Mental health emergencies are the most frightening and time consuming I experience as a GP. Not because I lack the clinical skills to assess the patient, but because the resources are too thinly spread for me to get adequate timely care for them.
That’s the stark and honest assessment of GP Louise Hyde in response to an article published by The Guardian this time last week: Inside the UK’s mental health crisis: ‘It is my view that people will die’. The entire article makes sobering reading as columnist Amelia Gentleman reports on the effects that the government’s funding cuts are having on the ability of mental health support workers to deliver the care people need; and “people will die” as a result is the equally stark assessment of one senior nurse from which the article draws its title.
Here’s how Dr Hyde concludes her comment:
Under the recent austerity regime I have seen the most vulnerable patients suffering disproportionately, and this has a knock on effect on the severity of illness at every level, from turning minor stress to clinical depression, to destabilising those with chronic and enduring mental health problems. We need both social and political change to prevent worsening of our mental health problems, and adequate funding to ensure that when the very worst does happen there is a safety net in place.
This echoes precisely what we’ve been saying here at 5 Quid for Life since the day we launched: it’s why we’re here, to provide a mental health safety net, to help ensure that vulnerable people whose basic needs for life have been removed by the government’s austerity measures can live, not die. We can’t cover the funding gap in the NHS, of course, but we can help some of those facing crisis because their benefits have been axed.
But we can only help people if they know about us, so once again our appeal to you, our supporters and friends, is to help spread the word: if you haven’t already done so, please like our facebook page and share it; follow us on twitter, tweet about us or give us a retweet; or print out a flyer/poster and give it to your local library or ask your GP to display it in their waiting room.
Want to do even more? Please consider sending a copy of this post and the Guardian article to your MP — let them know how much damage the government’s cuts are causing, tell them what you and your friends are doing about it and ask them what they’re doing about it.
Last but not least, for those who’ve been asking what’s happening with 5 Quid for Life: we’re currently reviewing our ninth enquiry and expect to be able to make a decision about issuing a payment very soon. As always, a massive thank you to everyone who has supported the project so far: without your generosity, we’d be unable to help anyone. Your support changes lives and may even have saved some.
AT 5 QUID FOR LIFE we like to keep things simple, and that includes our decision making process when we’re responding to applications for help. That means, amongst other things, that our default position is trust: when someone contacts us with a request for help, we believe them.
We believe them because we also believe that the last thing someone needs when they’re facing the horrible combination of mental health problems and benefits cuts is more scepticism about what they’re going through; and the last thing we want to be is like the DWP/ESA which seem to have a default position of distrust, effectively branding everyone who needs welfare support a liar unless they can prove otherwise. We’re here to help, not to make people jump through hoops until they either collapse from exhaustion or go away and leave us alone.
What that doesn’t mean, however, is that we’re a walkover for anyone with a sob story: we have clearly defined eligibility criteria that applicants must meet, namely that they have mental health problems and that they are facing benefits cuts. We hold ourselves accountable to our supporters, many of whom have mental health difficulties themselves and are not much better off than the people we help: their money is precious, we hold it on trust, and we owe it to them — to you if you’re one of those supporters — to handle it responsibly, and we are determined to do so.
So when someone applies for our help we ask for two things: evidence of their mental health problems, which may involve written confirmation from their GP or another health professional; and evidence of their benefits situation, such as a copy or photograph of correspondence from the DWP/ESA. Without that evidence, which should be straightforward enough to provide in most cases, our constitution does not allow us to issue a payment. Once we have that evidence, our committee will discuss the application and, subject to any further clarification that may be needed, a payment will be issued.
This year so far we’ve responded to eight requests for help, of which four have resulted in formal applications, and two, in turn, have resulted in payments being made. Not every initial request is followed up by a formal application and without that step, of course, we’re unable to proceed any further. Of the two applications that haven’t resulted in a payment, one was unable to provide evidence of current mental health problems; the other remains open as we await more information.
It’s a genuine honour and privilege to have been able to make the payments that we have done, to be able to offer both hope and practical support to people at some of their darkest moments — and none of that would be possible without our fabulous supporters, so thank you, one and all: to those who give regularly; to those who make one-off donations; and to those who tweet and share via facebook and other social media.
Finally, a note for anyone thinking of applying for help: please do contact us; and please help us to help you by making sure you have the necessary evidence of your situation available when you apply. If you can email that to us, so much the better: it’s cheaper, for one thing, and faster. We ask for it not because we don’t believe you but because we owe it to our supporters to handle their gifts responsibly and to keep ourselves accountable.
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR when everyone’s after your money: every charity is out there with its begging bowl hoping to benefit from the Christmas spirit of generosity… which is fine if you’ve got cash to spare.
But lots of people haven’t got cash to spare because their benefits have been cut or their winter fuel bills are set to rise. All in all, for many it’s set to be a grim time of year, not a happy one.
This is where you come in, with us at 5 Quid for Life. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters we now have a steady income of £115 per month and almost £3,000 in the bank. So instead of putting out our begging bowl along with all the other wonderful and good causes out there, we’re tipping ours up: our Christmas appeal is this:
Please help us to help you help your friends.
Spread the word. Tell the world we’re here. Tell them we’ve got money to help them through the hard times. We are a mental health safety net and if you’re in the UK, have mental health problems and are facing financial crisis because of benefit cuts, give us a shout. Check our eligibility page and if that’s you, contact us: if we can help, we will.
Help us to help your friends have a happy Christmas, not a grim one.
Easy Ways to Spread the Word:
- Online, please tell your friends on facebook; upload our logo to pinterest; tweet us; or if you’re a blogger, please consider cross-posting any of our posts or pages.
- Offline, please share the love with our @5QuidForLife flyer and poster: they’re pdf downloads, A4 or 2 x A5, ready for you to print out and put up on your local community noticeboard, in your local library, health centre waiting room or anywhere else that will let you.
IF YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH IT you’ll know what we’re talking about: the Work Capability Assessment. The clue is in the name: it’s a test used by the DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) to decide who is fit for work; and it’s a test that’s been found wanting under judicial review as unfair for people with mental health problems. But it’s still in use, with no effective steps yet taken by the DWP to address that unfairness. 
The problem with the test is that those taking it are expected to gather their own evidence in support of their case — which is fine if you’re capable; but if you’re incapacitated by mental illness? In the words of Rethink, “It’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre.”
Dick Acworth is a man who knows from experience just how unfair the WCA is after seeing his own son, who has bipolar disorder, face it — not once but twice, despite an appeal result that threw out the first assessment! Dick’s son was fortunate: his parents were there to fight for him and eventually the DWP backed down, acknowledging a breakdown in communications:
Eventually the DWP called me to apologise for what had happened – it seems there had been a problem with communication between departments. But if my son didn’t have parents to support him, I don’t know what he would have done – he might have thought he’d have to go through the whole thing again, or he might have simply given up like so many seem to.
Not everyone has their parents or a close network of supportive friends on standby, and that’s one of the reasons Dick has now launched a petition to Iain Duncan-Smith at the DWP calling upon him “to stop re-assessments for people with mental health problems until your fit-for-work test is fixed.”
Here at 5 Quid for Life, we agree with Dick. We believe the WCA is not fit for purpose: it’s the WCA itself that needs to be reassessed; and we’ve signed Dick’s petition. We’re asking you to sign it too: please join us in calling upon Iain Duncan-Smith to reassess his department’s assessment test; and to suspend it until it is fit for purpose.
Please sign the Petition: www.iagreewithdick.org
1. A call for evidence for the Fourth independent review into the Work Capability Assessment was launched on 1st July 2013. According to the DWP press release, “Over 40 recommendations have been, or are being, implemented including … introducing 60 mental health champions into assessment centres to provide advice to Atos healthcare professionals”. We have yet to see any evidence of the presence of these “mental health champions” or their influence, but we stand ready to be corrected: if you know better, please tell us!
A BRIEF NOTE to say a huge thank you to all our supporters: to everyone who keeps cheering us on with tweets, facebook shares and messages behind the scenes; and especially to those whose kind donations make 5 Quid for Life possible.
Opening our latest bank statement this morning, I was delighted to discover a significant increase in the project’s income over the last month: an extra £145 on top of the regular £40 per month we’ve become used to. £100 of that was a one-off donation; the other £45 consisted of several smaller donations of £5 and £10, some of which are new standing orders. I was particularly touched by one donation which had “sent with love xxx” as a reference: thank you, one and all.
Here’s a summary of our accounts to date:
Given away: £400.00
You’ll find these figures updated every month in the sidebar: scroll down to the ‘Donation Tracker’, just below the stats.
We’ve been busy dealing with a number of enquiries as the impact of the changes to the benefits system hits home and word about 5 Quid for Life spreads. Three of those enquiries have led to formal applications for help, two of which have resulted in payments of £200 each; the third application is still under review.
Finally for now: please continue to spread the word. If you know someone with mental health problems whose benefits have been cut, please don’t hesitate to point them in our direction; and if that person is you, please don’t hesitate to ask. We may not be able to help everyone, but we will always do our best for anyone who asks.
(pdf, 2 pages A4, 82kb)
For immediate release, 14/6/2013
Breaking the Fall
5 QUID FOR LIFE passed an important milestone this week as it made its first Mental Health Safety Net payment to a person who had lost their benefits as a result of the government’s welfare reforms.
The recipient’s identity must remain confidential but we can reveal what is becoming an all-too-familiar story: a person suffering with and on medication for long-term mental health difficulties, including depression. Loss of benefits inevitably made things worse leaving them with no income and rent arrears. A family member said, “It’s a long story of poor care for people with poor mental health and cannot be told quickly; but what can be done quickly is to pull the rug out from under the feet of people who need it — then there they are, in a heap on the floor!”
5 Quid for Life exists to catch those people, ideally before they hit the floor but, failing that, to help them back onto their feet: we are a mental health safety net.
On authorising the payment, Phil Groom, project founder and acting finance officer, issued a short statement via facebook:
“I am both saddened and delighted to report that 5 Quid for Life has today issued its first Mental Health Safety Net payment: saddened that it was necessary; delighted that it was possible.” He went on to thank the project’s supporters and invited others facing similar situations to get in touch: “Although we have limited funds available, we will always do our best to help where we can.”
Another long term supporter of the project, who has asked not to be named, said, “We know that this shouldn’t be necessary, but we also know that it is! From personal experience I can tell you that as well as the practical help money brings, the knowledge that someone listens, understands and cares is immensely beneficial emotionally and mentally. It is the antidote to the bitterness, suspicion and misunderstanding usually dealt out.”
More and more people are finding themselves in crisis since the government began to roll out its reforms to welfare system. 5 Quid for Life does not dispute that reforms are necessary, but we object strongly to the heartless way in which those changes are being implemented. There is no doubt that there are some scroungers out there, but the government’s approach is like that of a frustrated school teacher: unable to work out which child wrote rude words on the blackboard, he puts the whole class in detention.
Everyone on the 5 Quid for Life team has personal experience of mental illness, some their own, some affecting friends and family. Even though one in four people in the general population have such experience, people with mental health problems are amongst the most maligned and misunderstood members of our society. Our conversations with mentally ill people have consistently shown that there’s nothing they’d like more than to be fit for work. When a person’s mind is dysfunctional they are at their most vulnerable: withdrawing essential support in an attempt to force them into work is more likely to be the tipping point that pushes them over the edge into even deeper despair — and the possibility of suicide — than it is ever likely to help them.
Notes for Editors
5 Quid for Life is a small charitable trust which provides financial support to people with mental health problems who have lost benefits as a result of the government’s welfare reforms. The project was launched in January 2011 following Phil Groom’s response to a friend who declared that she would take her own life rather than be forced to revisit the trauma of her past in a benefits entitlement reassessment. Phil’s logic was simple: if he could find 200 people each willing to contribute £5 per month, this would secure a regular monthly income of £1,000 for his friend if her benefits were stopped.
He created a facebook group, people joined and began to offer help. The friend concerned suggested that the project should broaden its horizons: she was not the only one terrified by the idea of having to revisit the issues that had caused her mental health breakdown — and so 5 Quid for Life was born. Our aim: to encourage people to give, ideally to commit to regular giving of £5 per month, to enable us to offer a life-saving safety net beneath the benefits system. 5 Quid for Life, because we think life is worth far more than five quid, but if enough of us stand together with our fivers ready, a network of friends standing in solidarity with those battling mental illness, then lives can and will be saved: A Mental Health Safety Net.
For the full story, please see our first post on our website: Welcome to 5 Quid for Life. Phil is available for interview by email, via facebook or by phone: please see the Contact Information section below.
Many other individuals and organisations have expressed concerns about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms upon vulnerable people, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who recently said that the changes to the benefits system could set the clock back for disabled people by as much as 30 years. 5 Quid for Life, however, is one of the few organisations that exists specifically to lessen that impact by providing financial support to those affected.
We are not a registered charity because the Charity Commission does not allow organisations with an annual income below £5,000 to register. We hope to pass that threshold soon and will then register.
The best way to contact us is online, via our Contact Us page. Most members of the team may also be contacted via facebook: see our About page. Personal contact information is available in the full version of this press release which is being distributed to media contacts: if you are a journalist interested in running this story and have not received a copy, please ask.
Please ensure that any spam filters on your email are set to allow incoming messages from 5quidforlife.org.uk addresses. Alternatively, if you have no spam filters, please check your “junk” or “spam” folder on your email.
YOU MAY WELL ASK, and I must apologise for yet another long silence; but please rest assured, we are still here.
First of all, my thanks to everyone who has supported the project so far in so many different ways, whether by tweeting, blogging, facebooking, other reporting or by giving, both of money and of time: you rock, each and every one of you.
When we first launched 5 Quid for Life our plan was to formally register as a charity: that has proved impossible simply because the Charity Commission does not allow organisations with an annual income below £5k to register (see: Charity Commission » When to register), and as I write our total income to date is £2,728.88. This has accrued from our early donations along with a few one-off donations and a steady monthly income of £40 contributed via standing order by six regular supporters. If you’d like to join that band of supporters, you’ll find our bank details in the sidebar on every page » Make a Donation: please do consider it.
We went on to explore the possibility of applying for recognition as a charity for tax purposes with HMRC but the process proved too convoluted and time-consuming for any of us to take forward. We have therefore concluded that we must remain what we already are for all practical purposes: a trust fund, holding monies received ready to give out to applicants who meet our eligibility criteria  — unless, that is, anyone reading this has the necessary expertise and time to complete an application for HMRC recognition for us. Could that person be you? If so, please leave a comment or give us a shout: we’d love to hear from you.
Last but certainly not least, because this is the reason we are here: we have received two enquiries from people wanting to know how to apply for assistance but neither of them have actually followed that up.
Our eligibility criteria are very simple: we provide crisis support for people with mental health difficulties who:
- have lost their benefits
- or are not able to apply for benefit
- or have been notified that they are going to lose their benefits
If you meet those criteria, please contact us and we will then ask you to complete an online application form or, if your prefer, send you a form in the post. Please note that support is currently limited to a maximum of £200 per application and is normally restricted to two payments in any 12 month period. All payments are subject to available funds.
BRITAIN, so David Cameron tells us in his New Year message, is “heading in the right direction”:
We are still dealing with debts that built up over many years. And for many families, making ends meet is difficult. So to anyone starting this New Year with questions about where we are heading and what the future holds, I want to reassure you of this: we are on the right track. On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it.
Splendid. So perhaps, David, you can explain why on earth a project such as this, 5 Quid for Life, is necessary? Why do those on benefits whose mental health is such that they are unable to work need a safety net such as this?
Admittedly, we’ve been quiet: the real damage that your changes to the benefits system will unleash upon some of the most vulnerable people in our society has yet to be seen; and the reassurance you offer rings hollow in view of what lies ahead for them.
You say, “When people say we’ve got to stop our welfare reforms because somehow it is cruel to expect people to work, we are saying no.”
Who, exactly, is saying this, please, David? I’ve googled the phrase “it is cruel to expect people to work” and the only person I’ve found using it is you. Ever heard the term “straw man”, David? They’re very easy to knock down. In some ways, sadly, that makes them rather like people with mental health problems: very easy to knock down. The difference is that with a straw man, there’s no blood spilt, no pain: everything just blows away in the wind.
But people… well, David, I find myself wondering: do you even recognise those with mental health problems as people? Or are they just another easy target, like the homeless, out there selling the Big Issue? “On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction…”
Did you watch Mr Stink in the run up to Christmas, David? Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. He was the stinkiest stinker who ever lived… but as the story goes on, a more serious stench emerges: the stench of hypocrisy from politicians who want to either sweep the problem people away or use them for their own ends. But you’re not like that, are you? Are you?
Dear David, it isn’t cruel to expect people to work; far from it, in fact: most of those I know with mental health problems would love nothing more than the ability to work. They’d love to be able to hold down a job, to make their own way in society without our support.
But here in the real world, the world of real people rather than straw men, life’s not that simple. The changes you’re making to the benefits system won’t just blow away the straw men in your fantasy world where everyone can work: those changes are likely to blow away real people.
That’s why we’re here. That’s why 5 Quid for Life exists: a mental health safety net to catch the people — or some of them, at least — that you seem set to blow away.
You’re right in the things that you affirm, David: “Getting people into good jobs is absolutely vital, not just for them, but for all of us.” I love that you’ve used the term “good jobs” there: it gives me hope that you’re not simply set on forcing people into any old job regardless. Perhaps you’d care to reinforce that at the sharp end of the welfare system, to emphasise to your colleagues in the Job Centres that any old job won’t do, that the work needs to be appropriate? Because that’s not the message that most of those who are unemployed are receiving, is it? It’s more a case of, “Take this job or we’ll stop your benefits” — with all that that implies about loss of housing, food and everything else people need to live.
And that isn’t good for anything except, perhaps, your statistics. It doesn’t help a worker to be forced into an inappropriate job; it doesn’t help employers. Worst of all, however, it doesn’t help those who can’t work: they need our support, and lumping everyone on benefits together as no-good scroungers, as work-shy parasites, does no one any good. On the contrary, for those with mental health problems, it drives them deeper into despair. Is the sense of shame and self-hate that many of them feel not good enough for you? Must you hammer their fragile psyches into submission until their entire world collapses and their only way is out?
So this is my message to the country at the start of 2013. We can look to the future with realism and optimism. Realism, because you can’t cure problems, that were decades in the making, overnight. There are no quick fixes and I wouldn’t claim otherwise. But we can be optimistic too because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what’s right for our country and what’s best for our children’s future. And nothing could be more important than that.
Again, you’re right in what you affirm: there are no quick fixes. But the future you’re holding out to us is not a future of “realism and optimism” unless you’re in the exceptionally privileged position that those such as yourself occupy. It is, rather, a future of increasing futility and distress for the most vulnerable members of our society, which is neither right for the country nor best for anyone’s future, least of all for those children growing up to face that future; and nothing could be more important than that.
David Cameron, I wish you a Happy New Year and best wishes for 2013; and I hope and pray that you will rethink your policies and apply them in a way that offers genuine hope for the future in place of your blind optimism that refuses to see reality as it is for the majority of those whom you, I trust, seek to serve.