Thursday, 2 March 2017

Whatever You Do, Don't Mention Politics!

Kitty Jones

A particularly toxic piece of legislation was forced through last week.

Last month a tribunal of judges ruled that claimants with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety have a right to claim even the higher rate of PIP for help with going outdoors. It was a decision that put an end to years of the DWP deliberately misinterpreting the law. It meant that many thousands of people with serious mental health conditions finally had a chance to gain a little bit more independence.
 The government acted with remarkable speed.
 Bypassing the social security advisory committee, who are supposed to get the chance to comment on all changes to social security law, they published a statutory instrument that will reverse the judges’ decision. In an effort to justify overturning the judges’ ruling, Tory policy supremo George Freeman mocked as “bizarre” the idea that claimants with mental health conditions should be eligible for PIP. Instead, he said, PIP should only be for “the really disabled people who need it.”
 The changes will apply to all claims made from 16 March, 2017.

It’s been across the internet and in the mainstream news and no counsellor beyond the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy that I’m aware of has said anything about it.

The whole subject of benefit cuts has been swept under the carpet, we either don’t know or don’t care to know about it. Where we do talk about cuts is when they affect the agencies we work in.

For several years the DWP have been supported by our professional bodies to get therapists working with unemployed people in an environment dictated by the DWP. This simply beggars belief. It’s like offering to care for the mental health of children put up chimneys or people transported by slave ships, so they can get back to work. It falls into the trap of believing that because something is legal it is moral.

The 5 largest organisations, finally, after unknown numbers of people killing themselves or suffering hunger, hypothermia, homelessness, clinical anxiety and depression and just plain despair after being sanctioned, and in the face of thousands of deaths of people who have been found fit for work, wrote a little letter to the government to ask them please to stop sanctions. The government haven't replied. Why would they care about what these organisations have to say about sanctions? About anything?

What would have got the governments attention is if the Big 5 stopped tugging on Daddy’s trousers, turned towards their members and told them that working with the DWP is unethical and that no member should apply for or take this work.

This is an area where counsellors can directly empathise with clients. We are forced to work for no payment – sometimes we, like unemployed people, pay to work via fares and other expenses and it’s called ‘volunteering’. If we refuse to work without payment we are sanctioned simply by not being allowed to train as a counsellor. Our attitude to compulsory work is sharply attended to and we are expected to feel grateful for the opportunity to make money for other people.

True, our period of compulsory work is much, much longer than anything people on benefits were expected to perform. But like them, the chances of gaining employment after that period of enforced work is minute and we certainly won’t find it as a counsellor in the agency. Like the organisations that made use of Workfare, why would they employ people if they can get work performed for free?

Like unemployed people, we are expected to attend therapy and demonstrate that we are making progress. Our attitude will be examined closely. Unlike people on benefits, our attitude and attendance won’t determine whether we’re allowed to heat our homes or eat.

But we don't empathise with the unemployed. (A few weeks on the dole in the 80's and 90's are nothing like long term unemployment, or unemployment since 2010.) Do the unemployed represent our Shadow, the rejected, the despised, the stigmatised? We long to be recognised as 'professional' and 'registered' and 'accredited' and respectable so to identify ourselves in people who are historically abused and scapegoated will be very hard. 

Therapists talk up a storm about ethics, it’s a word that’s often used as a kind of threat: “I think that doing this or that is unethical.” Yesterday I heard a counsellor flatly say that they believe it is unethical to discuss politics with a client.

In this climate I’d say it’s unethical not to be able to. Sadly, because we are so separate from the worlds and experiences of people who are unemployed, very few of us are in any manner able to discuss their situation with them at all, let alone the politics that they’ve found themselves immersed in. At this point, counselling a person who is unemployed is likely to cause that person harm.

When we don’t know the difference between ‘voluntary’ and ‘compulsory’ how can we trust ourselves to meet with people who are trapped in a system of compulsion that can kill them?

No comments:

Post a Comment