Response to the MHRN's open letter to Mind
Last month the Mental Health Resistance Network wrote to us to ask us about our work on welfare. We have today replied with the response.
Dear Mental Health Resistance Network
Thank you for your letter and for raising these important questions. It gives me the opportunity to clearly outline our position on welfare and to update you on our work. I hope that you will be reassured by my response and recognise that we are both working towards the same goal, a fair and just welfare system that supports people living with mental health problems when they need it and treats them with dignity and respect.
We take your concerns very seriously. I'd like to address all of the points raised in your letter and have grouped the issues by theme to make each response as clear as possible.
Mind staff member secondment
As you are aware, our Policy & Campaigns Manager Tom Pollard is currently on secondment to the DWP. The purpose of this is to use Tom's knowledge and experience to advise on the design and delivery of key policies that will impact on people with mental health problems. We have long been calling for greater mental health expertise within the Department and Tom has worked in the mental health sector for many years and is a passionate campaigner for a fair welfare system. During his time at Mind and the DWP his position has consistently been that if you are out of work because of your mental health, you need empathy, understanding and financial and other forms of support, not mandatory activities or the threat of sanctions. Taking on this role as a secondment rather than being directly employed by the DWP has allowed Tom to maintain an independent voice on these issues.
Tom's work is still ongoing but here is summary of what he has achieved so far:
- Proposing the use of a ‘Working Alliance’ scale, to measure trust and the quality of relationships between people on benefits and Jobcentre staff. The aim is to better understand what the Jobcentre needs to do in order to build genuine trusting and supportive relationships. The Government has now committed to explore this in its recent command paper on work health and disability (page 18).
- Helping to recruit new ‘community partners’, people with lived experience or in-depth understanding of disabilities and health conditions, who will work with Jobcentres to improve the support they provide and build stronger connections with local disability and health organisations.
- Feeding into a new scheme, ‘IPS Grow’(the link to this external content from Centre for Mental Health has expired), which will work to increase the availability of high-quality Individual Placement and Support services to help people with severe and enduring mental health problems who want to be in work to move into employment.
- Consistently communicating to other civil servants how people with mental health problems currently experience the welfare system and the impact any proposed changes would have, to try to improve the services and support available in future.
We feel Tom’s secondment has been a positive opportunity to bring a different perspective to the DWP and influence policies so that they might be more supportive and effective for people with mental health problems. It’s important to recognise, however, that meaningful change takes time. We never lose sight of the fact that the proof of our work is in the day-to-day experiences of everyone living with a mental health problem and for as long as people are being let down we have a duty to campaign and influence in whatever way we can.
Individual Placement and Support (IPS) contracts
Just like the MHRN, we are completely against a coercive approach to welfare and employment. Our long standing campaigning has made this clear and we have consistently advised our local Minds to make sure they avoid any welfare contracts involving sanctions or any kind of mandatory activity.
IPS is by its very nature a voluntary approach to supporting people with mental health problems into work. One of the most important features of IPS is that it’s based around each person’s aspirations and ambitions about returning to work. Mandatory requirements are completely inconsistent with what IPS is. Most funding for IPS services comes through the NHS and the healthcare system and not the Department for Work and Pensions.
Our 132 local Minds are independent charities that affiliate to Mind and as such have their own contracting and reporting arrangements. They report to us on their activities at the end of the financial year, which means we can’t give you the specific information you have requested about Local Minds and IPS at this time.
I know you have had previous concerns about the nature of other contracts our local Minds might be involved in. One of our core values is about being there for anyone who needs us, so it is only right that local Minds use their skills to offer support to people when they can and want to return to employment or need help to stay in work. I want to reassure you that the local Mind network shares our view that mandation and the threat of sanctions are counterproductive and completely unacceptable.
To take the Work and Health Programme as an example, as you know we were looking into it but once we saw there were elements of mandation in the whole contract, we walked away and sent a briefing to all local Minds detailing why. We have had very positive feedback from local Minds about our decision. It is possible that local Minds are involved in providing mental health services to people in the Work and Health Programme in some way - because of course the providers are partly responsible for signposting or referring people to local services to get support, which could be a local Mind as a local service provider. But we are all very clear that if there is any suggestion that accessing a local Mind service is mandatory then that is not acceptable.
How Mind works with employers
You can find all of our information aimed at employers on the workplace section of our website, including what causes poor mental health at work and what employers need to do to support their staff. This page in particular has reports and resources that should hopefully cover what you were looking for.
Alongside our work with employers, we know that precarious or insecure work can cause real issues for many people with mental health problems, and that too many people with mental health problems cannot access their rights and protections in the workplace. We are currently campaigning on these issues, including by highlighting the impact of legal aid cuts, and calling for improvements to the Equality Act.
Thank you for recognising the role we played in the changes around PIP. I would argue that it’s not true to say that we weren’t willing to pursue the outcomes of the WCA case. We did and we still are. The case played a vital role in helping to discredit the WCA and we have consistently used it to push for change. We share the MHRN’s disappointment and frustration at the lack of progress on the specific points covered by the Judicial Review and we continue to fight for change.
We campaign independently for a benefits and welfare system that works for people with mental health problems, including calling for an overhaul of fitness for work tests and a focus on support rather than sanctions. We don’t believe the current system works for people with mental health problems and have consistently spoken out about this.
Tom’s secondment has been one of a number of ways we have tried to influence Government policy on welfare, and as you can see from our clear stance on the recent row over PIP, it has in no way hampered our ability to campaign. If we were worried about protecting our relationship with the DWP we wouldn’t have got involved in a case that aimed to show the department had discriminated against people with mental health problems.
We have a proud history of campaigning on these issues. Where possible we want to have a meaningful conversation about what needs to change and to bring our experience to bear in useful ways. And, as evidenced by the fight around PIP, we don’t pull any punches when it comes to our campaigning work, and we will continue to fight for what is right in the future.
We have supported many people to share their stories in the media and online about the impact of welfare reforms. We know that the welfare system is flawed and is having harrowing consequences for some people. We are in touch with people who have lost loved ones in the most shocking and cruel circumstances when their benefits had been cut.
We will of course speak out vehemently if we feel decisions taken by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will be harmful to people living with mental health problems. You can see from our website the long history of our campaigning, the number of statements we have issued and the platform we have given to people with mental health problems to share their concerns.
We know that urgent reform is needed and we will continue to prioritise campaigning on this issue.
Who we represent
We provide advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem their needs and experiences will be incredibly diverse.
For some people good work with a supportive employer will play a positive role in their mental health recovery. For others it may never be appropriate. We recognise that everyone is individual, has different needs and is at different stages of their mental health journey.
I do understand your concerns and your frustrations about the state of the welfare system. I share many of them and I believe that we are on the same side so I want to extend, again, an invitation to come and meet with us and talk to us and see how we might work together. We have different strengths to bring to the table and having a conversation with us doesn’t have to undermine your independence.
Our priorities for the next few months are as follows – we would welcome a conversation with you about these and any other issues you think we should be addressing.
- Benefits assessments We know that PIP and ESA assessments are failing many people with mental health problems. Every week we talk to people who have seen blatant inaccuracies in their assessment report, who have been treated insensitively during their assessment, and who have seen their mental health suffer with the stress of repeated assessments and appeals. Last year we supported more than 500 people to share their experience of assessments, directly with the Work and Pensions Committee. Denise, a campaigner with her own experience of assessments, and David who regularly supports people with mental health problems through the process gave their own oral evidence for the inquiry. We’ll keep pushing for the Government to take action. That includes putting in place assessors who understand mental health, reducing the number of unnecessary assessments, and making the whole process far more transparent.
- Sanctions Benefit sanctions do nothing to help people with mental health problems, and the fear of sanctions undermines the stability and security people need to be able to focus on managing their mental health when they’re unwell. The roll-out of Universal Credit is expanding the role of sanctions to thousands more people with mental health problems and giving Jobcentre staff more discretion over what people with mental health problems can be required to do. We have been speaking up about this in the media and with our campaigners. Last year we supported nearly 3000 people with mental health problems to share their experience of sanctions and Jobcentre support directly with the Government, so they can see exactly what needs to change.
- Universal Credit roll-out We are already seeing the impact that the roll-out of Universal Credit is having on many people with mental health problems. Cuts to disability premiums are making life harder for people who live alone, and a combination of delays and administrative errors have pushed many people into debt. The reliance on an online journal and restrictions to the way advisers can support people, have locked too many people with mental health problems out of the system and left them unable to access their entitlements. It’s incredibly worrying that we have spoken to people who have been advised to nominate an appointee because of how inaccessible the system has been for them. We have been speaking out in the media, and will continue to campaign for changes to Universal Credit including basic safeguards for people who are too unwell to meet the requirements.
In addition you can read all of our policy briefings on welfare issues on our website.
I hope this answers everything you raised in your letter and that we can use this as the starting point for working together in future. If you would like to come and meet with me then I would be very happy to make that happen.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind