Very harsh system, this: mental health problems and found fit for work

On being found fit for work and government indifference to the impact of the work capability assessment on mental health:

This story should give you some idea of the callousness with which the DWP treats people who it throws off disability benefits. The woman in this story is in her 50s. I met her at one of the northwest London jobcentres in July this year. She’d been receiving Employment and Support Allowance for about six years for long-term mental health problems. She’d been found fit for work at a recent work capability assessment.
As I wrote at the time, she was reeling. She had absolutely no idea what to do. This is the part of things that always stands out to me: the brutal way that the rug is pulled. Just a few days before we met, this woman had received the letter that I’ve posted below. The letter said that she was no longer entitled to Employment and Support Allowance, because she’d been found fit for work. Her last ESA payment had been made in early July – just a few days before we met. She was obviously extremely concerned about those payments ending. And you know – who wouldn’t be?

Fit for work letter

“They didn’t give me nothing [at the work capability assessment] – zero points. I got my letter, but I’m doing this with mental health problems. I can’t read and write very well,” she said. The letter she’d received was absolutely no help at all (we read through it together). The letter told her that she’d get no more money from early July and that “you should start looking for a job straightaway.” The letter gave a number to call to make a jobcentre appointment and offered one of the DWP’s standard little sermons on the so-called benefits of finding a job: “we know that most people are better off in work,” etc. That was it. That is always it. I’ve worked with a number of people who’ve received these letters and that’s generally how things go. That’s how the DWP tells people with mental health problems that they’ll no longer get money to live on. Anyone who hasn’t inherited a pile of money and needs some sort of income to live on (I’m guessing that’s just about everybody) should have an inkling of the way that feels. Bottom line is that the work capability assessment is about removing money. The system is harsh.

And I’m talking systems. Government’s assumption seems to be that everyone who is found fit for work can easily deal with a monumental blow like a sudden loss of income. I suppose government’s real assumption is that some people will swim and others will sink, and the hell with the lot of them, really. The truth is that I don’t know anyone in any walk of life who has or would easily deal with a sudden loss of income. But what would I know, I suppose. The DWP clearly believes that a kick in the face is the best approach. Still – it’s no surprise to me to hear that “tougher fit for work tests may have taken a serious toll on mental health in England.” You attend enough of these ESA assessments and you think – yeah. They would.

4 thoughts on “Very harsh system, this: mental health problems and found fit for work

  1. thanks for sharing the above Kate Belgrave, ive also had my battles with the DWP which have had a detrimental affect on my mental health, if I had the money i’d sue the DWP for damages.

  2. Strange how it is now acceptable to leave people absolutely destitute.
    And the Jobcentre wonder why the long-term unemployed are wary of signing-off to take two-week Christmas jobs at minimum wage. When the reality is long delays in processing a new claim, which usually means weeks without any money whatsoever. Rent arrears, and the possibility of eviction.
    As I write this it is Thursday. A friend of mine has just gloomily mentioned to me that he has £10 to last him until next Tuesday morning, (when his Housing Benefit comes in), half a loaf of bread, two tins of sardines and one of baked beans, and a small jar of instant coffee. This man is single, without any family. He has not worked for some years since being made redundant. He is in his late fifties, and lives in a bedsit. He has no savings of any kind, and now exists day to day on his meagre benefits. Over the years, the Jobcentre have sent him on the Work Programme, and a string of other pointless courses, none of which have resulted in employment.
    So far he has avoided the foodbank, somehow, but it has often been touch and go. Yet he is still expected to apply for jobs with up to 90mins travelling time. Phone up and visit employment agencies and employers (at his own expense), and then present himself at interview ( again at his own expense, though this money can be claimed back, but only after a two-week delay).
    Far from encouraging people to work, leaving people in this level of hardship, where they can’t even afford to buy a pair of shoes, simply switches their main focus away from jobsearching, to simple survival.

  3. I am currently collecting evidence on this and associated issues. My daughter has been in receipt of ESA for some time. When she was out-sourced to one of the proxy organisations who do the dirty work for the DWP her health deteriorated considerably. I believe she was endangered by the lack of comprehension of her condition by the staff meant to assist her back into employment. From being on the cusp of returning to work she has suffered a total relapse. There is no contingency for change of circumstances. The people trapped in the system are nothing more than commodities…….a source of income for the out-sourcing companies.

  4. I have had to watch what this system has done to my daughter. I am collecting evidence to send to the ministries involved. The DWP are responsible for a huge cost to the NHS!

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