Government policy has taken worrying steps towards depicting unemployment as a mental health disorder, medical researchers have warned.
A study backed by the Wellcome Trust found that people without jobs were subject to humiliating “reprogramming” by authorities designed to change their mental states.
The researchers said the new approach, which forced upon the unemployed a “requirement to demonstrate certain attitudes or attributes in order to receive benefits or other support, notably food” raised major ethical issues.
They say such moves appear to have been taken to shift attention from the rise of in-work poverty and other market failures overseen by successive governments.
“Psychology now plays a central and formative role in stigmatising the existence and behaviour of various categories of poor citizens and in legitimating the measures taken to transform and activate them,” the authors note.
“Mandatory work-related activity and ‘supported job searches’ involve tasks experienced as humiliating and pointless by jobseekers. There is no evidence that work programme psycho-interventions increase the likelihood of gaining paid work that lasts any length of time.
“In perpetuating notions of psychological failure, they shift attention away from the social patterning of unemployment and from wider trends: market failure, precarity, the rise of in-work poverty, the cost of living crisis and the scale of income inequalities.”
Examples of psychological conditioning provided by the authors include repeated motivational text messages sent from jobcentres, ‘evangelical’ self-help seminars and ritualised and unhelpful jobsearch activity.
The authors were also critical of unpaid work placements designed to incalculate certain to work attitudes in an unemployed person.
The Government is planning to station "psychology wellbeing professionals" in 350 Jobcentres under a scheme to be rolled out this year.
In April Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said zero hour contracts should be re-named "flexible hours contracts" and that they should be thought of as good for workers' work-life balance.
The academic study was published in the British Medical Journal’s publication Medical Humanities.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
Lynne Friedli, who co-authored of the paper, said disciplinary measures often focused on the state of mind of people without jobs.
“Claimants’ ‘attitude to work’ is becoming a basis for deciding who is entitled to social security – it is no longer what you must do to get a job, but how you have to think and feel,” she said.
“This makes the Government’s proposal to locate psychologists in Job Centres particularly worrying.”
The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the report and said jobcentres were training unemployed people so that they would reflect the needs of bosses.
“We know that being unemployed can be a difficult time, which is why our Jobcentre staff put so much time and effort into supporting people back into work as quickly as possible,” a DWP spokesperson said.
“We offer support through a range of schemes so that jobseekers have the skills and experience that today's employers need.”
Clarification: This article previous stated that "psychologists" would be posted in 350 jobcentres. The programme in question will involve "psychological wellbeing practitioners" trained on courses accredited by the British Psychological Association.Reuse content