Government Attack on Benefits Claimants: A Message from the Alliance

In response to the latest Government attack on benefits claimants with mental health and physical disabilities, the Alliance has written to the press and to the major psy-organisations, who we call upon to take a much more critical stance on these issues. See both letters below.


Letter to the Psy-Organisations

Dear Senior and Representative Colleagues,

The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy is part of the Mental Wealth Alliance that has been engaging with most of the addressees of this e-mail. We have asked that you distance yourself from the DWP in an unmistakeable way and take up a much more combative and critical stance in relation to what is happening to ‘welfare’.

We assume that you are aware of the latest DWP issue referred to by the Daily Mirror and many other media outlets. If not: Tory ministers have rewritten the law to deny increased disability benefit payments to more than 150,000 people

The response we get is that your organisations are doing all that can be done and that there is no difference between your position and that of the Mental Wealth Alliance.

It is time to put your money where your mouth is and start to exert pressure on the DWP to operate in a more equitable, consistent and honest manner.

We believe that your various memberships are expecting this, and we urge you not to follow what is effectively, a collusive path. True, by muting protest you retain your access to the seats of power. But, in these circumstances, this is simply not the proper attitude to maintain.

Below, please find the letter sent by the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy to the Daily Mirror and other newspapers. Will you take similar or analogous actions?

Yours sincerely,

Paul Atkinson and Professor Andrew Samuels (for the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy)


Letter to National News Media

The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy is a nationally recognised interest group of mental health professionals from diverse clinical and academic backgrounds. We were appalled to learn that last Friday, February 24th, without consultation or warning, the Government launched yet another vicious attack on the psychological, as well as financial resources of benefit claimants with mental health and physical disabilities (Tory ministers have rewritten the law to deny increased disability benefit payments to more than 150,000 people Daily Mirror, 24 Feb).

Emergency legislation has over-ridden the rulings of two tribunals that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payments (PIP). At stake is mobility support for over 140,000 people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone, and more than 1,000 people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. The courts ruled both categories of support needed to be included in the PIP assessment of people’s needs. The DWP itself admits this will include for example those who have a learning disability, diabetes, epilepsy, anxiety or dementia.

In September 2016, Theresa May and her DWP ministers promised there would be no more welfare cuts on top of the string of draconian measures agreed last year as the final contribution of Cameron and Osborne’s campaign to punish those who cannot work. It seems her promise was another lie. With delicious irony, Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt said this latest move would “make sure we are giving support to those who need it most”. Meanwhile on Marr this Sunday, Tory party chairman Patrick McGloughlin responded to criticism of the emergency legislation by stating “as far as supporting disabled people in this country is concerned, we do very proudly”.

This is a government determined, come hell or high water, to strip welfare provision to the absolute bone, an ideological commitment it justifies in terms of the fiscal necessity of austerity savings and the therapeutic magic for all benefit claimants of getting themselves into work. As mental health professionals, we find it tragic and painful to be living through a period in which the social contract between the advantaged and the disadvantaged is under full-frontal attack.

More particularly, we find it shameful that our own professional bodies – psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists – continue to participate in the abuse of human rights and of their own ethical codes through their involvement in the psycho-compulsion of benefits complainants through the DWP’s workfare and Work and Health policies.

We call on the government to reverse its policies of welfare cuts as a minimum step to honouring Theresa May’s promises for a fairer deal for those struggling to cope to maintain any decent conditions of life. And we call upon our fellow ‘psy’ professionals to now insist on a withdrawal of all involvement in supporting the psychological coercion and punishment by the DWP of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Atkinson and Professor Andrew Samuels (for the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

 

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BACP backtrack on audit consultation

Counsellors and psychotherapists following the controversy around BACP’s audit consultation survey might be aware that the organisation has issued an apology: ‘We are really sorry. We’ve messed up!’ they say. But what precisely are they sorry about?

‘Our intention with the survey is not simply to introduce all or any of the ideas it contains, but rather to gather opinion and inspire debate. We recognise that we haven’t been at all clear on this point and that this has caused some members considerable concern. We’re very sorry that we didn’t make things clear from the outset.’

Let’s break that down a little. The intention of the survey (and its proposals for mystery shoppers, practice inspections and a fundamental shift in the nature of the supervisory relationship) was only ‘to gather opinion and inspire debate’?

If that was the intention, then an email survey to members with a mostly multiple-choice tick-box format and limited space for longer responses seems a less than ideal way to gather opinion. As for inspiring debate, the space for that was limited, not least because hardly anyone seemed able or willing to make a reasoned case for the proposals, not even BACP themselves, who made no meaningful attempt to articulate a substantive argument, beyond the fact that such measures are used by ‘other [non-therapy] professional bodies and regulators’. And let’s not forget that BACP initially responded to those writing to the BACP journal, Therapy Today, to say they would not publish the letters, which would be forwarded instead to the consultation team (a decision they have now reversed). If the intention was to inspire open debate within the organisation, this seems a strange way to go about it.

Now BACP have apologised – but, if we look at the text of the apology, what they are sorry for is a lack of clarity about their intentions: ‘we haven’t been at all clear on this point and… this has caused some members considerable concern.’

In this version of the furore around the consultation, it is as if members’ concerns were generated by a miscommunication about, and misunderstanding of, the purpose of the survey, which BACP says was ‘not simply to introduce all or any of the ideas it contains’. So BACP simply misspoke, as an on-the-ropes politician might put it, and members then misunderstood their benign intentions. They are sorry for upsetting people, in other words, but not for being wrong.

This spin on events demonstrates a convenient misunderstanding of the disquiet the survey created. BACP members who got in touch with the Alliance certainly thought that the survey was an inappropriate tool for the kind of questions being asked, but mostly they were disturbed by the fact – unchanged by the apology – that BACP would seriously consider such measures as appropriate for the therapy field.

The frantic backpedalling, then, distracts from the deeper concerns raised by the survey, which the apology does little – if anything – to address. Why would BACP ask for members’ views on specific changes to the audit process unless they consider those changes, or something like them, to be a) possible or workable, and b) of some potential value? Someone somewhere at BACP must think such methods could be a runner, or why bother asking members about them? And even if these specific proposals get (temporarily?) binned, we are still left with BACP’s apparent desire for more surveillance and control in an effort to pull therapy into line with ‘other professions’, regardless of the gaping absence of evidence that such a move would either enhance therapeutic work or ‘protect the public’.

Whatever is happening at BACP HQ, the executive agenda seems to be drifting further and further from both the realities of actual practice and the values of its members. The feeling in communications we’ve had around this issue is that the survey was something of a last straw for many practitioners; that they have already tolerated much from BACP that is incongruent with therapeutic principles and that this is just a step too far. There are already huge demands placed on practitioners attempting to sustain the unique qualities of the therapeutic space in the face of toxic cultural trends but it becomes intolerable when these efforts are betrayed by their own professional bodies.

Might the PR disaster of the survey nudge BACP’s leaders into supporting its members by articulating what’s different – and therefore so valuable – about therapy, rather than attempting to homogenise, control and rebrand the field?