Vicious attack on people experiencing mental health problems
Posted Monday 19 October 2009
Last Thursday's vicious attack on people experiencing mental health problems in the Daily Express has shocked me. In a piece about the new assessment process for benefits claimants, Leo McKinstry disputes whether people receiving welfare benefits for a mental health problem are legitimate.
I don't believe it represents the views of the majority, and regret that any national newspaper should publish inaccuracies of this nature, which are based on prejudice and ignorance.
His figures are incorrect - the Government's statistics relate only to new claimants, rather than all people receiving incapacity benefit.
Even more worrying, is his cynical view of mental health. He says,
"It is telling that more than1.1million incapacity claimants are not suffering from any physical disability at all, but get their handouts by moaning about problems like 'stress' and 'depression'."
Mr McKinstry equates mental distress with malingering and sponging off the state. That's not my experience. My work brings me into frequent contact with people with serious mental health problems who want to work, and who are frustrated by the judgement handed down on them by people like him, that they just need to pull themselves together and stop living the life of Riley.
Of course there are always some people who will play any system for what they can get out of it. But for the vast majority of people with mental health problems, the welfare system is not about free handouts, but about negotiating the support and time they need to get ready for work, and providing a financial safety net where work is not a viable option.
I would be pleased to provide Mr McKinstry with an opportunity to meet people with depression or stress who have lost their jobs and are unable to work, so that he could be better informed about this issue. I only hope he will be willing to take up my offer.
I do agree with him on one thing. Those statistics are telling indeed. What do they tell me? We are not doing enough to prevent mental distress from spiralling out of control, leading to debt, family breakdown, disability and loss of employment. We can do more to inspire hope of recovery.
The tried and tested ways of supporting people with mental health problems to return to work are not being used. And we need to challenge the pervasive stigma that denies people with mental health problems the same employment opportunities as anyone else.
Anna Bird, Policy and Campaigns Manager (Social Inclusion and Rights)
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