Counsellors in Jobcentres or Agents of Social Control ?

counselling in Jobcentres

Coming to a town near you !

It’s time to make a stand, I am not the only therapist who is concerned that individuals who are claiming benefits may be forced to undergo therapy or be sanctioned.

The government announced in March’s budget an, “Integrated employment and mental health support to claimants with common mental health conditions”.

This “initiative” will see therapists from the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT),) “co-locate” to more than 350 jobcentres.

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), and already there has been a storm of criticism and protest from the profession.

One publication, The Journal of Medical Humanities, which is co-owned by the British Medical Journal has recently published an article criticising the view that being unemployed was “Evidence of both personal failure and psychological deficit”.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, in an article for the BPS (British Psychological Association) published in June this year stated that claimants are being “Coerced to undertake psychological interventions.”

One of the more frightening aspects Professor Hacker Hughes eludes to is that –

“Unemployment is being rebranded as a psychological disorder”.

One well known therapist, who is concerned that the profession is being used as an  “Agent of social control” is Dr Susie Orbach , a well-known psychoanalyst and author of the book ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’.

Dr Orbach, a signatory (along with over 400 hundred other therapists) to  an open a letter sent to the government and opposition parties before the general election , stating their concern of how forcing individuals in to therapy is wrong.

Even the BACBCP who describes itself as “The Lead Organisation For CBT in the UK” has published a position statement.  In an article on their website entitled, “‘Coercive’ Therapy Proposals for jobcentres – Statement from the BABCP board”.

The statement outlines that although they are not aware of how specifically that CBT may be offered in Jobcentres they make their ethical position crystal clear-

“ The position of BABCP’s Board of Trustees is that BABCP is against any offer of any treatment (including CBT) based on coercion or associated with unfair or disproportionate inducements. This applies to whether CBT interventions are offered as part of therapy, research, or in any other context (for example, corporate training/development).

……just to make sure there is no misunderstanding ……..they go on ….

“Coercion is defined by BABCP as the threat of punishment, and unfair and disproportionate inducements are defined by us as rewards for participation which are such that an individual is pressurised by the extent or form of the inducement to accept an offer which they would otherwise refuse.”

Andrew Reeves, Chair of BACP, makes his organisations position clear in a statement on the BACP website.

“At BACP, we oppose the mandatory use of psychological therapies in the delivery of workfare programmes that link unemployment to psychological deficit. Ethically, counselling and psychotherapy shouldn’t be imposed upon anyone, but must remain a choice which is freely entered into – we wouldn’t support anything else. Benefit claimants shouldn’t be expected to have therapy under the threat of their benefits being stopped – it is unethical and potentially harmful”

Believe it or not, getting benefits is not as easy as the Daily Mail makes it out to be, for 5 years I was a professional benefits claimant.

I was employed by a charity to help ex-offenders who had come out of prison, part of that work was to help them access benefits.

Let me tell you it is not as easy as you might think, I have seen individuals lose their tenancy’s because of a misspelt name on a form, in one case I spent two days on the phone to housing benefit and although they promised to sort it out nothing happened- he was subsequently evicted and because he had arrears was forced in to rough sleeping.

Recently, someone I know, who was a carer for their mother who had Alzheimer’s,(saving the NHS lots of money). In November she died and Tom (not his real name) was forced to go back on benefits.

‘Tom’ is a widower, has two young girls, and no close family living near him, when he re-signed on he was told that because of government changes he would not be paid for two weeks, given the choice of not feeding his children and sitting in the dark and cold for a week, he phoned up in a desperate state asking for help, and yes myself and my wife gave him some money.

Part of his ‘back to work’ plan was to get ‘Work Ready ’ basically a training course which he attended, at the end he was told that he had passed and his certificates were ready for him to collect.

When he turned up he was asked for £30 and £20 for another document, he contacted the jobcentre who originally told him that the course was funded. Their response  – “ I don’t know who told you that, we don’t fund certificates “ .

But get this, by not obtaining his certificates he would have been deemed to have failed the course and as such would have been sanctioned – money stopped with two young girls to look after.

So again myself and my wife helped out.

It would be fair to say that Tom is depressed, so can you imagine if he had to endure the indignity of being forced to have a spot of CBT to get him back on track, when the presenting issue is that the system designed to help people like Tom and his family are in fact punishing him.

And that is why I am writing this article !

I know that a lot of visitors to Counselling Tutor are students, it is you who hold the future of the profession in your hands and hearts.

The skills and knowledge you are acquiring are a ‘precious gift’, it’s the power of two- for the benefit of one, and you have more power than you can imagine – really you do!

My view is that it is now impossible for therapists to be non political, as the government had forced us to make a choice – be agents of social control or make stand to defend the moral basis of our profession -namely Autonomy, the freedom for a client to choose their destiny .

Power itself is malign, it is how it is used,that makes the difference between misery and freedom, so make a choice and stand your ground.

Because – If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.

 

 Footnote

On the same week Streatham Jobcentre started to offer therapy to the unemployed, it was reported that the retailer Amazon paid £11.9m Tax on £5.3 Billion of sales.

 

References

http://www.bps.org.uk/blog/presidential/psychology-and-unemployed

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/17/hundreds-of-mental-health-experts-issue-rallying-call-against-austerity

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/17/austerity-and-a-malign-benefits-regime-are-profoundly-damaging-mental-health

http://www.babcp.com/About/Press/Coercive-Therapy-Proposals-for-Jobcentres-Statement-From-BABCP-Board.aspx

http://www.bacp.co.uk/media/index.php?newsId=3742

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/24/amazons-uk-business-paid-119m-tax-last-year