On top of punishing claimants with sanctions that leave people destitute, the Government now has plans to use psychological treatments to force people into work.
George Osborne’s budget announced measures to ‘improve employment outcomes’ for people with mental health conditions. These include online cognitive behavioural therapy (change the world by changing how you think) for people on ESA or JSA and putting psychologists in JobCentres.
Unemployment is being redefined as a psychological disorder and the main purpose of psychological therapy will be to force people off benefits. Or to promote yet another specious reason to cut people off benefits.
Meanwhile, the Tory Manifesto states that claimants who ‘refuse a recommended treatment’ may have their benefits reduced. This is an assault on the human rights of people on benefits and an attempt to co-opt medical professionals as state enforcers.
We’re hearing more and more reports of the misuse of psychology to coerce, bully and punish claimants into ‘getting the right mindset’: “all new starts must attend an initial two week course to develop their confidence”.
Change your attitude
The ‘change your attitude’ message of positive psychology is enforced in mandatory ’employability’ training courses promising to help with ‘self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation’ and in unsolicited ‘positive thinking’ emails. Making people take part in various pointless and humiliating psycho-group-activities e.g. building paper clip towers to demonstrate team work, or take completely meaningless and unethical psychological tests to determine their ‘strengths’.
The Department for Work and Pensions issues contracts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds (Focus the Mind, Achieve your Potential) designed to ‘address negative perceptions’ and ‘instil a positive attitude to work‘. A programme for JSA/ESA claimants over 50 aims to persuade people that age discrimination doesn’t exist:
“to challenge perceptions that employers discriminate on the grounds of age”.
These fraudulent programmes don’t result in real paid work you can live on. The companies that run them are making millions out of a big con: that with a total personality makeover, anyone can get a job. That positive thinking can change the low pay, no pay UK economy.
Psychological resistance to work
In another scheme claimants will have interviews to assess whether we have a ‘psychological resistance’ to work, along with attitude profiling to judge whether we are ‘bewildered, despondent or determined’. If they decide you are ‘less mentally fit’ you’ll be sent on ‘more intensive coaching’, while those who are ‘optimistic’ can be placed on less rigorous regimes. This is how they will decide who is to be punished with ‘extra support’ i.e. forced to spend 35 hours a week at a JobCentre.
The growing use of psychology, with practically every JobCentrePlus manager an expert in the topic, is not helping people with mental health problems whose suffering at the hands of this system has been well documented – with more than 100 people a day with mental health problems losing their benefits through sanctions.
The newly privatised Behavioural Insights Team has trained over 20,000 JobCentre staff in ‘behavioural techniques‘ with DWP managers regularly sending out positive psychology tweets to ‘motivate’ staff to meet targets. Targets that result in escalating sanctions.
Positive psychology messages are so stupid, they are laughable. But being told day in, day out, that it’s our fault we’re unemployed or in such low paid work that we have to claim benefits can really get to you. The language of workshy scroungers is a deliberate attempt to put people down and undermine support for hard won welfare rights. Claimants are expected to show a positive attitude to being exploited or be sent on 6 months Community Work Placement for ‘lack of motivation’ or be referred to a psychologist for questioning your job coach.
Before Christmas, the president elect of the British Psychological Society Jamie Hacker Hughes responded to our concerns by promising to hold an inquiry. That was then. Inspite of repeated reminders, there is nothing on the BPS website about the inquiry. No terms of reference. No information about how people who’ve been through various workfare psycho-interventions can submit their testimonies. All we’ve had from BPS on the issue of psychology, workfare and ethics so far is a press release saying that it’s fine to test claimants for ‘psychological resistance to work‘ as long as the person doing the tests is ‘qualified’.
We’re not holding our breath for the BPS inquiry. In the meantime, we welcome your own testimony on how psychology is used to manipulate, blame, punish and coerce people on benefits.
What you can do
Let the British Psychological Society know we won’t stand for compulsory positive psychology and mandatory psychological treatment. We expect them to speak out. You could also ask them what happened to the inquiry into psychology and workfare promised by their President Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes back in November 2014?