Letter to the Editor of The Daily Telegraph from Over 100 Mental Health Professionals Re: Scapegoating of Disabled People

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Dear Editor,


As mental health professionals, we write to you today with deep concern regarding the representation of benefit claimants in The Telegraph in recent weeks. It is troubling to observe the return of a divisive narrative last seen at the height of austerity politics, which is likely to lead to an increase in hate crimes and have a profound impact on psychological well-being and societal cohesion.

We would like to express our distress regarding the recent inclusion of the ‘benefit calculator’ in your publication on June 1st, 2023. Providing readers with a tool to calculate the supposed cost of benefit claimants on them personally establishes an unsettling premise. It creates a perception that an outgroup, represented by benefit claimants, is taking something away from readers on an individual level. This framing fosters a sense of personal threat, undermines empathy, and fuels societal divisions. Encouraging a narrative that emphasizes personal costs over understanding how a shared safety net supports all of us, whatever our political leanings, hinders the collective well-being of our society.

To illustrate the gravity of this matter, let us consider a hypothetical scenario. Imagine if we were to create a calculator that allowed individuals to determine the cost of cancer patients on them personally, based on factors like chemotherapy usage. Such a tool would be highly unethical and insensitive, as it reduces the value of a person’s life to a financial burden. In a compassionate society, we recognize the importance of supporting those facing health challenges, rather than calculating personal costs. Similarly, calculating the supposed cost of benefit claimants undermines empathy, disregards the complexities of their circumstances, and perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

Moreover, the negative stereotypes perpetuated by recent portrayals have potentially dire consequences for both the psychological well-being of benefit claimants and societal harmony. The insinuation that benefit claimants are ‘lazy’ or ‘undeserving,’ reminiscent of tropes seen in TV shows like ‘Benefits Street,’ oversimplifies and misrepresents the realities of their lives. This narrow portrayal devalues individuals who rely on social assistance, disregarding the complexities of their circumstances. It is vital to recognize that many people on benefits are hardworking individuals whose income is not sufficient to cover basic costs; 41% of people on Universal Credit are employed. . Others are actively seeking employment opportunities but facing challenging circumstances, while some are too ill to work at present. Dismissing their experiences and perpetuating harmful stereotypes deepens societal divisions and increases the likelihood of hate crimes, as numerous studies have shown the correlation between media reporting and such incidents.

The reality of being on benefits is far from the mischaracterized image portrayed in recent reporting. Many individuals face immense challenges, including the constant threat of sanctions, inadequate financial support, and the daily struggle to meet their basic needs. The experience of relying on benefits is often one filled with uncertainty, shame, stress, and persecution. In a recent survey, 89% said the benefits system had aggravated their pre-existing conditions, 61% said the way the system worked had caused them to have suicidal thoughts and 13% said they had attempted suicide as a result of interacting with the DWP. The idea that being on benefits is an easy experience is demonstrably wrong, with contact with the benefits system an extremely common trigger to breakdown, or relapse, in our clinics.

Indeed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, conducted an extensive investigation into the impact of the UK’s welfare system and described it as “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous.” He highlighted how the system inflicts unnecessary hardship and suffering on vulnerable individuals and fails to provide an adequate social safety net. Mr. Alston’s report shed light on the cruel realities faced by those reliant on benefits, exposing the inadequacies and flaws in the system that exacerbate the challenges they already face.

We are all claimants, whether it’s receiving child benefit or a pension, and we all contribute through paying taxes. In fact, the poorest individuals often bear a disproportionate burden, facing challenges such as pre-payment meters, constant debt, and an inability to bulk buy essential items. It is crucial to acknowledge that billions are lost through tax evasion, offshoring, and government contracts awarded to donors or companies with vested interests. Significant amounts are spent on fighting benefit claims and funding private companies for assessments. The incidence of fraud and error in the benefit system is remarkably low, at only 0.2%. It is important to note that the majority of these errors actually stem from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) itself. When compared to the magnitude of tax evasion, this figure pales in comparison. Despite this, media reports tend to single out and scapegoat benefit claimants, leading to them becoming the target of anger and prejudice, which they internalize.

We see the dreadful consequences of this on mind and body in our work daily, with a lowered position in society demonstrably effecting the body’s allostatic (or stress) load and having a deleterious effect on mental health. The level of shaming in the public sphere is now so bad that we as clinicians sometimes have to beg people in desperate need to apply for benefits so fearful are they of being seen as a burden. This shame erodes self-confidence and self-worth regardless of whether claimants have done anything wrong. Shame is like that, impervious to the realities of us as people.

We implore you to reconsider the tone and content of your coverage, using your platform to promote nuanced understanding, empathy, and responsible reporting before the new wave of division your ‘benefits calculator’ article epitomises takes hold. By challenging stereotypes, fostering compassion, and portraying the diverse realities of benefit claimants, we can contribute to a society that values the well-being and dignity of all its members.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Jay Watts, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Dr Ruth Butterworth, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Louise Kenward, Psychologist
Dr Amber Tuthill, Specialist Clinical Psychologist
Nineb Nersy, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Hattie Porter, occupational therapist
John Spencer-Davis MBACP, Counsellor
Dr Brodie Paterson. Consultant Nurse Psychotherapist
Dr Nathan Dowling, Chartered Clinical Psychologist
Claire O’Connor, Psychodynamic counsellor NHS
Dr Lana Renny, Clinical Psychologist
Nyla Moran, Counselling Psychologist in Training
Dr Timothy Swann-Roberts, Clinical Psychologist
Dr Anna Rebowska, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Fiona Ball, trainee clinical psychologist
Munzar Sharif, Trainee clin psych
Charley Baker, Associate Professor of Mental Health
Dr Janice Williams, Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist
Jennifer Snow, Counsellor
Cayden Andrews, reportingng coordinator

Dr Stephen Matthew Carty MB ChB MRCGP DRCOG DFFP Medical Adviser Black Triangle Campaign

Gail Ward, Hand2Mouth Project

Kimberley Fernley, Psychotherapist
Louisa Harvey, Psychodynamic Psychotherapeutic Counsellor in Advanced Training
Dr Angela Byrne, Clinical Psychologist
Brindley O’Connell
Dr. Emma Norris, Clinical Psychologist
Linsey Bailey-Rowles, Psychotherapist
Fiona Hewkin, counsellor MBACP
Elizabeth Swanson MBACP, psychotherapist
Marika Cook, counsellor
Sue Akehurst, Counsellor
Elaine Bond UKCP, Psychotherapeutic Counsellor
Deborah Fyrth, Counsellor
Terry Hanby, RMN
Dr Laura Cole, Clinical Psychologist
Dr Camilla Hogg, Clinical Psychologist
Dr Rachel Holt, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Beccy Pook MBACP PGDip, Counselling Psychotherapist
Claudia Lapping, trainee psychoanalyst and Professor of Psychosocial Studies and Education, UCL
Olivia Streater, Dance Movement Psychotherapist
Dr Jo Varela, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Mat Rawsthorne
Stephanie Allan, Research Assistant
Keir Harding, Occupational Therapist
Alisdair Cameron, Co-Director ReCoCo
Clare Slaney, Psychotherapist BACP Accred
Dr Caroline Bradley, Principal Clinical Psychologist
Kate Woodrow-Cheong, Family & Systemic Psychotherapist UKCP
Candy Batkin, Counsellor
Viktoria Stelikou, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Hedy Fletcher
Dale Whetter, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
James Sedgwick, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist
Penny Bennett, Counsellor at WISH
Dr Ronald Bottlender, Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Director
Caroline Midmore, Counsellor MNCPS
Rhona Brown, Clinical Psychologist & Cognitive Analytic Therapy Practitioner
Dr Rachael Goodwin, Counselling Psychologist
Sadia Nakimera, Community Organiser – Let Us Communicate
Dr Elizabeth Hawkins, Clinical Psychologist
Sue Sibbald, Peer Consultant
Joanne Short, Counsellor MBACP
John Adlam, Consultant Adult Psychotherapist
Jackie Griffith
Jo Rowan, counsellor and psychotherapist MNCPS
Dr Sophie Callis, Clinical Psychologist
Rachel John
Dr Alison Twycross, RGN RMN RSCN, Chair: Supporting Healthcare Heroes UK
Sue Hilsdon, Occupational Therapist
Elaine Heywood, senior accredited counsellor
Stuart McIver, LCS trustee and disability advocate.
Leona Whitehead, Therapist and Clinical Supervisor
Eleanor Morgan, Psychotherapist
Sarita Premley, IFS Counsellor
Dr RL McKinney, MBACP, counsellor and lecturer
Dr Rose Martin, Clinical Psychologist
Kirsty Stanley, Occupational Therapist
Rose Sullivan, Clinical Social Worker
Dianne Foy PGDip MBACP, counsellor in private practice.
C Sturgess, Specialist Psychological Therapist
Dr Conor O’Brien, Clinical Psychologist
Zariya Lufu, Therapist
Dr Zera Brittenden, Clinical Psychologist
Catherine Lucey, incoming trainee clinical psychologist
Dr Amy Jebreel, Consultant Psychiatrist
Ms Angela Gilchrist, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Ellé Dolman, Occupational Therapist
Hannah-Phoebe Bowen, Counsellor mBACP
Rev’d Kathryn Brooke, Chaplain
Dr Kate Reilly, Clinical Paychologist
Dr Yvonne Waft, Clinical Psychologist.
Courtney Hodgkiss, NHS Peer Coach
Joy Brooks, Senior Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Angharad Jones, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Dr Jenny Ceolta-Smith, Occupational Therapist and advocate
Lesley Dougan, counsellor/ psychotherapist
Dr Nicki Birdsey, Clinical Psychologist
Jenny O’Gorman, Psychodynamic Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Peter Edwards, Psychotherapist
Dr Lealah Hewitt-Johns, Clinical Psychologist
Clinical Studies Officer
Patricia Rock, Psychotherapist/Counsellor
Gillian West, Counsellor
Drian Mcpherson
Sue Dixon, BACP Accredited Counsellor/Psychotherapist
Chris Young, National Advisor NCCMH Royal College of Psychiatrists
Beatriz S Curtis, Clinical Psychologist and lecturer
Dr Tim Siggs, Clinical Psychologist
Claire Wilde, Counsellor/Psychotherapist
Rosie Buckland, Social Worker
Dr Urwah Abdul Rahman, GP
Dr. Prajna Das Gupta, Counsellor
Dr Sue Barrett, Consultant in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Annie Mitchell, Clinical Psychologist
Robert Dunn
Karen Bates, Occupational Therapist
Dr Galit Ferguson, Psychodynamic Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Maria Perez, Consultant Counselling Psychologist
Wing See Li, Journalist and Radio Presenter of 106.6 North Manchester FM
Alex Godoy, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Dr David Mair, BACP Senior Accredited Psychotherapist
Deborah Flynn-Harland, Psychological Counsellor
Una Walsh, Concerned Citizen
Simon Farnworth, Senior Community RMN, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing
Dr Catharine Jenkins, RMN
Dr Jonathan Gadsby, mental health nurse

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