A minister has been forced to confront the depth of anger and fear felt by people with mental health conditions over the government’s welfare reforms.
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, took part in a live online question and answer session organised by the mental health charity Rethink.
Grayling answered 16 questions about incapacity benefit reform in the hour-long session, and although his extensive answers drew some appreciation from some of those who took part, there was also considerable anger and fear expressed over the coalition’s policies.
The webchat took place nearly 24 hours after disabled people’s minister Maria Miller took part in a similar event organised by the Guardian on disability living allowance reforms.
One of those who took part in the Rethink event told Grayling: “The ‘reforms’ being forced upon people with mental illness will undoubtedly lead to a serious deterioration in many people’s mental health. Absolutely disgusting. People are living in fear, are you proud of that?”
Another asked: “How do you feel about the people with mental health problems who will kill themselves once they are forced off benefits and pressured into unsuitable work and training?”
Grayling stressed that he and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith would “not use the language of scroungers” when discussing reform, following questions about the much-criticised media coverage of the government’s welfare agenda.
And he defended the decision to impose a one-year time limit on people in the work-related activity group who claim “contributory” employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for incapacity benefit.
He claimed the move would bring ESA more in line with the six-month limit for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and achieve “a sensible balance”.
This drew a particularly angry response, with one person asking: “How can you even consider that someone who is healthy and on JSA and someone who is ill and on ESA to have the same needs?
“What you are really saying is I have 12 months to ‘heal’ and then be thrown to the dogs!”
Another added: “This isn’t a tough decision, it’s an absolute disgrace, a horrific betrayal of those who paid into a system all their lives only to be abandoned at the most challenging time.”
Grayling also pledged that all the recommendations made by Professor Malcolm Harrington in his review of the much-criticised work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – would be implemented “by the summer”.
10 February 2011