IT’S EASY TO BE CYNICAL. My first response when I saw this tweet from DWP was to scream outrage at their blatant hypocrisy. After all, we’ve just read Bessie’s story courtesy of Frances Ryan in the Guardian, and last week 5 Quid for Life issued another two cheques to people who have had their benefits axed by the DWP despite medical evidence declaring them unfit for work.
There’s no two ways about it: the way the DWP treats people with mental health difficulties is outrageous, pulling the rug from under their feet when they’re at their most vulnerable — this is not the way a civilised society should be treating its weakest members.
But then I thought again: is this tweet hypocrisy or is it a sign that somebody at the DWP is in fact listening? I know from my own experience of claiming benefits during a three month spell of unemployment earlier this year that not everyone who works for the DWP is a heartless bean-counting bureaucrat: some of them really do want to help. They too have families and—just as easily as anyone else—they too could find themselves on the other side of their desks, demoralised, out of work and claiming benefits.
It’s a nightmare situation that none of us want to face, and it’s an even worse nightmare when your mind is skewered by anxiety, depression, self-doubt or other mental health disorders. What you need in that situation isn’t threats and sanctions, driving you deeper into despair: you need encouragement and support with clear lines of communication, someone you can turn to for help.
So that’s my answer to the DWP’s question: if you’re serious about working together to help people with mental health issues into employment, drop the bullying tactics. Put down the stick, bring on the carrot. Make time to work with people, to understand their difficulties, and provide the support they need.
Believe people. Listen. If someone doesn’t turn up for an appointment or doesn’t attend an interview, find out why. Don’t just turn to your computer screen and hit that button which churns out those impersonal letters you’re so fond of to tell someone their benefits are being stopped. Stop. Think. Make it personal: put yourself in their shoes. Write, phone or email: do all three if you have to. No reply? Get out from behind your desk, put your coat on and go pay a home visit. Think. Think again. Take a bunch of flowers or a food parcel if that’s what’s needed: show them you’re a friend, out to support them, not an enemy out to bring them down.
Yes, you’ll need safeguarding procedures in place, but that’s all part of what supporting people is about; and that, dear DWP people, is your bottom line: support. Not the budget. Not the economy. Support.
And yes, I know this is a sea change I’m calling for. But it’s the change you need to make, to turn the tide. You say you want to help people into employment: then restore their dignity instead of sweeping it away. Show people respect to help them regain their self-respect. Show people they’re worth something to society and they’ll want to contribute to that society; show them they’re worthless and all they’ll want to do is hide or die. In a simple sentence that I hope you’ll recognise, treat others the way you’d like them to treat you.
There are no guarantees, of course, and this isn’t the full story. Mental health difficulties can’t simply be overcome by positive thinking and cheering people on: the support needs to be ongoing and personal, in the workplace as well as on the way there. You’ll need to put comprehensive support structures in place for employers too. But make this your starting point and we’re in with a chance.
In the meantime, we’re still here at 5 Quid for Life to pick up the pieces when you get it wrong; but I’d much rather you made us unnecessary.
That’s my answer to the DWP’s question: what’s yours? Leave us a comment — and don’t forget to click through the link in their tweet to have your say in the consultation:
AS POSTED on our facebook page this morning:
This week @5QuidForLife we passed a significant milestone: we’ve now given away £1,000. That’s 5 people who have fallen through the benefits system, through what’s supposed to be a safety net for all of us but which — courtesy of the present government’s welfare reforms — is no longer fit for purpose. Fortunately for those five people, we were there, a mental health safety net underneath the benefits system.
That, dear friends, is thanks to you, our supporters: you’re the people who have made this possible and I salute you from the bottom of my heart. By supporting 5 Quid for Life — whether that’s by giving or by sharing — you’re making a real difference to people’s lives, helping to pick up the pieces after the system drops them. THANK YOU SO MUCH on behalf of the people we’ve helped. Those words feel completely inadequate to express the way I feel about what you have made possible, and the way I know, from the messages we receive, the people we’ve helped feel — so I’ll repeat them: THANK YOU SO MUCH.
Please continue to give if you can and please continue to share: too many people who need our help simply don’t know we’re here. You can change that by sharing, here on facebook, via twitter and even offline too with our poster and flyer: why not print one out today and see if your local library will display it? Or maybe your GP in their waiting room? Anywhere and everywhere — that café on the high street you love to go to? Here’s the link: Share the love with our brand new @5QuidForLife flyer and poster!
Thank you – Phil x
Boudicca Rising, our Project Manager, writes:
When I drafted this blog, one of our members said “good stuff, albeit grim. However, it’s where we are”. No truer words and all that.
After a brief hiatus in which nothing much seemed to happen, we have had a small flurry of requests for urgent help from people who are desperate to survive in the current climate of benefit sanctions and hysteria around benefit claimants.
Just imagine if you can, being ill. Imagine being in a cold flat or house, with no money for heating. Or food.
Imagine having a baby and having to choose whether the baby ate, or was warm.
Imagine having to sit through an assessment where an ATOS advisor asks you why you hadn’t killed yourself: Work capability assessor asked why depressed claimant had not committed suicide.
… the assessors’ attitude seemed to be that she couldn’t be depressed if she had not already killed herself.
Imagine if you can, the sheer desperation Jacqueline Harris, a former nurse, must have felt – visually impaired and suffering back pain so excruciating, she was waiting for an operation – when her assessment took place.
The only question asked of her during a two minute assessment was whether she could catch a bus.
Jacqueline did kill herself, after a career spent caring for the sick. Half-blind UK widow commits suicide after incapacity benefit cut.
Jacqueline is not the only one who has reached the limits of what she could bear and sadly, we don’t think she will be the last.
According to this article in The Independent Atos told incontinent woman to ‘wear nappy’: Firm condemned by MPs for pressuring sick and disabled into returning to work:
- 1,300 people have died after being prepared to return to work
- 2,200 people died before the assessment process was completed
However, there are no “official” figures. From that article:
Kevan Jones, a former Labour minister, said suicides of claimants who were found fit to work by Atos had been reported. “There are… a number of well-publicised cases where people have taken their own lives because of this system,” he said. “It is not too strong to say that this Coalition Government has blood on their hands for the deaths of those individuals.”
Tim Salter’s death was equally tragic and again directly linked to cuts made to his benefits when he was assessed by someone not capable of understanding his disabilities, Benefit cuts blind man committed suicide after Atos ruled him fit to work:
A coroner ruled the Government’s decision to axe Tim’s meagre incapacity benefit contributed to his death.
In closing here are some more eye witness accounts of deaths, shaming and humiliations carried out with our tax money on the very people the benefits system is designed to support and help, taken from Benefit Tales » Category Archives » suicide:
“This lady had a lot to look forward to,” said the chief executive of the MWC, Dr Donald Lyons. “She was getting married. She was being treated. She was undertaking voluntary work. She had a good social network. There wasn’t anything else which we could identify that would lead us to believe that there was any other factor in her life that resulted in her decision to end her life.”
Edward Jacques, 47, of Sneinton, Nottingham, took a fatal overdose after his benefit payments were stopped.
Jobless Richard Sanderson, 44, of Southfields, south-west London, stabbed himself in the heart.
Unemployed electrician Lee Robinson, 39, of Crawley, Sussex, also took his own life.
We have deliberately quoted from a variety of media sources from as many sides of the political spectrum as possible to show that these are not mere blips in statistics, not drops in the ocean.
These are people, people with lives and loves just like you.
The only difference is that they had the bad, bad luck of becoming ill or disabled in modern Britain where they were treated with disdain, disbelief and derogation.
Over the past few months we have been able to help a mere handful of people who are too ill to work, whose benefits have been partially or wholly removed.
Currently, we are reviewing whether we are able to help a man who needs financial assistance to buy clothes for job interviews after a period of time out of work due to mental ill-health. Whilst this request falls outside the strict letter of our criteria, we feel his circumstances may be such that our assistance may be justified to prevent his situation moving from the precarious into a crisis and therefore falls within the spirit of what we are trying to do here – save lives.
We are aware that there are many more whom we can help and we sit on the sidelines sometimes, in tears, when we hear of yet another precious life lost.
Please help us get the word out – we are here to provide crisis help and we are currently able to do so (see our criteria for financial crisis support here: Eligibility Criteria ).
Please help us get word to those who need us most: in particular, we’d like to shout out to SANE, Mind and Rethink — please, please let your clients know we’re here, that financial support is available if they’re in a crisis due to benefit cuts and sanctions. Let’s have an end to suicides because people think no help is available when it is if only someone told them!
To those who are already supporting us, a huge thank you: we wouldn’t be here without you; and if you’re not a supporter, please support us if you can: your contribution of five quid a month will help us save lives.
FIRST, MY APOLOGIES for the long silence: I’m aware that this update is long overdue; and second, my thanks to all our loyal supporters, without whom 5 Quid for Life simply would not exist.
1. Farewell to Paula
Due to personal circumstances, Paula Ann Walker has stepped down from the 5 Quid for Life Committee. I take this opportunity to say a huge thank you, Paula, for all that you have contributed to 5 Quid for Life: your input has been a tremendous source of encouragement to all of us on the team and we’re missing you already.
Paula’s departure leaves us, of course, with a gap on the Committee: if you’d like to get involved, please give us a shout.
2. Where we are now
At the moment we seem to be at a bit of a standstill. To summarise:
- We’ve received no new help requests since March this year.
- Donations are still coming in, typically £90 per month (some donors have dropped off; no new ones have signed up).
- We have a total of just over £4,000 available to help anyone who meets our eligibility criteria.
3. Where do we go from here?
It’s clear that we need to find some new momentum and an effective way of reaching out to the mental health community. Essentially we need new blood: we need to find someone — ideally more than one — who has the networking skills that will enable us to connect (1) with the media and (2) with Mind, Rethink, Sane and the other big mental health organisations in a way that will increase their awareness of us and encourage them to refer people who need our help to us.
Could you or someone you know be that person? Or do you have any other suggestions to help us regain momentum, to help spread the word that we’re here? If so, we’d love to hear from you: please leave a comment or get in touch. Thank you.
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.