Horrified campaigners say a new government pilot project that will see sick and disabled people forced to attend meetings with doctors – or face losing their benefits – is “abhorrent” and “dangerous”.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that people on out-of-work disability benefits would be “required” to have regular meetings with doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to “help them address their barriers to work”.
About 3,000 people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance – and assessed as only able to work after at least 18 months – will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals.
DWP will compare the results of this two-year scheme with two others – one offering “enhanced support” from the government’s Jobcentre Plus and the other extra support from Work Programme providers – to see which is best at helping people off benefits and into work.
The pilots will begin in November and will run until August 2016.
Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister, said: “The help we give people at the moment tends to focus on work-related skills, but doesn’t necessarily address health problems.
“But by giving people regular support from doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists we can do more to help people manage or improve their conditions.”
The healthcare pilot will see the current mandatory “work-focused interviews” replaced with regular meetings with health professionals.
Hoban said the discussions would “focus claimants on how they can improve their view of their readiness for work by taking steps to manage their health issues”, and would help them to re-engage with their own GP “if they are struggling to adapt to their condition”.
But Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) described the idea of compulsory “health management meetings” as “abhorrent”.
Debbie Jolly, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said: “Once again this government shows that it uses the term ‘support’ as a stick to beat disabled people with.
“Rather than offering ‘support’, this pilot looks set to instil and promote the discredited bio-psycho-social model of ‘think yourself well’, much loved by the DWP. This new direction is unjust, dangerous and wrong.”
Disability Rights UK said it was “time to stop blaming people living with health conditions for the failures of the system”, and that any blame should be placed on health and social care providers, which need to “radically improve the employment support they offer”.
Mind said that “compelled health support” would cause “further distress for many people with mental health problems” and could also be “very disruptive and confusing”.
Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said: “The DWP continues to fundamentally misunderstand the barriers faced by people with mental health problems in returning to work – resorting time and time again to threatening people with sanctions instead of supporting them into sustainable employment.”
About one third of those in the WRAG have a mental health condition, according to Mind.
Farmer said: “Whilst additional health support might help someone in their progression to work, this must always be a decision taken freely by the individual and they must not be sanctioned for failing to carry it out.”
11 July 2013