Last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph included an article which suggests the Government is considering stripping Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments from claimants who refuse to undergo treatment for anxiety and depression. Norman Lamb, Minister for Care and Support, has since made it clear that the Government does not plan to make undergoing treatment mandatory and that people will not have their ESA payments taken away if they do not undergo treatment.
We hope that this is in fact the case. We were extremely concerned by the Telegraph’s article.
Not only would this be highly unethical, but it would undermine the Government’s legal commitment to valuing every citizen’s physical and mental health equally. It is very unlikely the Government would consider doing something similar to people with physical health problems.
We also know that people are more likely to benefit from therapy if they enter it voluntarily and of their own volition, and if they have a choice of therapies. Further, currently available talking therapies do not work for everyone – and are unlikely to be a panacea for people receiving ESA. This is why, together with partners, we are calling for NHS England to offer a full range of psychological therapies to all who need them.
From a professional perspective, it would also be highly unethical to deliver psychotherapy and counselling mandatorily. This would conflict with perhaps the main sina qua none of psychotherapy and counselling – that both the patient/client and the therapist/counsellor have autonomy.
Despite what Norman Lamb has said, the BBC reports that making treatment mandatory remains a Department for Work and Pensions ‘idea’ for the future. The Government is also running four pilot schemes to see whether mental health assessments might be included as part of the Work Capability Assessment process.
Surely the right priority for this Government should be to raise funding for mental health services so that it reflects the disease burden of mental health in the UK (23%) and so that each person on ESA with anxiety and depression can access an appropriate mental health treatment? We will continue to monitor this issue closely and will issue further statements as well as guidance to our registrants if necessary.