Trigger warning: depression, anxiety, mental health, mental health illness.
Sinking to a new low, it has been reported that the Conservative Party, in their latest attack on the most vulnerable, are now looking at stripping benefits payments from those who suffer from depression and anxiety and refuse treatment.
The idea behind the plans, currently being cooked up between the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions (the love child of Jeremy Hunt and Iain Duncan Smith), is to reduce the “huge” numbers of people who are declared unfit for work due to mental health problems.
According to the government, this is important to the taxpayer because “the idea [of ESA] was never to sustain them for years and years on benefit.” Such a statement is incredibly uncomfortable because it makes an incredibly uncomfortable assumption – that people who suffer from depression and anxiety, and as a result claim benefits, choose to feel that way, choose not to work, choose to suffer from often incredibly severe mental health illness. Because, obviously. people are choosing to stay ill so they can have the time of their lives claiming benefits.
Described as “fundamentally flawed” by Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, such a policy idea shows an intense lack of knowledge not only of the effects of depression on an individual person, or the importance of consent in treatment (and at least Norman Lamb understands that “the idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won’t work”) but also, most ridiculous of all, in their own destruction of mental health services which make it incredibly difficult to even access support in the first place. And that’s without considering how difficult it is for people with mental health issues to navigate the benefits system in the first place. Or anyone at all, if you’re considered worthy enough to be allowed to claim benefits at all.
The most unsettling and downright cruel part of a unbelievably regressive policy like this is that it literally hangs the threat of extreme poverty over some of the most vulnerable people in society. Because there is no better way to encourage people with mental health illnesses to feel safe enough to seek support than threatening to take away their safety net and leave them well and truly in the brown stuff. Talk about compassionate Tories.
Buried amongst the churning out of statistics which say that 46% of benefit claimants receiving ESA have mental health problems is the real reason for such a vicious policy – saving money on the £1.4 billion a year spent on ESA. In other words, people with mental health illnesses are costing this Tory-led government too much money.
But I have a radical idea. Instead of adding those with mental health illnesses to the long and growing list of vulnerable people that David Cameron and his millionaire friends seem determined to punish under the guise of unavoidable austerity by stripping their benefits from them, why don’t we strip bankers of their ludicrous bonuses? Why don’t we strip millionaires of their hideous tax cuts and ensure that those who earn the most contribute the most? Why don’t we strip big business of the billions of pounds in taxes they are avoiding paying?
The Tories are giving their millionaire mates tax breaks with one hand and pushing the poor and sick teetering to the edge of the breadline with the other, mental health services are being ripped apart at the same time as the demand for support is rising – partly attributed to other damning policies from the coalition, including changes to the welfare system and forcing disabled people from their homes via the bedroom tax and, most terrifying of all, they don’t give a damn at all.
All in this together?