Disabled activists are to hold a protest about a new government scheme that will see mental health therapists installed in a south London jobcentre.
Members of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) are also furious that a new “Living Well Hub”, providing access to Lambeth’s community mental health services, is set to open on a separate floor of the building where the jobcentre is based.
The network, and supporters – including members of Psychologists Against Austerity and the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy – will march on Streatham jobcentre in south London on Friday (26 June) to highlight what they see as government attempts to “re-educate” people with mental health distress.
The protest comes after the journal Medical Humanities – co-owned by the British Medical Journal – published an article criticising the view that being unemployed was “evidence of both personal failure and psychological deficit”.
The article suggests that countries implementing major welfare reforms – such as the UK – are increasingly attempting to force “complete and intimate behaviour change” on unemployed benefit claimants through “coercive and punitive” methods.
One government intervention is a project – announced in March’s budget – that will “co-locate” therapists from the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme in more than 350 jobcentres, providing “integrated employment and mental health support to claimants with common mental health conditions”.
The first jobcentre to host these IAPT therapists is in Crown House, Station Approach, Streatham, the same building as the new Lambeth Living Well Hub (LLWH).
LLWH, which is set to open on 29 June, is run by a collaborative which includes healthcare providers, local authorities, charities and service-users.
Its aim is to “keep people well and out of hospital”, and act as “a new ‘front door’ to mental health services in the borough”.
MHRN has sent an open letter to individuals and organisations, asking them to back their opposition to the location of LLWH in Crown House and the co-location of therapists in jobcentres.
The letter says: “Mental health service users are already reporting higher levels of fear, anxiety and anguish as a result of the increasingly difficult welfare benefits system, which is linked to an increasing rate of suicides.
“This situation will be exacerbated by the new developments.”
The letter says that psychological therapies are “ineffective” if they are forced on people, and need to take place in “safe, unthreatening environments”.
It adds: “We are concerned that people will be sanctioned (ie have their benefits stopped) if they do not co-operate with this ‘therapy’ either out of principle or because they are not well enough.”
Robert Dellar, an MHRN spokesman, said: “People with mental health issues are absolutely terrified of jobcentres, of work capability assessments, sanctions, and having their dole stopped and threatened.
“People are just going to be too scared to access services if the Hub is based in the same building as the jobcentre.”
David*, who has received services through the collaborative, said: “The jobcentre is a very traumatising place.
“The way DWP have been treating people with mental health problems and assessing them and [carrying out]work-focussed interviews is very oppressive and very forceful, and now they are opening these health services in [the same building as]a jobcentre.
“That is causing people a tremendous amount of distress. These services are meant to support you when you are in distress. The two do not meet. I personally would never go there [to the Hub].”
A spokeswoman for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, speaking on behalf of the Lambeth Living Well Collaborative, claimed that they were “not aware of or involved in any pilot at the jobcentre involving mental health or talking therapies”.
She added: “Streatham Jobcentre Plus hosts many organisations within the building.
“The decision of the collaborative to locate the Hub on the third floor of Crown House was one based on the need for adequate space for the service and cost.
“There are no plans for formal links between the Living Well Hub on the third floor and the jobcentre on the ground floor of Crown House.”
Despite her claims, a document on the collaborative’s website states: “The job centre building was chosen as the location for the Hub as there was free available office space and there was an opportunity to train job centre staff to help them work better with people with mental health issues.”
The spokeswoman refused to say whether the trust was comfortable with the government’s pilot project, or with the Hub being located in the same building as the jobcentre.
*Not his real name
Pictured: A Mental Health Resistance Network member at a previous protest