Friday 10 July 2015

Benefit (lack-of), Related Deaths and the Need for Oversight and Transparency.

Quote: "Benefit Related Deaths and the Need for Evidence-Based Policy and Training - draft of Sunday 4th Jan 2015

Benefit Related Deaths

The horrible truth is that there have been a large number of benefit related deaths which are now becoming more publicly known. Despite this DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) knowledge and training in Suicide Prevention, Mental Health First Aid, and aspects of physical and mental health is poor. Such poor understanding, driven by DWP and Government policy, and incompetence can often be a matter of life and death. In fact there is evidence of a deliberate sanctions policy that puts people at risk. Examples of campaigners' activities and publications against these dangerous benefit failures are in. The Independent states "The spending watchdog" (National Audit Office) "has found that disabled people are facing 'distress and financial difficulties' because of the mismanagement of a new Government benefit scheme."

Suicide, and Mental Health Resources 

These are some resources for suicide prevention training, mental health first aid training, and help for people who have lost someone through suicide. Resources on benefits are available in.


Are any benefit sanctions legal? Benefits are what the Government says a person needs to live on. Everyone has the right to life! MIND explain why sanctions are harmful to mental health and wellbeing. Of course financial results of sanctions can be poverty, physical health issues, and death also. There is evidence of target driven sanctions being used as a political tool.

DWP claims it & ATOS help people into work, but only assess people & sanction them. Money spent on that nonsense should on creating jobs and helping people into them. When a DWP customer can't get a job they get sanctioned for 'not making enough effort' - when customer does get a job - 'DWP got them a job'. Many of the sanctions are for ridiculous reasons and they are dangerous to health and wellbeing. Sanctions are applied to sick and disabled people who should be exempt, as they have been judged not fit to work (only capable of certain work related activities under medical advice).

In a January 7th discussion of the Oakley report- Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions: independent review several experts heavily criticised Government policy on sanctions, at a relevant parliamentary committee  hearing. Professor Peter Dwyer Welfare conditionality project - asked whether current consensus on conditionality to 'prevent worklessness' is ethical. He questioned whether there was any evidence in favour of the consensus amongst politicians and policy makers, and whether evidence against this policy had been ignored. Dr David Webster - articulated that DWP are sanctioning people willy nilly, at that there is no legal basis for this. Hence sanctions are overturned on appeal, as the only requirement is to be available and look for work, not to do so in a way prescribed by DWP. He argues that sanctions problems inevitable from secret system without safeguards and that sanctions are a secret penal system that runs parallel to the legitimate court system, which addresses any illegality. This is also argued in. Dr David Webster explains that training works best when it's voluntary, most people who are unemployed want to work, and that the best way with DWP to be involved is to assist the DWP service user to follow their own plan and engage with the person to advise as necessary. Citizens advice explained that in their experience conditions imposed by DWP are inappropriate to the, and thus they are set up to fail. Chris Mould of Trussell Trust gave results from responses as to why people had to be referred to foodbanks as catastrophic collapse in income leading to access to foodbanks. The referral form has been consistent for many years, and does not specifically refer ask about sanctions (also service users may not necessarily use that term). For all these reasons benefits experts are urging the Government and DWP to suspend sanctions in general and specifically when people with mental health issues or disabilities are impacted.

Also on January 7th 2015 Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah demanded an end to demonisation of people on benefits . Inevitably the issues of sanctions are linked with severe poverty in families, and with benefit related deaths. Biased and inaccurate fitness for work tests, the sanctions regime, and other failures in benefit provision compound each other. The result is that jobsearch requirements on many people are unachievable because they are on the wrong benefit. E.g. They should be on ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) but are on JSA (Jobseeker's Allowance), or people are in the wrong group.
In general the benefit system is poorly suited for people with disabilities, leading to appalling financial problems and, and upset from poor communications and procedures.

Because of the assumptions that the DWP system understands and enforces the return to work plan to the service user rather than engaging with their plan failures are inevitable, any assumption that the jobseeker is lazy, worsens this service. Reasons for this failure are outlined in My blog post (Why forcing people to work for benefit won't work - - Wombling for Welfare!) counters the reasoning of the DWP policy of pressuring people to work for free. People need their basic needs catered for before they can develop career goals. The Keep Volunteering Voluntary Campaign encourages organisations to opt out of participating in any scheme that is compulsory or for which people are pressured to take part. As ethical organisations pull out of involvement in compulsion and workfare, only the least ethical and most profit centred organisations are left to take part. Thus meaning that organisations such as Poundland, who have no motive other than profit gain free labour. It is not in the interests of voluntary organisations to 'employ' people on workfare, ethically or for provision of services, and of course compulsory volunteering, and working for free are contradictions in terms.

Inevitably all of these sanctions and other DWP failures and policies lead to fear [56]. Policy should be evidence driven. The alternative of the opposite unethical, unscientific approach used in a fake DWP Psychometric test.

"Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping" - Paul Lewis -

Poverty and Hunger

Government- benefit cuts do not help people lift themselves out of poverty. People can't lift themselves when they can't eat enough, and heat homes. The Guardian makes this point]. Also, food poverty is causing people to be hospitalised. The largest cause of referrals to food banks is that of welfare failings . How benefit failings are leading to a rise in use of food banks was researched by Sheffield University, and is explained in. There has been considerable criticism of the contrast between Government members professed Christian views, and the actuality of the increase in UK food poverty and food bank use. Government needs to be more in touch with the consequences of its policies. The rising cost of living has also been a major cause of the increase in use of food banks. More information on food banks is available in a Daily Mirror guide. Government must address this issue because poverty has a catastrophic effect on people's mental health.

Fitness to Work

DWP claims it and ATOS help people into work, but they only assess people, stop benefits, and sanction people. Money spent on that nonsense should go to finding people work and training. Ironically the assessment process itself has not been assessed by the Government, nor have any of its users been involved significantly in its design, nor in their own medicals. The focus has been on finding people fit for work, and as with anything where wishes and bias interfere with objectivity, bias is introduced. This is the opposite of evidenced based policy and as it involves people and health it has been a massive unethical experiment on huge numbers of ill people. Inevitably this has caused a lot of deaths, illness, poverty, and misery.
The Government and DWP set the rules for these failed fitness to work tests and drove the policy - It is not just ATOS failing - it is DWP and even CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).
For the NHS - patient involvement is important and structured, this combines with regulatory inspections such as hospital inspections. The need for this has been agreed and provided for because lives are at stake. The same is true for fitness to work assessments, sanctions regime, and assessment for Personal Independent Payments. Lives are at stake if these decisions are wrong. This would entail recruitment of a "small army" of doctors, nurses, patients and carers. Inspection could also help ensure that staff are not being lost to the NHS. Fitness to work tests are completely unsuitable for those with mental health issues (and also for those with physical health issues). This unsuitability is partly due to the confrontational nature of the tests, and partly due to bias and inaccuracy . This whole system is expensive and leads to avoidable hardship and avoidable appeals for so many wrong decisions.

Despite DWP showing little interest in listening to the views of users of its service or in allowing inspections, campaigners have made considerable progress in bringing the problems into focus, and reporting on them. This has also involved working with politicians and press to put pressure on the Government over policy. An appalling case of a person in a persistent vegetative state being sent a letter inquiring if he was fit to work has been highlighted.

ATOS are at last leaving the fitness for work process but this is unlikely to result in resolution of any of the problems in its design and implementation .

All of these problems are a very real risk to people with all kinds of disabilities. These are some resources available for people having to encounter the fitness for work system .

Bedroom Tax

Disabled people and carers are worst affected by bedroom tax and welfare reforms, and there have been many injustices, legal challenges and human rights complaints over this. More generally the bedroom tax has been heavily criticised for causing misery, poverty, and homelessness. Further criticism emerged over ineffectiveness, inefficiency, lack of savings, impossibility of bedroom tax payers moving to smaller homes (lack of smaller homes, and those adapted for disabilities), and financial pressure on councils. All of these failings have led to the bedroom tax becoming an important election issue . These problems are of the institutions themselves, systems, computing, and arguably on the policy itself and focus on policy change around welfare reforms and cuts.

Universal Credit

In command-and-control organisations, the ILLUSION of control is much more comforting - and hence valuable - than any actual control. Iain Duncan Smith put his faith in new leadership of Universal credit. This isn't how big IT projects succeed. They succeed when users and staff are the main drivers. Government plans to deliver Universal Credit on time and on budget, simply by increasing the budget and putting back the date. It will still fail. This blog post of mine explains why, and goes into technical reasons for all the other problems that cause the human suffering -

Government Digital By Default - Reality Check - - Digital by Default will leave vulnerable people more vulnerable and excluded.

Labour considered the idea of Universal Credit to be too risky and impractical to implement. There are very many serious practical problems.


Two essential things that need to happen with this are short term improvements to reduce benefit related death rates within the current failed system, and a medium term reconstruction of the system based on what previously worked.

It used to be that one of the key aims of jobcentres was to assist the person to find work. This was at a time of relatively full employment. Even then it was understood that there would be a structural rate of unemployment due to people moving in and out of work. This structural rate could still be reduced by good careers advice, and assistance, help to find work, and prompt and efficient payment of benefits. This is all of greater importance in times of high unemployment, something that has been persistent now for decades. This importance is because it is possible to reduce both the structural rate of unemployment, and that above this rate, and because people who are in work create work via both their work and their spending.

However, it has become increasingly difficult for jobseekers to deal with jobcentres, and the benefit system in person. Rules have become more inflexible and administration more remote from the 'customer'. Now most assistance is provided by telephone helplines in a remote location from people with no understanding of the jobseeker nor any flexibility in decision making. This problem is exacerbated by very poor, and biased fitness assessments with virtually no involvement of the people assessed in construction and monitoring of this system, nor in their own assessments. An overcentralisation of systems due to a misguided strategy of digital by default (leaving the most vulnerable and poor excluded) adds to this problem. An example is the failing Universal Jobsmatch system.

For mental health (and with all other types of health) this breaks the evidenced-based policy of 'No decision about me without me'. For mental health this also breaches the evidenced-based policy of parity of esteem for mental health. For everyone this is a breach of Equality Rights and Human Rights.

The role of evidence-based policy in hindered by the current coalitions repeated refusal to undertake a Cumulative Impact Assessment of the way the Welfare Reform Act affected Sick and Disabled people ." Go to:

For references, sources and links.

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