Charity expresses concern over manipulated image of 'sicknote Britain'
Posted Wednesday 2 February 2005
Responding to today's announced welfare reforms by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, mental health charity Mind has called for clarification over how people will be allocated to the new benefits to replace Incapacity Benefit (IB).
And in opposition to the tone of recent media reporting, the charity stressed that IB has provided a valuable role in giving financial support to people who want to work but are unable to because their mental ill health has prevented them from doing so.
The charity is criticising the political and media attacks on Incapacity Benefit that have perpetuated a false image of claimants as lazy and 'workshy'. The number of people actually receiving IB has been greatly exaggerated. Since 1995, the number of people getting IB has fallen by 20 per cent. And the Department for Work and Pension's own minister, Baroness Hollis, admits that "the amount of fraud in disability benefits is extremely limited" (1).
Two new benefits replacing IB will differentiate between people those who have "a severe condition" and those "with potentially more manageable conditions." The charity is demanding clarity on exactly how the severity of a condition will be defined. It has long been clear to the charity that mental health service users are frequently failed by the system of medical examinations used in benefits assessments (2).
Today Mind's Director of Policy Sophie Corlett, said:
"The majority of people with mental health problems want to return to full-time employment as soon as it is appropriate for them to do so. However, they need to be helped and supported in their return to work, not goaded and ultimately forced to do so. Simply causing them further financial worries is not going to help them."
Research carried out by Mind in Croydon has revealed that one in three people with mental health problems on benefit do not receive all the benefit they are entitled to (3). The charity has long been campaigning to make the benefits system easier to navigate for those with mental health problems.
Mind is concerned that these reforms should:
- address existing problems in the medical assessment of people with mental health problems
- understand that people with mental health problems often need a significant period of time to build up confidence before returning to a working environment
- recognise that people with mental health problems frequently face a barrier of discrimination from potential employers.
Mind believes that people should be given assistance to find supportive working environments rather than being forced into potentially stressful situations.
Mind welcomes the extension of the Pathways to Work programme announced today.
(1) 12 October 2004, Department for Work and Pensions Minister Baroness Hollis responded to a question from Lord Ashley about Incapacity Benefits and said, "My, noble friend is again right when he says that there is no abuse. The amount of fraud in disability benefits is extremely limited."
(2) Assessors should recognise that mental health conditions can fluctuate in severity over time. Those with mental health problems may be able to work most but not all of the time; the charity is concerned that there should be flexibility in the system to recognise this.
(3) Results of a study carried out over three years by Mind in Croydon showed that only one in three benefits claimants with mental health problems were getting all the benefits they were entitled to (A welfare benefits outreach project to users of community mental health services by Mary Frost-Gaskin, Rory O'Kelly, Claire Henderson and Richard Pacitti, published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Vol.49 (4) December 2003)