Theresa May faces investigation after ‘misleading Parliament about scale of homelessness’

Prime Minister accused of ‘using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem’

Theresa May was accused using statistics misleadingly during Prime Minister’s Questions PA

Britain’s statistics watchdog is considering an investigation into comments made by Theresa May following complaints that they misrepresented the extent of homelessness.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) confirmed concerns had been raised after the Prime Minister claimed in Parliament that “statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50 per cent since then.”

Ms May made the claim as she clashed with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week.

While statutory homelessness did peak under Labour in 2003, it fell significantly in the following seven years before they lost power and has subsequently risen under the Conservatives’ watch.

Some 10,100 families in England were accepted as homeless during between April and June 2010, when the coalition government was elected. At the time of Ms May’s comments this week the figure stood at 14,400.

Since then it has climbed to 15,290, up six per cent in the last year, according to the latest government statistics.

Those numbers also understate the true scale of homelessness because they refer only families who are unintentionally homeless and have been offered assistance by their council. People were who receive no help or are given assistance under other schemes are not taken into account.

CART1

Ms May’s comments were referred to the UKSA by Lib Dem peer Olly Grender, who last year raised concerns about the Government’s use of the same statistics.

She told The Independent: “It seems particularly worrying, as we learn today of the increase in homelessness, that this government is still using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem.”

Baroness Grender’s previous complaint prompted UKSA to rebuke the Department for Communities and Local Government. The department claimed homelessness had halved since 2003 but glossed over the fact this referred only to those who met the narrow definition of statutory homelessness, while the overall number of homeless people had not dropped.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the authority’s director general, described the department’s use of figures as “disappointing” and said they were “potentially misleading” to the public. He added he would seek a commitment from department staff that they will give “greater clarity” on data usage in the future.

UKSA confirmed it had received a complaint about Ms May’s comments this week. A spokesman said: “A concern has been raised with the UK Statistics Authority, and we will respond in due course.”

John Healey, Labour’s shadow secretary for housing, said: “This is a shameful attempt by Theresa May to mislead the public and hide the Conservatives’ appalling record on homelessness.

“The facts are clear – homelessness fell at an unprecedented rate under Labour but has risen under the Conservatives. Only a Labour government will deal with the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness in towns and cities across the country.”

The Independent has approached Number 10 for a comment.

SOURCE

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Disabled peer quits equality watchdog over ‘shameful downgrading of disability’

A disabled Tory peer has resigned as a board member of the equality watchdog over a government minister’s “collusion” with the decision not to appoint him as a disability commissioner.

Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin made the announcement in a speech in the House of Lords on Tuesday, during a debate on the human rights implications of Brexit.

He told peers that women and equalities minister Justine Greening had “colluded” with the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner (EHRC) to scrap the role of disability commissioner by appointing him instead as a general commissioner.

He told peers that he would not collude in this “shameful downgrading of disability”.

He has previously criticised the commission’s “shocking” behaviour over the appointment process.

He has also written to the prime minister, threatening to resign the Conservative whip and work instead as a crossbench peer.

He told fellow peers on Tuesday that Greening “colluded with the commission to help get rid of the role when she decided to appoint me as a general commissioner instead”.

He said: “Needless to say, she did not make that point clear to me at the time she wrote to offer me the role of a commissioner on the board.

“Had the minister bothered to ask me, I would have told her straight that disabled people desperately need a dedicated disability commissioner to champion our equality. That need cannot simply be abolished.”

He told peers he was “withdrawing” his acceptance of the post of commissioner because it was “made under false pretences”.

He repeated a request he had made to the prime minister to release all the communications between the government and EHRC over his appointment “so that parliament can understand how on earth the equalities minister could possibly think that agreeing to help get rid of the disability commissioner role would somehow help disabled people in our fight for equality”.

Lord Shinkwin (pictured) had been refusing to attend EHRC board meetings in protest at the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner.

He had applied last year for the post of disability commissioner but was told months later – just 36 hours before his first board meeting – that the role had been made redundant and that he had instead been appointed as a general commissioner and would not lead on disability issues.

He has suggested that the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner – rather than as the commissioner leading on disability issues – was only made after the commission learned that he had been selected for the role by Greening.

Theresa May has told Lord Shinkwin in a letter that the government “had no involvement in the EHRC’s decision to abolish the Disability Commissioner role”.

Lord Shinkwin told Disability News Service last night (Wednesday) that he was waiting for a reply from the prime minister to his latest letter before deciding whether to resign the whip.

He said: “I’m reassured that the prime minister hasn’t replied yet, as I think the situation deserves careful consideration.”

The commission insists that it had decided there was no need for a disability commissioner because of the decision to “mainstream” disability into its work.

It has said that during the gap of several months between the interviews for the post, last December, and Greening’s decision to appoint Lord Shinkwin in April, the statutory disability committee had “expired” and the board had decided that the post of disability commissioner should also be scrapped.

An EHRC spokeswoman said the commission was “disappointed Lord Shinkwin believes he cannot take up his position as a commissioner”.

She claimed that the decision on the future of the disability commissioner role was taken “after no successful candidate was appointed”.

She said: “As the statutory disability committee had come to an end it was decided to strengthen our disability work by mainstreaming it across the whole of the organisation.

“This gives a greater voice for disabled people as all board members now focus on disability issues which will be central to all the commission’s work.”

She refused to say if the commission knew what would happen now over replacing Lord Shinkwin, saying that it was “a question for government”.

The Government Equalities Office had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday), nearly two days after Lord Shinkwin’s speech.

SOURCE

‘Staggering’ ESA suicide figures prompt calls for inquiry and prosecution of ministers

“Staggering” new figures show that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.

The new analysis of NHS statistics, being published for the first time by Disability News Service (DNS), shows that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

The following year, IB began to be replaced by employment and support allowance (ESA), with eligibility tested by the WCA, under the New Labour government.

But by 2014, following four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – and six years of the WCA – more than 43 per cent of claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.

One leading psychologist described the figures this week as showing “the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature”.

Over the same period, adults questioned for the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) who were not claiming IB (in 2007) or ESA (in 2014) remained statistically stable (6.0 per cent in 2007 against 6.7 per cent in 2014).

The figures therefore strongly suggest that government cuts and reforms, and particularly the introduction of the WCA, have had a serious, detrimental – and sometimes fatal – effect on the mental health of a generation of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

Disabled peer quits equality watchdog over ‘shameful downgrading of disability’

Two weeks ago, DNS reported on figures from the 2014 APMS which showed that 43.2 per cent of ESA claimants – and as high as 47.1 per cent of female ESA claimants – had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with 6.7 per cent of the general adult population.

Disabled campaigners said then that they feared the 2014 figures demonstrated the impact of years of austerity-related cuts to the NHS, social care and social security budgets, the demonisation of ESA claimants, and the increased use of benefit sanctions.

They also suggested that the figures showed the impact of the WCA, which since its introduction in 2008 has increasingly been associated with relapses, anxiety and distress among those with long-term health conditions, including mental health conditions, and the loss of many lives.

But it was impossible to see how those figures compared with the previous survey, seven years earlier, because the relevant analysis was not carried out for the report on the 2007 figures.

DNS therefore asked Sally McManus, who leads research on the survey* – on behalf of NHS Digital – for the independent social research institute NatCen, to calculate the figures on attempted suicides for those IB claimants who were surveyed in 2007.

Her calculations show a dramatic rise, from 20.9 per cent of IB claimants in 2007 to 43.2 per cent of ESA claimants in 2014.

McManus said that, although the figures did not demonstrate what had caused the rates of attempted suicides to rise so dramatically over the seven years for those on IB/ESA, they did show that the “rates of attempted suicide have clearly increased among people of working age in receipt of a disability-related benefit”.

The age-standardised figures are calculated from data collected through the APMS, which is carried out every seven years for NHS Digital by NatCen and the University of Leicester.

DNS also reports this week (see separate story) that, despite being aware of the startling figures from the 2014 survey, which were published in September 2016, the government has refused to explain why it made no attempt to prioritise ESA claimants as a high-risk group for suicide in its latest suicide prevention strategy, which was published in January 2017.

Department of Health silence over failure to highlight ESA suicide risk

The strongest evidence until now that there was a link between the WCA and an increase in mental distress came in November 2015, when public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, for every 10,000 IB claimants in England who were reassessed for ESA between 2010 and 2013, there were an additional six suicides, 2,700 cases of self-reported mental health problems, and an increase of more than 7,000 in the number of anti-depressants prescribed.

In all, across England as a whole, the reassessment process from 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

Disabled activists, who have spent years highlighting serious concerns about the impact of the WCA, have told DNS this week that ministers must now be held accountable for the damage they have caused and for repeatedly covering up links between the WCA and suicides.

Denise McKenna, a co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the figures were “shocking, but they certainly do not come as any surprise”.

She said: “At MHRN, we are frequently having to talk people out of taking their own lives and trying to give people reasons to live.

“We understand these benefit changes are causing people to be suicidal because many of us in the MHRN are themselves feeling suicidal.

“It is all about the WCA. People are terrified of being put in the [ESA] work-related activity group because they are terrified of being pressured into work when they are not ready.”

And because of the increasing focus on employment in mental health services, she said, “the harassment also exists within the Department of Health”.

People with mental health problems, she said, are “bullied, harassed and generally terrorised”.

She added: “That this is happening in 21st century Britain is totally appalling. It will be remembered as a shameful time in British history. And we will not forget it.”

McKenna said there should be a public inquiry into the links between the WCA and suicides, and the associated cover-up of those links, with criminal prosecutions of the government ministers responsible.

She said: “I believe these ministers are personally responsible for these suicidal thoughts and for the actual suicides and there should be charges, there should be legal action against them.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The figures show how harmful the WCA is, how it ramps up a claimant’s distress, anxiety and depression.”

She also called for an inquiry into the links between the WCA and suicides, and for a criminal prosecution of ministers – as well as senior civil servants – responsible for ignoring and even covering-up evidence of the links.

She said: “We will not rest until we see them brought to justice and we bring the truth out to the wider public.”

Peters attempted to take her own life in 2011, and was hospitalised for three months, because of “overwhelming distress, fear and anxiety over the WCA”.

She said: “It has definitely had a detrimental impact on my mental health and it has caused my physical health to deteriorate because of the continual stress of the WCA and the continual reassessments.

“You just live with the DWP hanging over you like a big, black cloud, and you live in perpetual fear of them, you’re petrified of them, living in fear of those brown envelopes.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “These latest figures irrefutably confirm what Black Triangle has argued since the inception of our campaign in June 2010, following the death of our friend Paul Reekie who took his own life following a DWP work capability assessment.

“The WCA assessment regime discriminates against sick and/or disabled people and violates their fundamental human rights – up to and including the very right to life itself.

“The prime minister and the secretary of state can no longer stand at the dispatch box at Westminster and deny the truth of this statement. The evidence can no longer be dismissed.”

He said the government had “implemented policies and systems that have led to the avoidable deaths of disabled people.

“It has done this intentionally and with reckless abandon. It has resisted all calls from every quarter of civil society to implement reforms that would prevent substantial harm and death.

“It is guilty of grave and systematic violations of our fundamental human rights. It is guilty of creating – and maintaining – a human catastrophe for disabled people.”

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and member of the campaigning Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who first brought the 2014 figures to the attention of DNS, said: “The change in suicide rates these figures show is just staggering.

“It is the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature, and can I emphasise this is from the largest, most reliable data set on the mental health of the nation out there.

“It is simply inexcusable to treat people like second-class citizens, to deny them the means to live, and to punish them, for example via sanctions, for not being able to comply with the neoliberal dream of working.

“The shame, guilt and anxiety, as well as material deprivation, caused by the current benefits regime is killing disabled people.

“These figures must be a wake-up call to government – benefits reform is the simplest, most useful thing we can do to reduce deaths by suicide.

“We need reform now before more people die. We need this to be the number one issue people turn to when thinking about improving the mental health of the nation.

“How dare we think of ourselves as having a decent, progressive society when we treat people so badly?”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said: “On the face of it, these figures are a truly damning indictment of the government’s social security policies, and show they are unfit for purpose.

“The government need to wake up and act fast. It is unacceptable that disabled people are made to suffer like this.

“Labour would scrap the WCA, end the punitive sanctions regime and change the culture of the social security system, from one that demonises people not in work to one that is supportive and enabling.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman refused to say if the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, agreed that the WCA and the government’s austerity-related ESA policies had had a significant negative impact on the mental health of ESA claimants, or whether she would launch an inquiry into the links.

But she said in a statement that suicide was “a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim” and that the government’s welfare reforms were “restoring fairness” and “supporting people into work”.

She added: “We have made significant improvements to the WCA since its introduction in 2008.

“This includes implementing changes to address issues raised through five independent reviews and strong quality and customer experience improvements in partnership with our WCA provider.

“We remain committed to further improving the WCA, which is why on 29 September 2017 we stopped reassessments for those with the most severe conditions.

“There still needs to be a gateway in place for disability benefits to provide support to those who need it most.

“It’s very important that we get the assessment reform right, which is why we will use this parliament to build our evidence base for what works and we will continue to work with stakeholders to do that.”

*McManus said the survey was the government’s “primary source of information about the extent of mental illness in the population, and whether it’s going up or down over time” and is the “longest-standing mental health survey in the world to use consistent methods over time”. Every seven years since the early 1990s, a large random sample of the general population is invited to take part. In the latest survey, about 7,500 people were interviewed in their own homes, with each interview taking about an hour and a half to complete. Questions include whether they have ever thought about suicide, made a suicide attempt, or self-harmed in some other way.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

SOURCE

Vigil as court hears that PIP rules are ‘unfair and discriminatory’

Campaigners have taken part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice, as the high court was hearing claims by a disabled woman that new benefit rules are “unfair and discriminatory”.

Regulations that came into force in March mean that people who are unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress now receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for personal independence payment (PIP).

The new rules mean that many PIP claimants are entitled to a lower level of financial support for their mobility, and in many cases no mobility support at all.

The legal challenge against work and pensions secretary David Gauke is being brought by RF, who believes that the changes to PIP will have a “significant negative impact” on her life and on the lives of many others who experience significant mental distress.

Both the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the mental health charity Mind have submitted written evidence supporting RF’s case.

Sara Lomri, RF’s solicitor and deputy legal director of the Public Law Project, said: “[RF] has told me that losing enhanced PIP mobility means she will not be able to get the support she needs to travel.

“This will have a huge impact on her ability to participate in society and her independence.”

The court’s ruling is expected before Christmas.

Among those who took part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the first day of the two-day hearing was Rose*, who said the new regulations could easily affect her level of support.

She currently receives the higher rate care component of disability living allowance and the lower rate mobility component, and she said she was “constantly living in dread of being called up for my [PIP] assessment”.

She said: “My psychological distress does affect my mobility. I have severe dissociation which causes me to wander around without any knowledge of danger.

“I think it’s time for justice for us because we have been discriminated against and there is such a lack of understanding of psychological distress.”

She added: “It is criminal the way we are being treated. It is just not right. I had other plans for my life, not to live on benefits, but unfortunately I have to because of my mental health problems.

“I am shocked about how we are made to feel bad for being unwell.”

Paula Peters (pictured, front), a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, is still waiting to be assessed for PIP, as a long-term claimant of disability living allowance, and currently receives mobility support because of the psychological distress caused by travelling.

She said the case was “fundamentally important” to her and the many thousands of others who also need the support to travel.

Without that mobility support from DLA, or PIP, she would not have a Freedom Pass, which allows her free travel across the capital, so she can attend GP and hospital appointments, and take part in campaigning.

Without the support from PIP, many people with mental distress would be excluded from society and imprisoned at home, she said.

Peters said: “We get the mobility component of PIP for deep psychological distress because it is so vital for our mental wellbeing and being able to get to appointments, to interact with friends and family and just take part in everyday life.

“That exclusion ramps up anxiety and causes people’s depression to worsen and in my case ramps up my agoraphobia.”

Asked how much she trusted DWP on mental health issues, she said: “I don’t. I don’t trust DWP on anything.

“They are targeting mental health claimants on PIP, on ESA, on universal credit, on the Work and Health Programme.

“They are about ramping up the mental distress and causing a claimant’s mental health to deteriorate to the point where they want to give up and take their own life, and in many cases already have done, and we remember those who are not with us today.

“I think DWP are trivialising mental health. What they can’t see, they don’t believe exists.”

Denise McKenna (pictured, back right), co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, who also took part in the vigil, said: “For a lot of people with severe mental health problems they cannot travel by public transport, they are having to use taxis for part of their journey, sometimes for all of their journey.

“It is very important that people should not become isolated. Isolation is a key precipitate of suicide and relapse. There could be fatal consequences.”

She said people with mental health problems were “being targeted by the government from all directions”, through cuts to out-of-work benefits and PIP, and the withdrawal of mental health services and the focus on employment in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

She said: “People with mental health problems are being targeted to get back into the workplace and [the PIP changes are]an additional barrier to getting to work.

“It is part of a huge assault on people with mental health problems. One of the things they are doing is denying the existence of mental distress. They are negating it.”

She added: “I wanted to be here today, because having been involved in a judicial review I know what an emotional roller-coaster [it can be].

“I think it’s important for people taking the judicial review to know how much it means to other people and to get support from as many people as possible.

“We recognise it is in all of our interests.”

Claire Glasman (pictured, left), from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women, including those who are traumatised, such as rape and sexual abuse survivors, and refugee survivors of genocide – said the government was “discriminating against people with mental distress”.

She said that disabled women needed PIP mobility support “to be able to get out of the house and to do things in the community, see friends and get involved in groups”.

Glasman said: “It just shows they don’t care, they don’t care if people have all the benefits that they need to be able to live our lives and get out of the house.

“Theresa May makes all these announcements about mental health being a priority but we know the NHS is being cut, and women’s services are struggling through lack of funding.”

Lisa Longstaff, a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, another campaigner at the vigil, said she was there because so many of the women her organisation worked with – including traumatised women who had been raped – had had their benefits cut unfairly.

She said: “I am here because this case is an example of many of the other cuts we have been fighting together.”

RF argues that the new PIP regulations violate article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits unjustifiable discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of disability.

She argues that people with overwhelming psychological distress are treated less favourably than those with other conditions, when assessed on their need for mobility support.

DWP has told RF’s lawyers that the new rules can be justified.

RF also argues that DWP should have carried out a consultation on the new regulations before they were introduced, whereas DWP has said that it had always been its intention to exclude psychological distress from certain questions in the PIP eligibility test, and so there was no need to carry out a fresh consultation in 2017.

But RF’s lawyers say that if those organisations involved in the original PIP consultation had been told this, they would have challenged it at the time by campaigning and lobbying politicians.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department could not comment on an ongoing legal case.

But she pointed to a statement made earlier this year by the minister for disabled people, explaining the reasons for the new regulations, and a departmental statement issued on the same day in February.

In the statement, DWP said that “people who cannot carry out a journey because of a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to need more support than someone who experiences psychological distress when they undertake a journey, for example as a result of social phobia or anxiety”.

The department added: “Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different to what was originally intended.

“The government is now making amendments to clarify the criteria, to restore the original aim of the policy and ensure support goes to those most in need.”

*Not her real name

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‘Flawed’ Work Capability Assessment requires urgent review

‘Flawed’ Tory welfare test requires urgent review, warns SNP MP

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is seeking urgent action
David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is seeking urgent action

THE UK Government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) system is “failing the most vulnerable in society”, according to an SNP MP.

David Linden, Member of Parliament for Glasgow East, yesterday used his speech in Westminster Hall to highlight the system’s shortcomings, calling on the Government to act urgently.

His speech led the debate into the issue and came as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) select committee launched an inquiry into the controversial Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessments.

The WCA is used by the DWP to access claimants of ESA but has faced criticism for its practicalities and for leaving vulnerable people in precarious situations. This includes what is known as mandatory consideration periods, which leave applicants with no other option but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance while they wait.

The DWP said it is continually reviewing the system and has introduced a number of changes since its initial roll out in 2008.

Linden pointed out that he “seldom had a surgery” in his constituency that did not raise at least one case study related to the “flawed” WCAs, adding that “time will not permit me to share every testimony”.

He called for a thorough examination of the process which “all too often plunges people into chaos”.

“We need a full, root-and-branch review of the WCA process and I want to see an assessment that is underpinned with professionalism, knowledge, dignity and – above all – respect,” said Linden.

“We need action now – not words from the Tories.

“As it stands, the current system is failing the most vulnerable in our society and all too often plunges people into chaos, depression and – in some cases – to the brink of suicide. Throughout my short time as Glasgow East’s MP, I have very seldom had a surgery in which a constituent hasn’t come to me having been the subject of a flawed WCA.”

Linden continued by highlighting the difficulties faced by certain groups, in particular people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities. These include a lack of information about outcomes for individuals following fit for work determinations, and concerns about the risk of poverty and destitution as a result of incorrect decisions.

treat
The DWP obviously made the right decision here!

“We all hear about difficulties experienced by claimants seeking to challenge fit for work decisions,” continued Linden, “including the fact that ESA is not payable pending a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ – meaning that the only option in the meantime is to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, potentially exposing the individual to inappropriate conditionality and the impact of assessments, frequent reassessments, and poor decision making on the physical and mental health of claimants.

“It is abundantly clear to me that the UK Government’s Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose and requires a full review to ensure that it treats people with dignity and respect.

The DWP said that they were constantly reviewing the application process, and that the new system was implemented to address failings of the past and to provide support missing in years gone by. a

“WCAs ensure that people get the level of support they need, rather than just writing them off as happened in the past,” said a DWP spokesperson.

“A decision on whether someone is able to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the information provided, including supporting evidence from a GP or medical specialist.

“We continually review the WCA, and have already introduced a number of changes to strengthen the service.”

source

Some mental health services are telling patients: ‘If you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have done it’

And here was I was thinking it was only CAPITA/ATOS/MAXIMUS That asked: ‘If you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have done it’…. Govt Newspeak

When people do get to access crisis care, many feel that the emphasis is on getting rid of them as quickly as possible. Psychiatric inpatients have even been told to phone the Samaritans if they wish to talk

People are encouraged to seek help if they are feeling suicidal like never before. Yet a deadly new mix of funding cuts and dangerous ideas about suicide are leaving many people with long-term conditions at greater risk.

Tom is 22 and has made a couple of serious attempts on his life following prolonged periods of depression. “When I regained consciousness after the last attempt”, he said, “I was told ‘If you really want to kill yourself, you would have done it’.” Tom, like many other people, feels like when he now contacts the crisis team, they treat him brusquely. “It is like they will only take me seriously if I actually die”, he continued. “I am told again and again ‘well if you really want to kill yourself, that’s your choice’.”

We are not talking about nuanced Schopenhauerian conversations about the right to die here. In the context of deep despair, the idea of choice is a deadly one, absolving the other party from doing everything they can to help the person in pain. If one is suicidal it is very difficult to feel any hope that things might change; one is often exhausted. It is crucial that hope is held actively by mental health professionals at these bleakest moments in a life.

Yet the idea of choice is being used increasingly to rebuff those who seek help when suicidal, a discursive move that an increasingly burnout mental health workforce appears to be using more often. This makes those suffering feel rejected and further alienated – key trigger factors to suicide.

Laura, 60, has also made multiple attempts on her life. She has been told that she should “take responsibility” when she is feeling suicidal, an idea fuelled by the neoliberal discourse of rights and responsibilities which has taken hold of mental health services. “There is a strict management plan and boundaries in place”, she said. “I am allowed to call the crisis team three times a week, and the calls are time-limited. When I do call, I am only allowed to talk about the present not the past”, she says. “If I try to talk about anything else, or call at another time, I am told I am ‘threatening suicide’.”

The approach to suicide prevention Laura is receiving is based on a behavioural “carrot and stick” approach to mental health. The idea is to shape behaviours into ones which are healthier in the medium term by positively reinforcing only “healthy” boundaried behaviours, though distress can increase in the short term. This kind of approach is very dangerous if it is transmitted in a judgmental, blaming way; it should only ever be attempted slowly in collaboration with patients with the explicit recognition that change is incredibly hard, and that patterns of behaviour in the face of overwhelming distress have developed for an understandable reason.

Yet these are now being used by undertrained staff, without the consent or understanding of patients, and without giving people access to the kind of long-term therapy so essential to working through the experiences behind the pain. This is actively re-traumatising patients.

“They treat me like a bad person, who doesn’t deserve care and support” says Laura, who has been treated abusively throughout her life.

jaws

Laura has a diagnosis called “borderline personality disorder” – a diagnosis that lacks scientific validity and is steeped in misogyny. This diagnosis demonstrably makes professionals more likely to treat patients with distance, fear and sometimes disdain – the feelings of rejection are not simply a result of projection. Like many others, Laura is made to feel like she is “attention seeking” and “manipulative” when she is suicidal or makes attempts on her life. “I don’t do this for fun,” Laura said of her recent suicide attempt, “I do it when there is nothing else left”.

Roger, 34, has also been told the decision to end his life is his because he is deemed to have something called mental capacity. Mental capacity, simply, is the ability to weigh up information and make decisions, something that fluctuates in the throes of a mental health crisis. Mental capacity should never be used to justify withholding treatment from someone seeking help. But mental health services, desperately underfunded, seem to be using ever more drastic means to buffer increasing demand. “I am desperate for help” said Roger, “and my GP keeps writing to mental health services, but the letters get returned unanswered.”

When people are finally able to access crisis care, many feel that the emphasis is on getting rid of them as quickly as possible. “They tell me to distract myself, or take a bath, or go for a walk when I am feeling suicidal, when what I actually need is a few kind words and some compassion”, one service user reported. Psychiatric inpatients have even been told to phone the Samaritans if they wish to talk.

I am writing this article in awareness that most mental health services do a fantastic job, and with the wish that people continue to seek help. I cannot emphasise enough how many people I have met who have made multiple attempts on their life, often over many decades, and come to thrive.

But I write too with a desperate request that we not only fund crisis services better, that we not only skill mental health staff to be able to contain suicidal despair, but that we change attitudes around suicide within psychiatric services which block people from care. It is inexcusable that mental health services make people feel like a burden for continuing to struggle, that we take away from them the possibility of help and therefore hope.

In memory of JL

Dr Jay Watts is a consultant clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, and honorary senior research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:
https://www.mind.org.uk/
https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
https://www.samaritans.org/

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The Tory Brexit rebels certainly should be Proud of themselves

Proud of themselves? The Tory Brexit rebels certainly should be

Parliament’s refusal to march to the extremists’ drumbeat shows that the ‘mutineers’ now better reflect the will of the people than the Brexit press does

“Proud of yourselves?” splashes the Mail, with a rogues’ gallery of last night’s Tory rebels. “Yes,” should be their defiant reply. What’s more, they are likely to do it again if the government is foolish enough to put forward other Brexit clauses that defy democratic scrutiny of this most vital decision.

Next week they look set to reject the absurdity of fixing an arbitrary date of departure regardless of where we stand at the time.

The Mail straps across its front page: “11 self-consumed malcontents pull the rug from under our EU negotiators, betray their leader, party and 17.4m Brexit voters and – most damning of all – increase the possibility of a Marxist in No 10.” That’s what you would expect from inside what increasingly looks like an extreme political cult. “Mutiny”, says the Telegraph; “Revenge of the Rebels”, blasts the Times.

Nadine Dorries MP adds: “They should be deselected and never allowed to stand as a Tory MP again.” Good grief. Labour didn’t even deselect Kate Hoey, the Farage-hugging serial rebel who appears to disagree with her party on everything, from foxhunting onwards.

Last night’s vote scraped by on a majority on four, so add praise to those four Labour Brexiters whom Jeremy Corbyn personally persuaded to rejoin their colleagues and back the Grieve amendment. No one need be pro-remain to be swayed by powerful speeches, especially the one from Grieve warning of constitutional sabotage if everything in future can be fixed by fiat of the government of the day, bypassing parliament.

So does she set off today to Brussels weakened? “May undermined before Brussels trip” warns the Times. No, she seeks a start to the next stage no longer at the mercy of hard-Brexit guns to her head. Parliament’s refusal to march to the extremists’ drumbeat gives her flexibility to strike a deal that does least harm.

Where is “the will of the people” in the complex negotiations ahead? Yesterday a serious piece of research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, published the findings of a citizens’ assembly, throwing far deeper insight into Brexit attitudes than crude opinion polls. Fifty citizens scientifically selected for age, class, region and politics – slightly more leavers than remainers – were given extensive information on options ahead by diverse experts and economists, overseen for neutrality by an advisory panel including Bernard Jenkin and Hilary Benn.

After four days of debate, with a chance to question whomever they liked, they were not asked to rerun the crude in-or-out referendum vote: they were asked about the options and trade-offs to come, such as between the balance of controlling migration and getting a good trade deal. Over four days, they explored fiendish intricacies the referendum ignored: paying into the EU, workers and environment rights, Ireland, the economy, public services, UK autonomy and more.

Their final opinions were a country mile away from Mail and Telegraph headlines. On trade, 28 of the 50 decided either to stay in the single market (14 of them) or to leave but seek maximum EU free trade, zero tariffs and frictionless borders (another 14). Next, 19 chose to leave the single market and seek a limited, zero-tariff deal but leave out non-tariff barriers and the regulation that those entail. Only three chose to leave with no deal.

Among many options and second preferences, descending from cake-and-eat-it to crashing out, finally they were asked: what if we can’t get a good trade deal? Only 19 would crash out, while 31 would stay in the single market.

In the Commons yesterday, helping to launch these findings was Suella Fernandes MP, head of the hard Brexit European Research Group. She praised the citizens assembly as the best way to consult people, and said politicians should listen. But here’s the rub: did she herself take note that a large majority, once they had become well informed, would make the compromise of less control and more migration freedom in exchange for frictionless trade? Hell, no. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” she parroted – precisely the opposite of what most of these citizens concluded.

Citizens’ assemblies are wonderful – if only the whole population could be given the chance for such serious, informed deliberation. Instead we have the Daily Mail and the rest. But, as ordinary opinion polls are increasingly suggesting, the Tory “rebels” and “mutineers” may be much closer to the will of the people than the fanatical Brexiteers and their press. Tory MPs daring to “speak for England” – and all the UK nations – should stick to their guns – and others who were too frit last night should join them.

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