Mind’s chief executive has lied to service-users and other disabled activists who were protesting about his charity’s close links with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Disabled activists who gathered outside Mind’s headquarters on Monday declared “war” on the charity because of its support for DWP policies that they say have damaged people in mental distress.
The protest, led by mental health service-users, was sparked by the decision of the charity’s policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard to join DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser.
The noisy protest saw activists brand Mind an “absolute disgrace” and brandish a bag containing “30 pieces of silver”, which they said was “blood money” for Pollard.
When Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, left the building to speak to protesters (pictured), he told them the charity had “no contracts with DWP” and that he was “not interested in future contracts at this stage”.
But after the protest, a disgruntled member of Mind staff leaked details that appeared to be from the charity’s internal website, which showed that it was applying to join a DWP framework that will allow it to bid for employment and health-related contracts, each of which could be worth between £2 million and £30 million a year.
The posts appear to refer to a framework that will allow charities and other organisations to bid for contracts under DWP’s new Work and Health Programme.
One post says: “Any such contracts undertaken by Mind for the direct delivery of appropriate employment and health related services would be through local Minds.”
It also suggests that Mind has taken measures to avoid being named publicly, allowing it to dodge the potential “reputational risk” of bidding jointly for a contract with a controversial partner.
Asked by Disability News Service (DNS) if he would apologise and resign for lying to service-users, Farmer issued a statement in which he failed to answer those questions, but appeared to accept that he had lied, stating that the charity would not bid for any DWP contracts that involved “any element of mandation or sanction”.
He added: “We only bid for contracts that align with our values and that would allow us to offer our expertise in providing person-centred, supportive back-to-work and employment retention services.”
The protesters had accused Mind of acting in its own interests, rather than those of service-users, of “putting profit before people”, and pushing the “nonsense” idea that work should be seen as a health outcome or even a cure for those in mental distress.
And they said the charity had failed to speak out about the deaths of mental health service-users who have been driven to take their own lives by the government’s welfare reforms, its “fitness for work” assessment, and its sanctions system.
Denise McKenna, a co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), and one of the protest’s organisers, told protesters: “We know that work is not a cure for mental health problems, yet national Mind is going along with this rubbish in order to get contracts with the government.
“Today is the first day of what is going to be a long campaign against national Mind.
“We don’t see national Mind as an ally for people in mental distress unless they [distance themselves] from DWP and say work is not a cure for mental health problems.
“Until such time as that happens, quite frankly we are at war with national Mind.”
Fellow organiser Paula Peters told the protest: “Government policy will put us into further coercion and that will cause deaths.
“We all know someone who is not here [because they have died due to DWP policies].
“Look out of the window; this is 30 pieces of silver. This is yours, you traitors.”
She added: “We will make every charity who works with the government toxic – we will make every charity’s reputation so dirty that no-one will touch them.”
The protest took place as work and pensions secretary Damian Green was launching his green paper on employment support for disabled people, with fears among protesters and fellow activists that it would lead to people in severe mental distress being “bullied and coerced” into work.
They believe that mental health services are already being designed with the purpose of “harassing people into work”.
The action was supported by other grassroots, user-led networks, including WinVisible, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle.
They have called for the resignation of both Farmer and the charity’s president, Stephen Fry, and want local Mind associations to disaffiliate themselves from the national charity.
They are also threatening a boycott of Mind’s services and fundraising activities, and have called on its staff to show their own disapproval by taking strike action.
Farmer told the protesters: “We have campaigned very openly and clearly on issues around welfare reform for many years now.
“It is a matter we take extremely seriously in terms of the way we have listened to a whole range of people talking about their experiences, the fundamental flaws of the work capability assessment (WCA).
“We want a fundamental overhaul of the WCA.”
He said that Mind “did comment publicly” about deaths linked to the WCA, which he said were “terrible, terrible acts” and that “of course, no-one wants then to take place”.
Farmer said there was “good evidence that good work is good for our mental health” but Mind was “very clear that people should not be forced into work”.
He encouraged people to take part in the “conversation” around the government’s new green paper.
And he said that Pollard had “done an amazing job for us at Mind” and had challenged ministers and civil servants in meetings on welfare reform.
Farmer refused to take the 30 pieces of silver with him when he returned to the Mind offices.
But protesters warned that the action was only the beginning of a lengthy campaign that would make the charity as “toxic” as other DWP contractors such as Atos, Maximus and Capita.
Protesters said they would be “at war with national Mind” until the charity distanced itself from DWP, and they warned other disability charities that “collude” with DWP that they would also be targeted.
Linda Laurie, a former member of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, told the protest: “This guy is just like the head of all these big charities that have taken the money from organisations run by disabled people.
“Hundreds [of disabled-led organisations] have been shut down and they are taking the money and they are claiming to speak on their behalf.
“Rights not charity! And now we are just finding out what many of us have suspected for years – charities are only in it for themselves, they are not bothered about us.
“That guy isn’t one of us. How the hell can he claim to speak on our behalf?”
Another of the protesters, psychotherapist Paul Atkinson, has been working with MHRN and DPAC as a member of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Free Psychotherapy Network to oppose the idea of a “work cure” for mental distress.
He said Mind’s actions were “symbolic of what’s happening in the way that charities have been colluding with the workhouse policies of the Tories”, and the idea of psychological coercion through DWP policies such as its sanctions system.
He said he believed there was “quite a lot of concern” building up among local Mind organisations about “this massive emphasis on work being a cure for mental health”.
He said: “If someone wants to work, that is absolutely fine, that can be supported as much as possible, but as a goal for therapy it is completely unacceptable.”
McKenna told DNS that she believed Farmer and Mind had been “taken by surprise” by the strength of the protests against its DWP links.
She said Mind had become “complacent and frankly a bit arrogant”.
She added: “I don’t know if [Farmer] believes there is such a thing as a work cure but that is what they have thrown their lot in with.
“He clearly believes he is doing the right thing for national Mind and himself. I don’t think he gives a damn whether he is doing the right thing for mental health service-users.
“People are beginning to see through the charities now. We have to treat them the same way as we treat Atos.
“I don’t believe he doesn’t know what the government has planned for us. This is about getting people with severe mental health problems into work.”
Mark Roberts, a co-founder of MHRN, said: “I think national Mind will encourage local associations to become mini-Atos’s.
“It’s happening already, with local associations just doing the government’s bidding and the local authority’s bidding.”
And he said he believed that support for the campaign was building around the country among local Mind associations, as well as in the wider disabled people’s movement.