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Psychology and the unemployed

Professor Jamie Hacker HughesThe British Psychological Society’s Presidential team has expressed concern at research suggesting that people claiming unemployment benefit are being coerced into undertaking psychological interventions.

The research by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn is published in the June 2015 issue of Medical Humanities.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

“We are concerned at what the paper has revealed, particularly the issue of coercion to undertake psychological interventions.

"Friedli and Stearn suggest that unemployment is being rebranded as a psychological disorder, with an increasing range of interventions being introduced to promote a 'positive' psychological outlook or leave claimants to face sanctions.”

While psychology certainly has a role to play in the welfare system, it must be used ethically and effectively. Earlier this week the Society called for thorough reform of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process. The WCA is a test used by the Department for Work and Pensions used to decide whether people can claim sickness benefit.

In a briefing paper the Society highlighted a growing body of evidence that seriously ill people are being inappropriately subjected to WCA, which does not effectively measure fitness for work and can produce inappropriate outcomes for claimants. 

You can find more about the Society’s view of the WCA and links to the briefing paper and the accompanying call to action on this website.

In May, welcoming Mental Health Awareness Week 2015, the Society’s Presidential team called on the government to recognise the impact of war, poverty, social divisions, inequity and the abuse of fundamental human rights on psychological health, and to work to protect citizens’ mental health through addressing these problems.