Mind: Incapacity Benefit reform must consider mental health
Posted Friday 21 July 2006
Welfare Reform Bill second reading - Monday 24 July
As the Welfare Reform Bill gets its second reading, mental health charity Mind expressed concern about the financial sanctions that it will introduce, and warned that the Government's plans to get one million people off Incapacity Benefit (IB) into work in ten years won't succeed unless discrimination from employers ends. Around 40 per cent of IB recipients have mental health problems as the reason for their claim. As the administration of Pathways to Work services around the country is outsourced, claimants may face a postcode lottery of benefit entitlement.
The Welfare Reform Bill introduces Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which will replace Incapacity Benefit. Claimants will have to take part in work-focused interviews, health assessments, and activities. If they don't comply with any of these, they risk losing up to 25 per cent of their benefit. There is no evidence that this sanction is effective or necessary.
Mind backs the Government's objective of supporting people into employment, but is concerned about the implementation of welfare reform plans.
There are 234 references to regulations in the Bill, but Parliament will not get to see all the regulations in advance of the Bill's third reading. Much of the effect that this Bill will have will be down to the detail of the regulations.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be delivering Pathways to Work services through various different outsourced contractors from this October. The Bill also allows for different ESA regulations to be in force in different areas of the country. This means that a postcode lottery of entitlement and administration could be created.
There is nothing in the Bill to indicate that service providers and their staff will need to have adequate training to understand the problems people with mental health problems face. This is particularly worrying in light of the fact that these private contractors will have the power to determine what work-related activities claimants must engage in to be entitled to full benefit, vary these activities as they see fit, and administer benefit sanctions.
Of further concern is the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) the test which determines eligibility for Incapacity Benefit / ESA. This test has been very unreliable for people with mental health problems. The PCA is being revised for the new benefits scheme, and it is essential that properly evaluated pilots for the new test take place before it is rolled out. At the moment, the DWP is proposing short 'dummy runs', which will not be sufficient to determine its suitability for assessing people with mental health problems.
Commenting on the Bill, Mind's Chief Executive, Paul Farmer, said:
"Many people with mental health problems who are currently out of work would very much like to have help to get back into employment, and we support the Government's aims here. But people with mental health problems face a massive barrier to employment in the forms of discrimination in recruitment and in the workplace. Unless the Government addresses this problem, its aim to get one million claimants back into work in the next ten years will inevitably fail. Employers must stamp out discrimination in their recruitment procedures, and foster positive and supportive attitudes to mental health within the workplace.
We're also concerned that the Government hasn't produced a single piece of evidence to show that financial sanctions are necessary or effective, and we question why they are needed at all when they will cause extra distress and pressure for people already in a vulnerable situation.
The Personal Capability Assessment hasn't worked for mental health problems in the past; Mind would like to see properly evaluated pilot schemes for the new PCA, not simply the short 'dummy runs' that the DWP is proposing."