Disgraceful attitude to mental health disguised by the warm words of Iain Duncan-Smith

Listening to Iain Duncan-Smith can be enough to send anyone to sleep. He drones on and one can be lulled into thinking he is being quite reasonable.

However, behind his warm words, there is a chilling attitude to disabilities and particularly to mental illness.

He seems to be saying: There must be something you can do if you are suffering from depression.

And: If we start cutting your benefits, that’ll act as a little nudge to push you gently into work.

Blimey. What planet does he live on?

Having had a little experience of mental illness and those suffering from such long-term disabilities, I have to say that none of this washes.

If you have depression you are ill. It is ridiculous to suggest that you can even get to an interview and give a reasonable performance under such conditions.

The ineffable Mr Duncan-Smith talks blithely about getting into work being like “health treatment”. He seems to be blissfully unaware that in many, many cases the reverse is true. For many mentally ill people, having to even think about going to an interview, especially with a reduction in benefits hanging over their heads, is likely to send them into a grim downward spiral, which could well include suicidal thoughts.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Josh Bassett 24th Aug '15 - 9:39pm

    Completely agree. Yet more evidence (as if we needed it) that IDS has no compassion and no idea what its like to be anything other than privileged

  • It’s actually worse than that. IDS did come up the hard way and knows what it’s like to be poor. That he now shows so little compassion says it all really.

  • Simon Foster 24th Aug '15 - 10:10pm

    A good article Paul.

    The thing that enabled me to take time off at the beginning of this year sick when my divorce finally hit me with burnout?

    Sickness benefits.

    I only got back into work thanks to some private counselling to help me recover. As I said in the mental health debate at Liverpool, I was one of the lucky ones who could afford it, rather than go through the 12 week wait through my local NHS for Counselling.

    Looking at things from a purely right wing neo-liberal perspective, how much productivity is lost because people don’t have access to the mental health services they need?

    Iain Duncan Smith should be looking at investment politics, paying for decent mental health services to get people back into work, rather than cutting their benefits.

    And that’s just from his own limited neo-liberal right wing perspective.

    Imagine what could be achieved if developmental individualism was really being practised, especially for the long term sick.

    Simon Foster
    Mental health services user,
    Chair, NHS and Social Services Scrutiny Panel
    Bournemouth Borough Council (2003-2005).

  • Jane Ann Liston 25th Aug '15 - 12:31am

    There’s a fine line between support and harassment. I haven’t had depression, despite being unemployed for 4 years, but I found that having to give an account of myself every fortnight rather than ‘nudging’ me into action reduced my confidence and made me feel that nothing was any point. Since signing off, because thanks to husband’s income I only received NI credits, and once I had completed the 35th qualifying year there was no point at all in putting myself through the hassle.

    I do wish that real support, in the form of individual counselling, was on offer. I do wish that the system appreciated that spending time doing one really good application for something in which you are really interested, rather than firing off a dozen mediocre ones hither and yon, is better and much more likely to result in success. And I do wish that employers were fully involved for the long-term unemployed, being expected to give truthful ‘without prejudice’ feedback to unsuccessful applicants, rather than leaving the latter and their advisors to play a guessing-game as to what went wrong this time. Putting the whole burden upon the unemployed, especially those with a disability or long-term illness, is cruel, unreasonable and counter-productive.

  • Where there is high uemployment no amount of nudging will enable anyone to get a job, especially if they are suffering from depression.

  • It’s hardly surprising that I Dunc’s flexible relationship with the actuality should hide his intent with weasel words. Failed party leader, self promoter and self inventor talks out of his hind quarters, well there’s a shocker?

  • Richard Underhill 25th Aug '15 - 8:33am

    Norman Tebbitt, former MP for Chingford, said that “If you think I am right-wing, wait until you see Iain Duncan-Smith”.

  • Mick Taylor 24th Aug ’15 – 10:10pm …………….It’s actually worse than that. IDS did come up the hard way and knows what it’s like to be poor. That he now shows so little compassion says it all really………….

    We should all be that poor?…..
    Duncan Smith was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1954. He is the son of W. G. G. Duncan Smith, a decorated Royal Air Force flying ace of World War II, and Pamela Summers, a ballerina. They were married in 1946. He is a descendant of Adam Duncan, the admiral who defeated the Dutch Navy at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797….

    Mind you, that is from IDS’s biography so judge the truth for yourself…

  • Stephen Campbell 25th Aug '15 - 9:47am

    This is far too little, far too late.

    Where was your concern and compassion when you were in government? You actually had some power and influence then, but your party still went ahead and, with a few noble exceptions, voted for the Tories’ cruel welfare “reforms” (the word reforms here is a misnomer anyway, since reform usually means something will improve). People who warned you about the harmful consequences of this bill and pleaded, no, begged you to stop it were called “Labour tro11s” and other choice names on this very site. Thanks to these “reforms”, aided by many Lib Dem votes, some mentally ill people who were found “fit for work” (but really were not) took their own lives.

    “Oh, but we stopped the Tories doing even worse things” some Lib Dems may cry. Great. You kicked people only once when they were down instead of twice. How very moral.

    Shame on every last Lib Dem MP who voted for the Welfare “Reform” Bill.

  • Jane Ann Liston 25th Aug '15 - 9:52am

    He looks much older!

    However, these biographical details do not actually give any indication of how well-off his family was. It is not uncommon for Forces veterans and retired dancers to be living in straitened circumstances, despite claimed descent from an eighteenth-century naval hero.

    Neither did IDS attend a private school, apparently.

  • SIMON BANKS 25th Aug '15 - 9:53am

    There is also the issue of how friendly workplaces can be made to vulnerable people at a sensitive stage in a hoped-for recovery. I suspect, for example, few employers including public sector ones about to move to big open-plan offices or from them to “flexible working” (no-one except the very, very senior has a work station they can call their own) bothered to carry out an equality impact assessment that examined mental health implications of the changes.

    There is just a little truth in Duncan Smith’s argument: a successful return to work can build up people’s confidence no end. But a failed return will have the opposite effect. And someone at this sort of crossroads will not be pushed in the right direction by financial sanctions.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Aug '15 - 10:15am

    Perhaps Iain Duncan Smith should check out the symptoms of depression and ask which employers are going to employ someone with the devastating manifestations of depression, the inability to concentrate etc.

    People with depression are off work for a reason and they need support to get to a position where a return to employment improves symptoms such as low self esteem and self- loathing rather than deepens it. Too many people already return to work when they are still fragile in the hope that employment will lessen their negative feelings.

    What he is offering shows a complete lack of understanding of the illness and his prescription is the uncaring modern equivalent of the ‘buck your ideas up and you will soon feel better’ approach. I can’t think of anything more likely to cause further harm to those already suffering.

  • Slight disclaimer here I hold a senior position in an Occupational Health Organisation so will inevitably have some bias!

    Working can be good for some peoples return to health and the exact opposite for others. The people who can make such a determination are health professionals, ideally appropriately qualified Occupational Health Professionals working in conjunction with the individual’s primary / secondary care teams, NOT a politician….

    Of course the Governments new Fit for Work service is supposed to help, it won’t for many reasons not least the fact that, at a briefing for OH Organisations, a senior member of the provider’s team admitted that someone absent with mental health / emotional health issues could be booked to speak to a physio, OT or general nurse who would have had three weeks training!

    Quality OH provision for those in work who find themselves ill and quality support services for those currently too ill to seek work must be the first priorities. It’s churlish to say there can never be a stick in the welfare system, there are a small minority of people who will abuse it. It is however utter stupidity to implement a stick without the carrot of properly funded support services.

    As for Fit to Work, the government could have saved a huge amount of money by providing employers with a voucher to be redeemed at any SEQOHS accredited OH Provider for employees who have been absent for the prescribed 4 weeks rather then a centrally organised behemoth unlikely to have the opportunity or inclination to understand the specific workplace issues the employee faces. This would also allow local services to benefit rather than a US Healthcare Giant.

  • Morwen Millson 25th Aug '15 - 8:28pm

    Bearing in mind the number of people who actually become ill partly because of work place stress, IDS’s statement is bizarre to say the least. As a councillor, who has sat on a few staff appeal panels over the years, I also know how difficult managed returns to work can be for all concerned, however good the intention.

  • Jane Ann Liston 25th Aug '15 - 8:46pm

    With claimants being ‘encouraged’ to apply for as many jobs as possible, with little regard to appropriateness, as each rejection is a knock to one’s confidence, people are likely to become even more depressed.

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