Welfare: where to from here?
Posted Thursday 17 May 2012
The last year has been frustrating for those of us campaigning for a fairer welfare and benefits system - one that accurately assesses people with illnesses and disabilities, offers the right support for them to return to work and adequately provides for people who can’t work.
Disabled people, grassroots campaigners and representative organisations have all fought hard. We tried big protests, spoof newspapers, and mass online mobilisation. But the Coalition Government has forced through changes that will make things even worse.
Since the Welfare Reform Bill passed, I have been thinking a lot about how we can improve the system and fight back against Government rhetoric and negative stereotyping of people on disability benefits. Considering what has happened in the last year, it’s a daunting task.
But there’s no other issue I’d rather be working on. I know the benefits and welfare system is absolutely vital to hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems. It should treat these people as equal citizens and start providing the support they need.
One step back, two steps forward
Despite the bleak outlook, I don’t believe our work has been a waste of time and there are some things to be positive about.
On the back of our campaigning we are seeing a shift in the outcomes of Work Capability Assessments (WCA), which decide if people should get disability benefits. Statistics from a year after Professor Harrington’s first review show 12 per cent fewer people being found ‘fit for work’ and 18 per cent more people being placed in the Support Group.
The Government has declined to make further changes to the WCA, such as introducing expert assessors and greater use of additional evidence. But some potential providers we have spoken to do recognise the need for these elements in the assessment for the new Personal Independence Payment (which will replace Disability Living Allowance).
Mind’s reputation as a leading campaigner on welfare reform means that we are listened to. Paul Farmer’s resignation from the Scrutiny Panel because of concerns with the WCA attracted extensive media coverage including an appearance on BBC Newsnight.
And a community of determined, creative and influential grassroots campaigners led by bloggers such as Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin is creating opportunities for powerful new ways of campaigning.
My 10-point plan
So here’s what I have in mind for the rest of the year; a 10-point plan for improving the welfare and benefits system. We will:
1. push for additional evidence in the WCA process
2. work to convince the Government of the need for expert assessors for mental health
3. look for a solution to the ‘revolving door’ of endless WCA appeals and reassessments
4. make sure the Government backs some research to properly test whether the criteria used in the WCA are fit for purpose
5. push for further improvements to the new PIP assessment, particularly the mobility component, to ensure it fully recognises mental health
6. influence plans for the new PIP assessment to ensure it avoids the flaws of the WCA model
7. look into what the Work Programme is doing to support people with mental health problems and continue our work to make workplaces more mentally healthy
8. push back on the excessive use of conditions on the benefits of disabled people and harsh sanctions when these are broken
9. work with grassroots campaigners locally and online to build a stronger campaigning community
10. target key sections of the media to help shift public opinion on welfare and benefits.
It won’t be easy, these changes would lead to real improvements for people with mental health problems using the benefits and welfare system.
What do you think? How do you want to be involved? And what can we do to help you campaign on these issue?
Tom Pollard, Senior Policy Officer
If you'd like to stay up to date with Mind's campaigning on welfare reform and other issues that affect people living with mental health problems sign up for our monthly ebulletin.
Commenting is now closed.