Socialist Party
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27 June 2012

Poverty and job worries hit mental health

A leaked memo from senior Jobcentre executives to staff warns of an increased risk of benefit claimants attempting suicide as a result of changes to sickness benefit.

The Con-Dems' vicious cuts to welfare include effectively forcing thousands of people who are eligible for disability benefits into the job market. Private companies such as Atos Origin are being paid millions to make assessments that will deny people much-needed financial support and services.

And, of course, these people are being forced to compete for jobs which don't exist in numbers to match demand. In 39 local authorities there are ten or more claimants for every Jobcentre vacancy available. But, as the Socialist has previously pointed out, not all these 'vacancies represent real jobs - many are duplicates, agencies, commission only or catalogue and leaflet distribution.

The memo emphasises the need for Jobcentre workers to have "utmost care and sensitivity" when dealing with "customers".

Oppose the cuts

Indeed, there is increasing evidence of mental health problems resulting from poverty. The mental health charity Mind reports that its infoline has seen a 100% increase in calls about personal finance and employment since the start of the recession. Since Work Capability Assessments were brought in there has also been a 100% increase in calls about benefits.

The Lancet Medical Journal published a study last year showing that the steady downward trend in suicide rates across the EU immediately reversed in 2007 when the recession hit. Also, the increase was greatest where the financial crisis has been worse - 17% in Greece and 13% in Ireland.

Katrine Williams, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) group vice president in the PCS civil servants' union, responds.

"PCS members in DWP want to deliver good quality services to the public. This is even more critical in difficult economic times when many more people need support.

PCS members are increasingly raising concerns about the impact of the welfare reforms on the public as they are dealing first hand with the consequences. Our members want to be trusted to deliver services and have enough time to give support and respect to people.

So PCS was surprised to find that our posters, including one (opposite) highlighting that the number of calls where our members are dealing with the issue of suicide have increased, were banned by management. We will continue to campaign for more staff and time to deal with the public properly.

Also, importantly, PCS has a good record of campaigning against the welfare reforms of this government and the previous New Labour one. PCS will work with anti-cuts campaigners, claimant organisations and other trade unions to oppose the cuts which are decimating the welfare state and pushing people to the limit."