Last year, the UN accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and successive governments of creating a “human catastrophe” for disabled people in the UK. Since then, the situation has seemingly got worse. The department is now out of control. But is the misery and torture the DWP inflicts on people systematic and by design?
The DWP: in bed with the NHS
As I wrote on 14 June, the NHS and the DWP have been co-working since 2006 on a programme within the health service to get people living with mental health issues back to work. Not satisfied with essentially redefining over 380,000 people’s impairments since 2013 to deny them benefits (a rot which started under New Labour), and forcing nearly two million claimants back to work, the DWP is now invading the holy space of the patient / medical professional relationship. But when you read between the lines, it’s clear why it’s doing this.
Pacing people back to work
The DWP operates systematically in terms of which groups of people it targets to force off benefits and into work – or whose benefits it reduces to such low levels that they quietly eke out their existence on the fringes of society, or die trying. A prime example of this was the now-notorious PACE trial, a research project part-funded by the DWP into treatments for myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome, commonly referred to as ME/CFS or just ME.
It basically said that people living with ME can use talking therapy to think themselves better and that exercise would improve their symptoms. All of this has been dismissed by experts and patients alike but still, bodies like the NHS roll it out as approved treatment (although it’s now under review).
Work or die trying
The thinking behind the PACE trial is clear to me. The causes of ME are still not fully understood. So the DWP and insurance companies in the US saw a win-win situation. No medical professional can, in their eyes, quantifiably prove an ME patient’s illness. This leaves the patient with no strong argument as to why they shouldn’t work. Therefore, by pushing a treatment which suggests ME patients’ symptoms are, in part, psychosomatic, governments can say ‘well, if you can think yourself better then there’s no need for you not to be working, is there?’.
This ultimately reduces health insurance payouts for companies in the US, because people’s illnesses are declared false. In the UK, it forms part of the DWP’s drive to reduce the welfare bill.
We are now seeing the same thing [pdf, p43] with mental health. For example: the DWP issuing blanket guidelines to deny people living with mental health issues certain benefits; the government appointing a flag-bearer of the biopsychosocial model of health (again, ‘think yourself better’ in simple terms) to review the Mental Health Act, and the DWP putting Jobcentre advisers into talking therapy settings [pdf, p72]. All of this has the same aim: force people living with mental health issues back to work, or push them to society’s fringes.
Ultimately, what’s this all about? Capitalism.
In the wake of the financial crisis, one that was of capitalism’s making, the drive for increased productivity and profit has caused the rise of the ‘gig economy’, stagnating wages and a return to Victorian-like workhouses in the West. But it’s also seen an all-out assault on the welfare state. Because sick and disabled people aren’t of benefit to capital, they either need to become productive (and quickly) or they need to get out of its way (often permanently). The DWP is complicit in this.
Three years of damaging policies could be forgiven as a mistake to be learned from. Five years indicates a system which doesn’t really care for the people it’s supposed to be supporting. But a decade of misery, psychological and physical torture and, in some cases, death? That’s intentional. It’s by design. And it’s utterly dystopian.
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