Government mental health pilot angers campaigners

Jul 14, 2014

Talk of compulsory treatment for benefit claimants with mental health problems sparks angry response


The government is introducing new job programmes with the intention of cutting benefit spending and getting more people with mental health conditions back into work. 

The scheme combines new assessment with earlier treatment and employment support, the BBC reports.

The government estimates that 46 per cent of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have mental health problems and that the new schemes could result in significant savings.

A source from the Department of Work and Pensions said that although mandatory treatment would not be a part of the pilot stage, it could be "an idea" for the future.

But the Sunday Telegraph quotes a senior government source who revealed that the Conservatives are considering proposals to remove benefits from people who refuse treatment for mental health problems.

The Spectator's Isabel Hardman described the comments made by the unnamed source as 'kite-flying', an intentional leak released to gauge public opinion on the policy.

Mental health charities, such as Rethink describe these potential measures as an attack on a marginalised, disadvantaged group of people who are already facing huge cutbacks to services

They highlighted the fact that the NHS has neither the capacity nor the money to offer treatment to the number of patients who require therapy.

The charity Mind says one in ten patients waits longer than a year before receiving treatment for mental health conditions.

"If people are not getting access to the support they need, the government should address levels of funding for mental health services rather than putting even more pressure on those supported by benefits and not currently well enough to work," Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told the BBC.

They accuse the government of developing a "one-size fits all" policy that does not match individuals' needs.

Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health minister said therapy treatments are only effective if patients are willing to take part in them voluntarily.

"The idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won't work," he said.

Conservative MP and newly elected chairwoman of the health select committee Sarah Wollaston called the idea "unethical".

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