Conservative proposals to cut out-of-work disability benefits for people with obesity and addictions – and maybe other conditions, too – if they refuse treatment are “wild, stupid and dangerous”, say disabled activists.
The prime minister, David Cameron, has asked Dame Carol Black to carry out a “rapid review” of people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) or old-style incapacity benefit (IB) – “for conditions such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction or obesity… treatable conditions”.
But the party refused to comment this week when asked if the review would also look at mental health conditions, or other treatable impairments, and is also refusing to release the review’s terms of reference.
A party spokesman said: “We’re not going to comment beyond the press notice [issued last week].”
In that press release, Cameron says: “Too many people are stuck on sickness benefits because of issues that could be addressed but instead are not.
“Some have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment. In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice.
“It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.”
Cameron said he had asked Dame Carol to “undertake a rapid review in to how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions back in to work”.
And he adds: “In particular, I have asked her to consider whether people should face the threat of a reduction in benefits if they refuse to engage with a recommended treatment plan – it is vital that people who would benefit from treatment get the medical help they need.”
A party spokeswoman said Dame Carol had been asked to carry out a review and make recommendations, but the review “would be for an incoming Conservative government, so further details will be given after 7 May – if the Conservatives are re-elected”.
She said Dame Carol had been asked “to consider some specific things” but was “free to make whatever recommendations she deems appropriate”, but refused to comment further.
Dame Carol has refused to discuss the review, and whether she will be looking at conditions other than addiction and obesity.
Last week, Dr Sarah Wollaston, herself a Conservative MP and chair of the Commons health select committee, said on Twitter that sanctions linked to medical treatment were “unethical”.
She tweeted: “We absolutely cannot implement coercive consent to treatment because that is NOT consent to treatment!”
She added: “#consentmatters because treatments imposed without ethical consent are more likely to fail.”
Rick Burgess, co-founder of New Approach, which is dedicated to scrapping the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – said it was “puzzling” that Dame Carol’s medical ethics appeared so out-of-step with Wollaston’s.
He said: “That there are no details suggests this is the most irresponsible kind of electoral politics, using dog-whistle smears to energise base supporters with wild, stupid, dangerous policies built on ignorance and a taste for demagoguery amongst Tory campaign strategists.”
John McArdle (pictured), co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “As a campaign, we regard people who have drug and alcohol dependency issues as having an illness, and a serious illness at that, something that should be managed in a sympathetic manner by experienced clinicians.
“Using the threat of benefit sanctions on a person with a severe illness like that is unconscionable.
“The fact that they refuse to rule out applying this to other conditions shows the depths to which this government has sunk.
“It is completely unethical to threaten sick and/or disabled people with losing meagre benefits to which they are entitled and which they really need. It’s despicable.
“What they are doing is they are scapegoating people again.
“Dame Carol Black should know better than to partake in such cynical electioneering on behalf of the Tory party.”
A disabled activist known on Twitter as MHealth Extremist, a former psychotherapist herself, who tweets at @wildwalkerwoman, said the idea of compulsory treatment for mental health problems was “a highly dangerous move”, particularly for professionals, as clients “will intuitively know its unethical & [their] healthy response [would be] rage”.
She told followers on Twitter: “Such a situation places both sides at HUGE risk & psychological harm it will inflict may well explode into physical expression.
“These proposals violate every code of ethics I have ever seen in the [mental health] profession – public or private.”
She told Disability News Service that the Conservative refusal to release the terms of reference suggests that “we can expect the worst”.
She added: “Think we’re about to find out whether affected professions actually believe in their ethics or not.”