2014 Winter : News

Depressed at workGet people with mental health problems off mainstream back to work schemes says Mind

1st December 2014

Mind is calling for all people with mental health problems to be taken off mainstream Government back-to-work schemes and moved onto a specialist programme.

Research from the mental health charity has found that support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is damaging people’s health and making them feel less able to work than when they started. At the same time, these schemes are ineffective for people with mental health problems, as only 5 per cent of people have actually been helped into work.

Mind surveyed 439 people who were receiving support primarily because of their mental health. Eighty three per cent said using back-to-work services through the Work Programme and/or Jobcentre Plus had made their mental health worse or much worse, 83 per cent said their self-esteem had got worse or much worse and 82 per cent agreed that their confidence was worse or much worse. So it’s hardly surprising that three quarters (76 per cent) of those polled said they felt less able to work as a result of being on these schemes.

Prison GuardWhat are prisons for?

Inside Time
December 2014

A R Mears asks the question about which we all want to know the answer.

The question that requires an answer when considering the penal system is, quite simply, 'What are prisons for?' If this cannot be answered, then there cannot be proposals to rectify a failing system. Simply stating that 'Prison Works' only raises the question 'Works to do what?' Does it reduce crime? The evidence for its failure to do this is our massive reconviction rates. In 1997 Stephen Tumin, reflecting on his time as Chief Inspector of Prisons, in predicting the future wrote 'The outlook is gloomy, with policies encouraging overcrowding, and cutting staff and budgets so that many inadequate people will be deprived of the education and psychiatric help they need'. After 17 years his prediction is amazingly accurate. Prisons are still overcrowded and now dangerously understaffed.

An answer to the vexed question 'What are prisons for?' is not so difficult once the history of prison is consulted. They are for 'correction'. To replace bad behaviour with good behaviour. This was the original purpose of the Houses of Correction set up centuries ago. Once the vagrants whose anti-social behaviour troubled our Elizabethan ancestors had been rounded up by the parish constables, they were set to work idleness corrupts, now as then. Lying around in a cell was not an option in those days. Houses of Correction were to be supplied with materials for making useful goods, not just counting screws into little bags for DIY stores at minimum wages. They were meant to convince the idle that work was a 'good thing'. Prisoners know that work is a good thing but the current austerity drive has closed the workshops. Severe staff cuts are keeping more people in their cells for longer times preventing them working. Such actions initiated from the top, by those dealing only in cost accounting with no concerns for the lives of people, lead irresistibly to failure.

DepressionPeople With Mental Health Problems Hammered By Sickness Benefit Sanctions

Welfair Weekly
10th December 2014

More than 60% of adverse Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions decisions made during the first three months of 2014 were against people with mental health issues or behavioral problems, new figures show.

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a Freedom of Information Request, show that 9,851 adverse benefit sanctions decisions were made against ESA claimants with mental or behavioural disorders between January to March 2014.

This compares to:

  • 508 adverse sanctions decisions against ESA claimants with diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
  • 1,598 against those with diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
  • 571 against people with diseases of the nervous system.
  • 714 against people with injuries, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes.
  • 2,727 against those with other health conditions or disabilities.

A DWP official said benefit sanctions are used to encourage people to “engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres, by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits.”

However, charities and medical experts say people with mental health issues, learning problems and behavioral disorders often struggle to understand what is required of them in return for their benefits. Following strict requirements can prove to be more difficult for these groups of people, without additional support and guidance.

Commenting on similar figures from November 2013, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said:

“We’re very concerned that an increasing number of people on ESA are having their benefits stopped, despite the fact that there are now fewer people in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).”

Increase in Drug UseA letter to David Cameron: The UK's Drug Policy is not ‘Working’!


3rd December 2014

Dear Prime Minister

We have written to you on several occasions to highlight the harms of the current criminal justice approach to drugs, showing you how our drug laws disproportionately impact on black and Asian communities and the damage done by criminalising tens of thousands of people every year. In fact, we have told you that in the last 15 years 1.5 million British citizens have been criminalised for simple possession of drugs, impacting on their education and employment opportunities.

You are also fully aware of the international dimension to this, of the damage caused by the ‘drug war’ in countries such as Mexico where they’ve witnessed 100,000 people killed in 8 years as a direct result of the drugs trade.

One would imagine that based on the evidence, you would consider an alternative approach, something you strongly advocated in 2002. Yet, to all of this you have responded that you are confident that the current approach is the right one: drug use in the UK is falling after all, you say.

On December 2, the Health and Social Care Information Centre published "Statistics on Drug Misuse: England 2014" and it shows that our approach to drugs is failing across a number of criteria, not least your own of falling drug use. Some of the main findings include:

  • Drug use has increased -- in 2013/14 the number of adults aged 16 to 59 who reported using illicit substances in the last year increased from 8.1 per cent in 2012/13 to 8.8 per cent. The increase amongst 16 to 24-year-olds is even more pronounced, rising from 16.2 to 18.9 per cent during the same period. Across this data there have been statistically significant increases in the last 12 months in relation to 16 to 24-year-olds who are reporting more "frequent drug use" and "stimulant" drug use.
  • Hospital admissions for drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders have increased by 8.5 per cent from 6,549 incidents in 2012/13 to 7,104 in 2013/14.
  • Poisonings by illicit drugs (primary diagnosis) have increased by 13.7 per cent in the last 12 months from 12,238 to 13,917 admissions. In the last 10 years admissions related to poisoning have increased by 76.7 per cent.

On this evidence, we would counter the notion that UK drug policy is working; even by your own standards of "falling drug use," it is clear the current approach does not work.

A Pile of Pound CoinsWe Risk an Economic Recovery Built on Rising Poverty

Joseph Rowntree Foundation
A3rd December 2014

Responding to the Autumn Statement, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Julia Unwin, said:

“George Osborne has high hopes for 2020, but we know for the worst off families the forecasts are heading in the wrong direction, with one in four expected to be living in poverty by then. There was little in this Statement to tackle the causes of poverty and it was a missed opportunity to support low income families. Without action, we risk an economic recovery built on rising poverty and insecurity.”

““Raising the personal tax allowance is an expensive way of helping the working poor – most of the additional money will actually go to better off families, while poorer families only keep a third of the tax cut. Raising the Work Allowance would have been a much more effective way of making work pay for those in poverty. Stamp Duty is a long overdue reform, but the measure stokes demand and does little to boost supply, which is badly needed to end the housing crisis and bring down the high cost of housing.”

JRF’s recent state of the nation report written by the New Policy Institute sets out how the economic recovery is affecting people and places in poverty. The report shows there has been a vast increase in insecure work – zero hours contracts, part time work and low-paid self-employment, which means that getting a job does not necessarily mean getting out of poverty:

  • Two thirds of people who moved from unemployment into work in the last year are paid below the Living Wage The long term prospects for people in low paid work are not good either: only a fifth of low paid employees have left low paid work completely 10 years later
  • The average self-employed person earns 13% less than they did five years ago
  • There are around 1.4m contracts not guaranteeing a minimum number of hours, and over half are in the lower-paying food, accommodation, retail and admin sectors

Cuts Kill Protest BannerDWP admits investigating 60 benefit-related deaths since 2012

Disability News Service
14th November 2014

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out 60 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths in less than three years, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

DWP released the figures in response to a series of Freedom of Information Act (FoI) requests by DNS.

It said in one response that DWP had carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” since February 2012.

There have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim process, or the refusal or removal of ESA and other benefits, including the writer Paul Reekie, who killed himself in 2010, and the deaths of Nick Barker, Jacqueline Harris, Ms DE, and Brian McArdle.

The Scottish-based, user-led campaign group Black Triangle has collected more than 40 examples of people – most of them disabled – who appear to have died as a result of being found “fit for work” through a work capability assessment (WCA), or having their entitlement to benefits otherwise refused or removed.

Many of the cases became widely-known through media reports of inquests, but in the case of Ms DE, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the WCA process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”.

But DWP has consistently denied any connection between the coalition’s welfare reforms and cuts and the deaths of benefit claimants.

This week, DWP also released guidance used by its staff to decide whether a peer review was necessary, and guidance for authors of a peer review.

This reveals that the role of a review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, while a review must be carried out in every case where “suicide is associated with DWP activity”.

Food BankIn their own words: the astonishing rise of food banks

8th December 2014

Witnesses to the all-party inquiry into food poverty graphically reveal both the causes of UK food poverty and the devastating human impact

The all-party parliamentary group on food poverty and hunger gathered some astonishing and often harrowing evidence from food bank clients, volunteers, public servants and the charities during its eight-month inquiry during April and November this year.

It found hunger was affecting people all over the country: in urban and rural areas, in wealthy towns and deprived neighbourhoods, with often devastating effects on lives and families.

Here's a flavour of the evidence, which cumulatively describes the reasons for both the rapid escalation of food banks, the scale of foodpoverty, and its human impact. The inquiry found food banks have become an emergency response to a dramatic recent rise in food poverty, even in traditionally poor areas, Nigel Hughes, the chief Executive of YMCA Wirral told the inquiry:

This area [Wirral] has had a number of problems with deprivation for a long time. But it has never, ever reached the point as it has recently where deprivation necessitates the urgent forming of a food bank.

But it is not just poorer areas which has seen people going hungry. The social responsibility adviser to the Diocese of Oxford, Alison Webster, said:

This is the town [in wealthy Berkshire] where one of the three food bank directors discovered a woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy and her partner living in a child's toy tent in winter, with nothing to eat, down a lane less than 200 yards from one of the churches.

Some charities were taken aback by their unexpected new role as a sticking plaster for gaps in the welfare state. Mark Goodway, director ofThe Matthew Tree Project in Bristol, told the inquiry:

What we were set up to do in the first place wasn't to support people with no money at all because their benefits had been withdrawn. That wasn't what we were all about. We've been sucked in by accident. What we were about was helping people with deep-seated, long-term problems. We'd like to give the limited resource we've got to those people. But we're regularly supporting people with benefit delays for 6, 8 or 12 weeks, otherwise they'd have nothing.

Working parents go cut back on foodHousing costs forcing working parents to cut back on food

29th August 2014

Over one in three working parents in England are having to cut back on buying food to be able to afford their rent or mortgage, new research from Shelter reveals today.

The YouGov poll also found that one in ten parents had had to skip whole meals to be able to pay for their homes.

Shelter is warning that millions of working families, whose monthly budgets are already stretched to breaking point by high housing costs, are at serious risk of losing their home if they face any sudden cut in income or further price rises.

The research highlights the very real tough choices parents are having to make to stay in their homes. Over a million working parents said they’d put off buying their children new shoes, and one in ten said they’d had to put off buying new school uniforms to pay their rent or mortgage.


Bedroom TaxBedroom tax: the Coalition's welfare Achilles' heel

The Guardian
5th September 2014

The government's unexpected defeat over the Affordable Homes private members bill is the latest in a series of bedroom tax-related setbacks for ministers

The bedroom tax has always been the Achilles Heel of the Coalition's politically near-impregnable welfare reform agenda, and Friday's Affordable Homes bill defeat in the Commons practically guarantees that it will continue to discomfort ministers right through to the general election.

It remains to be seen whether the private member's bill piloted by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George will make it through to the statute book, but the vote means that the bill will now proceed to committee stage for further scrutiny, and potentially on to the Lords, keeping the issue high on the agenda for the next few months.

The bill itself does not scrap the bedroom tax but dilutes its impact, proposing three major exemptions: disabled tenants whose social home have been specially adapted; disabled tenants in receipt of disability living allowance who are unable to share a bedroom; and under-occupying tenants who have not received an alternative offer of accommodation from their landlord.

The vote also crystallised widening political divisions within the Coalition in the run up to the general election. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, who had voted for the bedroom tax two years ago, tweeted on Friday that he was:

Absolutely delighted that the bill… to fix the Tories' bedroom tax has passed thanks to Lib Dem and Labour MPs


Save the NHS'Community nurses do have the power to save our NHS'

Nursing Times
19th September 2014

In advance of the Queen’s Nursing Institute’s annual conference, I have been reflecting on the collective power of community nurses to improve the health of our nation - and when I say “community nurses” I mean nurses across the whole range of specialties.

We are there to support people at every stage of life, often when they are at their most vulnerable.

At the start of life, midwives provide expert, skilled care with parents increasingly requesting a home delivery. Within two weeks, midwives hand over care of the new family member to a health visitor or family nurse, who offers support until the family’s youngest child starts school. Significant investment in the health visiting service in recent years has raised expectations about the opportunity to improve the health of our younger population, for example by reducing the prevalence of obesity and other lifestyle diseases.

School nurses continue this public-health approach, promoting and supporting health and wellbeing - including providing safeguarding activity and offering sexual health advice - to schoolchildren. Young people who move on to higher education may go to university-based practice nurses for immunisation, cervical screening and family planning services. Those who go straight to work may engage with occupational health nurses.

Racism in FootballEnglish football failed black players in the past and now it is failing the next generation too

The Mirror
27th August 2014

Ricky Hill is one of the many who have suffered at the hands of England’s white football establishment, writes Ollie Holt

Ricky Hill is 55. He knows it is probably too late for him now. He knows it is probably too late for him to have the career he should have had in English football management. It is probably too late for him to be given the opportunity he should have been given. He is, as he says, one of the lost generation of black English coaches shunned by the professional game in this country.

Hill, who won three England caps under Sir Bobby Robson in the mid-1980s, is in his second spell as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL, effectively the second division of US domestic football. He has won awards and championships there in his years in charge but has never been offered the chance to come back home. He won awards and championships, too, when he turned Trinidad side San Juan Jabloteh into one of the best club sides in north and central America. He is one of the many who have suffered at the hands of England’s white football establishment.

One of the many never given a chance by a hierarchy that last week tried to pass off racist abuse between Malky Mackay and Iain Moody as ‘friendly banter’. Hill can reel off a list of names of black ex-players of his vintage whose dreams of a managerial career were kicked to the kerb without respect or acknowledgement.

“Vince Hilaire, Bob Hazell, Luther Blissett, Cyrille Regis, Mark Chamberlain,” Hill said yesterday. “I could go on and on and on.”

Man in despairIs it time for a mental health waiting target?

17th September 2014

Waiting time targets have become synonymous with the NHS in England. They apply to everything from A&E units and ambulance calls outs to routine surgery and cancer treatment.

But it's not just an English phenomenon. Other countries in the UK have introduced their own.

The exception is mental health. It should come as no surprise - mental health care is often said to be the poor cousin of the NHS family. Figures show that the condition gets 11% of the budget, but accounts for 28% of the disease burden.

The result is that many people go without help. An estimated three quarters of people with a mental illness receive no treatment. For physical disorders, the rate is nearer a quarter.

Research released this week by We Need to Talk, a coalition of mental health charities and royal colleges, shows this can have devastating consequences.

The group carried out a survey of 2,000 patients who had spent time waiting for psychological therapies. It found of those that faced long waits or went without care, four in 10 had harmed themselves and one in six attempted suicide.

council thinks againCouncil thinks again over POhWER contract

Disability News Service
12th September 2014

A local authority has been persuaded to think again over its decision to award a contract to a national charity at the expense of a local disabled people’s organisation (DPO).

Real has been providing direct payments support to disabled people in the London borough of Tower Hamlets for eight years, but was facing possible closure after losing out in a “competitive procurement exercise” to the national charity POhWER.

Real accused POhWER of “unfair competition” by using its financial might – it has an annual turnover of nearly £10 million a year – to win the contract provisionally, with a bid of £199,000 for a contract the council had valued at £354,000 a year.

Real put in its own bid of £353,000, and scored the highest of all seven bidders on “quality”, while its most recent survey of service-users found 100 per cent of those questioned agreed they had been given helpful information and support on how to manage direct payments.

More than 40 banner-waving disabled people and their supporters lobbied councillors outside the council offices last week in protest at the decision to award the contract to POhWER.

In a “very unusual” move, the council’s overview and scrutiny committee voted unanimously later that evening to ask the independent elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to reconsider his decision to award the contract to POhWER.

Rahman has now agreed to look again at the award of the contract.

Breaking Point60% Of Family Carers Pushed To ‘Breaking Point’, Warns Charity

Welfare News Service
24th September 2014

Research from Carers UK found that six in ten people who care for elderly or disabled relatives, including severely ill and disabled children, are suffering from physical and mental breakdown, with a quarter requiring medical treatment as a result.

Around 46% of UK carers reported that they had fallen ill due to the pressures of caring for loved-ones. One in nine of those carers said they have had to be rushed into hospital, the research shows. Half (50%) said they had suffered a physical injury as a result of a deterioration in their health.

Carers UK say that 63% of family carers have suffered from depression and 79% reported anxiety problems.

The charity warns that £3.5 billion in government cuts to local authority social care funding, and changes to social security benefits, will mean that even more family carers will face crisis in years to come. Carers benefits alone face cuts of up to £1 billion.

“Insufficient support from health and social care services is leaving carers isolated, burnt out and unable to look after their own health”, the report says. Others have been forced to give up work, “when it all becomes too much”, or dip into their own diminished savings to help pay for the care of elderly or disabled relatives.

Carers UK warns that reducing support for carers is “unsustainable” and will ultimately have a negative impact upon public services, such as the NHS, and the UK economy as a whole.

Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK said:

“For millions of families, caring for older or disabled loves ones means a daily battle with exhaustion, stress and anxiety.

“Carers reported exhaustion, suffering physical injury and collapsing from stress and anxiety as they struggled to care for ageing parents with conditions like dementia, severely disabled children or seriously ill partners.

“A fifth of carers were receiving no practical help at all – leaving them unable to take a break from caring or even get a good night’s sleep.”

Carers UK say that with an ageing population more and more people will find themselves having to carer for older or disabled relatives.

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