The following article was written by Sonia Poulton and published on the Daily Mail website on 3rd April 2012
“Every now and then I find myself shouting, uncontrollably, at the radio or television as someone is allowed to express views which perplex and dishearten me. This occasional burst of profanity is often accompanied by rapid jabs of my index finger as if the offending person is in front of me and subject to the full force of my anger.
So it was that I experienced something not dissimilar to this while listening to a radio interview with the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling. Mr Grayling had joined the mid-morning show on BBC Radio Five Live - via telephone - to tell the millions of listeners about the importance of work when it comes to the well-being of our mental health. He talked about how we must justify the use of questionable testing methods for those with mental health issues because, after all, we are helping these poor unfortunates in the long run.
Just when I thought I couldn’t listen to any more of the conversation - if for no other reason than the good of my own personal health - Mr Grayling issued the Coalition’s favourite trick: the single person anecdote. Just like David Cameron who dug up that one doctor who supported NHS Reforms - and then turned out not to after all - Mr Grayling proceeded to relay to the radio audience the story of the woman he had met who had been unemployed for over a decade as a result of long-term depression.
He talked about how she lacked confidence in returning to work. Fair enough. I can see the sense in that. Long-term unemployment can certainly take its toll on people. So, no disagreement there. Anyway, eventually she was given a job - donating her free time to a charity shop, presumably like one of those lovely Workfare arrangements - and she couldn't thank Chris Grayling enough for helping her overcome her lack of self-esteem and the mental health problems that accompanied it.
So it was that on the basis of this woman, Chris Grayling had deduced that work is good for one's mental health and for rescuing people from the misery of depression. In order to do that, he continued on, we have no alternative but to subject those with psychological issues to the Work Capability Assessment because it will be good for them if they can just bite the bullet in the first place. Who would’ve thought it, eh? Chris Grayling the proverbial knight in shining armour riding in to rescue a downtrodden citizen. Spare me, please.
It seems entirely wrong that Mr Grayling was allowed to espouse such a belief system to millions of listeners and all on the basis of one single, solitary person. Yes, one whole one. And we didn’t even get to hear her name or where she works or even if the company took her on for a paid position after she had given them free employment. Although we can almost certainly guess the correct answer to that one.
I despair, I really do. This Coalition loves drawing on anecdotal evidence that seldom involves more than one person to substantiate their point. If I, as a journalist, used only one example of anything to support an argument I suspect my editor would have plenty to say about it - and quite rightly - and yet we allow our Government Ministers, and even our Prime Minister, to get away with this in order to proceed with measures that will affect the lives of millions. And not to their benefit, either.
So it was that I listened to the end of the interview with Mr Grayling - in which he talked about firing the boss of mental health charity MIND from a panel because he opposed the Government’s stance on people with mental health problems - and I was left with an abundance of questions that Mr Grayling had not addressed or even been presented with.
So, as a concerned British citizen, I decided to contact Mr Grayling myself and, to this end, I rang the House of Commons yesterday (he was out) and his Epsom constituency office today (he was out again. Surprise, surprise). Then I compiled a letter to him and sent it. I am awaiting his response.
In the meantime, these are the problems with our Employment Minister’s current drive to get people with mental health issues into the workplace. Mr Grayling tells us that even though the ATOS assessment can be traumatic for many - which he admitted on radio - he justified its use by the fact that we would be helping heal mentally ill members of our society.
Oh, so he’s a psychotherapist now, is he? One who understands the individual requirements of those who are suffering mental illness. Of course not. And if he were, the first thing he would know is that this unconscionable bullying, which is what it amounts to, is no good for one’s mental health whatsoever. Let us also not forget that we currently have three million unemployed in our country and yet Mr Grayling, to all intents and purposes, is on a nationwide drive to convince people that too many people aren’t working and they must. Er, yes, we know that.
So, you may well be entitled to ask, where are these magical jobs he intends to put mentally ill people in to? Are they in some secret Government stash that you and I don’t know about? Now let us add this to the equation. As our Employment Minister whips the country - via our national broadcaster - into a type of witch-hunt against those with psychological illnesses, it is important to remember how difficult [it] is for many people with MH issues to secure gainful employment in the first place.
As an example, given that mental health issues affect one family in three in the UK, only 15% of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are currently employed and there is far-reaching stigma attached to employing people with other issues including depression and schizophrenia. That’s one of the reasons the Coalition ran a recent series of adverts in an attempt to dispel the taboo of mental health problems. Remember that? They appear to have forgotten already.
I do wish they would engage in more joined-up thinking across their departments. You start to wonder who really has the mental health issues after all - and I mean that in no disparaging way whatsoever. Let us also be sure to factor in that even when thousands of our disabled - mental and physical - were employed, Mr Grayling recently pulled the carpet from under their feet by closing Remploy factories nationwide and making 1,500 disabled people unemployed.
And there’s more still. What about the fact that our MP’s and Lords have voted to reduce significantly the budget for Disability Living Allowance - a benefit which enables disabled people to work? How does that help disabled people to be productive in the workplace? How can any of this make any sense? It doesn’t of course. Which is why I question the validity of Mr Grayling insisting that our sick endure the Work Capability Assessment. A test that leads to no productive end - no jobs, remember? - and, as we have now seen, has also been linked to a number of deaths such is the anxiety and stress these tests create.
As a nation, we owe it to ourselves to stand firm against this Coalition and their inability to sell us a real idea based on true and solid facts. Like the Blair government before them, Cameron's Coalition is not adverse to issuing iffy statistics, which I have previously reported on, with the express aim of portraying sick and disabled people as work shirkers.
Enough, already. It's time our Ministers were released from their roles and without severance pay. Now that's some mass unemployment I do support.”
Sonia Poulton, Daily Mail (yes, the Daily Mail!)