This is a post in progress which I’ll be adding to, so there’ll be changes/additions/updates etc:
A couple of months ago, Mental Health Northeast (an umbrella group which represents about 340 voluntary and community groups for people with mental health illnesses in the northeast) ran a survey to collect information about the experiences people with mental health problems were having as they went through Atos work capability assessments.
At a recent Hardest Hit meeting in Newcastle, MHNE chief executive Lyn Boyd, who ran through some of the survey’s first results, said the organisation decided to run the survey because:
“A lot of our member groups were getting in touch with us and saying that they were really concerned about the people they’re working with and the impact that this [Atos work capability assessments] was having on them.
“And individuals that didn’t belong to any organisation – they were getting in touch with us in very distressed states, not knowing where to turn where to go for help and really just being very distressed – not feeling up to coping with what was happening. So, we wanted to see how widespread the problem was. We wanted to see what effect it was having on people’s social lives, their housing, their mental states.”
MHNE is still analysing responses from their questionnaire and writing a final report, but they sent through some information. They say the responses represent the experiences of about 200 individual service users.
They report that 99% of respondents reported that their work capability assessments had a negative impact on them, their families/carers and their recovery. Many mentioned despair, outright trauma and suicidal thoughts.
About 85.7% of respondents felt that no notice was taken of medical evidence submitted in support of their employment and support allowance claim.
Other comments from respondents include:
“Medical evidence was routinely not sought when needed and often little consideration was given to it when received.”
“It is only at the [work capability assessment] appeal meeting that mental health concerns were taken into account. There was too much focus on physical elements of a person’s illness – for example, questions like: 1) can you walk in a straight line 2) read these words 3) [do you have] any injuries.”
S_ (am withholding his name, because he has further WCA sessions to take) has schizophrenia. He said this at the Newcastle Hardest Hit meeting:
“I got five points [at my first work capability assessment] when I needed 15 [text changed after publication – initially said for support group]. The second time – I got none. This time, I felt well enough, with the help of the community mental health team, to go through an appeal… then I lost the tribunal. It took a year, which made me feel worse anyway.
“Then I went on Jobseekers’ Allowance, because the community mental health team said – okay, you’ve recovered sufficiently. You don’t need our help. I think it was to do with the cuts – they couldn’t provide the service. Six months after being on JSA and not getting anywhere fast…I’ve been telling my GP to refer me back to the CMH team, because I’m getting worse….I’m telling you – it’s getting worse.
“I’m going back to Atos in the next few weeks and what Lyn has been saying – I fully concur with all of that. They don’t listen to anything to do with mental health. They’re not trained. They don’t listen to your GP at all – they barely look at your medication prescriptions. Basically, if it wasn’t so tragic, it would be an utter laugh, but it’s just the fear of going through that process again without any help and at the moment, the GP and CHM are arguing [about] whether I’m going to get that help, but they’re not with me every night when I get the schizophrenia coming back, so really, I’m basically between a devil and the deep blue sea all the time and it’s going to get worse.
“It’s tickboxes and if you don’t fully satisfy most of their criteria, you get nowhere and that’s what I found all the time and basically it’s a very very bad system.”
Other comments from survey respondents include:
“We have a number of clients who have clearly stated that they feel like ending their lives as they feel unable to cope with the stress of appealing decisions.”
“Many people also lost their entitlement to Housing and Council tax benefits and received letters from the council
stating that they now owed rent arrears and that their home could be in jeopardy as a result.”
“I have one lady in particular who was engaged in some voluntary work and her mental health was the best it had
been in years. Due to her having her ESA stopped, she has become very unwell. She has not been able to continue
her voluntary work and has been expressing some suicidal thoughts.”
Video and more survey results to follow.
Mental Health Northeast website: http://www.mhne.co.uk/