed and the current effect of the overall taxation system has lessened in its progressive effects to being almost flat in that regard [3]. Any UBI proposal that does not address how this situation is solved will be regressive and harmful.

3. Social Justice and Human Rights
UBI must pay additional amounts to people whose everyday living costs are greater than the average, generally this means those with children or caring responsibilities and deaf, chronically sick, and disabled people. Any UBI that does not build in additional support for these groups will be regressive and harmful.

Any discussion of UBI without a discussion of these three features will necessarily be incomplete, and thus regressive and harmful.

Most versions of UBI being proposed or tested fail these three criteria and this failure is not being discussed. This makes the current UBI movement extremely dangerous and more akin to proposing a subsistence subsidy of labour that is to benefit business, and not a system to nurture human and planetary welfare. It would perhaps be better to look at more profound and holistic analyses of our political and social economies and how to turn those from being oppressive into nurturing and just systems that will avoid our extinction as a species. Have a Doughnut [4]?

[1] https://www.jrf.org.uk/income-benefits/minimum-income-standards

[2] http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Documents/PCSTaxGap2014Full.pdf

[3] https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/how-regressive-our-tax-system

[4] https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/

Designated places of safety are not A&E the RCN say

by Ruth F Hunt author of The Single Feather (Pilrig Press) and Rita Binns

In Liverpool on the 16th May at the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) conference, a motion was passed stating emergency departments of hospitals should no longer be ‘designated places of safety’ for when a person who is thought to be unwell by the police and is put on a section 136, for the purposes of assessment under the Mental Health Act 2007.

To justify this motion, the RCN made the case that emergency departments aren’t suitable because they are: “Noisy environments, often with frail elderly and critically ill patients. It is a noisy environment with constant ringing of phones and bleeping of equipment, and therefore not a suitable place (if without access to an amended or adapted room) to wait for a mental health assessment…We believe the emergency department has neither the appropriate environment, nor the appropriate staff to care for these patients’ needs and call on council to lobby to ensure all emergency departments are designated public places and not places of safety.”

Writing the following day, the RCN Forum Chair Ed Freshwater blogged that the wording of the resolution can be interpreted in many ways, and stressed that the debate demonstrated the compassion and concern all nurses have with regard to the mental health crisis and parity of esteem.

No matter how much Freshwater stresses this resolution should be interpreted as a compassionate response, what immediately stands out is the RCN resolution is as far from parity of esteem as it could go. They effectively differentiate between two life-threatening emergencies. For example, a patient who is critically ill and needs a hospital bed due to malnutrition and a patient who is critically ill with malnutrition due to anorexia and needs to be assessed under section 136 for a hospital bed. Under this resolution, one will be allowed through the door, and one shown the door.

Also, they assume it is only those who are at the A&E for a mental health assessment that will find the environment stressful. What about the old or young? Surely, those with mental health needs aren’t the only group?

Unfortunately it also reads as if it isn’t simply section 136 patients who are not welcome at A&E but anyone who is in urgent need of support for mental distress. There is justified concern that with the passing of this resolution the treatment of those in a mental health crisis who attend A&E may deteriorate further.

When the RCN are aware of the crisis in mental health, of the pressures within Local Authority statutory services and the demise of community based resources, then the wording and sentiment behind this resolution appears to be anything but compassionate. Add in the increased pressures placed on those with severe and enduring mental distress at this current time, and it seems there is something else going on.

Rita Binns, of Recovery in the Bin (RITB) is seeing a pattern emerging in that ‘recovery orientated’ mental health services have stressed the need for service users to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their actions and health. “Major cuts to services alongside a neo-recovery ideology has resulted in only people who are experiencing the ‘right’ type of crisis being able to access a service, preferably with a ‘lack of capacity’.

“At the same time, those who are suicidal are reporting that crisis teams are determining that despite the risk to life, they have ‘capacity’ and therefore what follows is ‘their choice’. This is particularly evident in the treatment of people with a personality disorder diagnosis, who are said to have the most capacity (which is just as contentious as the diagnosis) despite the risk being just as high.”

There also seems to be a disturbing trend for nurses to say that an admission ‘rewards behaviour’ such as self-harm, ignoring the evidence that shows self-harm should be taken extremely seriously.

Rita Binns acknowledge that A&E staff are under more pressure now then they have ever been. “They have to deal with devastating cuts to funding and deliberate political sabotage, but sadly, they have taken out their frustration on the patients with the least power – people with mental health problems”.

“Therefore this RCN resolution is a monumental slap in the face to one of the most discriminated- against patient groups. A patient group which already, at times, receives poor treatment in Accident and Emergency departments, especially people who self-harm, who might be dismissed as ‘attention-seeking’.

“Ultimately, the police could be forced to put people into cells, the very last thing they want to do if A&E refuse to take people they pick up. The police are already being treated like an unofficial mental health service and sometimes in their frustration to access a service for people they have made arrests.”

Rita Binns believes the resolution is also a betrayal. “Dedicated disability social justice groups have stood side by side with nurses in support of their pay, conditions and bursaries. It would have been more helpful if the RCN had debated the ethics of their members working as welfare assessors whose processes were found to directly discriminate against mental health claimants”.

With suicides rising for certain demographics, it would’ve been more helpful if the RCN had come up with something constructive, something that would alleviate the pressure on A&E without impacting negatively on mental health service users. However, as Rita says: “Instead they opted to pass a motion with no constructive suggestions or alternatives which gave a devastatingly clear message to every single person with a mental illness diagnosis.”

Open letter to British Psychological Society

Observing that the British Psychological Society (BPS) has endorsed the United Nations Special Rapporteur On The Right Of Everyone To The Enjoyment Of The Highest Attainable Standard Of Physical And Mental Health [1]. We ask that the BPS also endorse the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) report on the United Kingdom’s ‘grave and systemic’ abuses of disabled people’s human rights [2], in line with their stated ethical policy [3] and endorsement of international human rights treaties, as evidenced by their endorsement of the aforementioned UN special rapporteurs Mental Health report.

[1] https://beta.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/bps-backs-un-report-mental-health
[2] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/InquiryProcedure.aspx?platform=hootsuite
[3] https://beta.bps.org.uk/sites/beta.bps.org.uk/files/Policy%20-%20Files/Code%20of%20Ethics%20and%20Conduct%20%282009%29.pdf

Yours Sincerely

Recovery in the Bin
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN)