Against 'anti-therapeutic' austerity

442 psychotherapists, counsellors and academics condemn government plans and call on political parties to end 'profoundly disturbing' practices.

22 April 2015

More than 400 psychologists, counsellors and academics have signed an open letter condemning the ‘profoundly disturbing’ psychological implications of the coalition government’s austerity and welfare reform measures. The group said over the past five years the types of issues causing clients distress had shifted dramatically and now include increasing inequality, outright poverty and benefits claimants being subjected to what it calls a ‘new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime’.

The signatories of the letter, published in The Guardian, express concern over chancellor George Osborne’s plans, laid out in the latest budget, to link welfare and therapy. Osborne has said the government will aim to give online CBT to 40,000 recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance from early next year. IAPT therapists will also be located in around 350 Job Centres from summer 2015. 

It also points to news that Maximus, the US company replacing Atos in work capability assessments, will also be managing the national Fit to Work programme. ‘It is time for the field’s key professional organisations to wake up to these malign developments, and unequivocally denounce such so-called “therapy” as damaging and professionally unethical,’ the letter authors commented. They comment that ‘ “Get to work therapy” is manifestly not therapy at all.’

The letter concludes by calling on all political parties, particularly Labour, to review what it calls ‘anti-therapeutic practices’ and refashion their commitment to mental health if they enter government.

David Harper (a Reader in Clinical Psychology at the University of East London), a member of the Psychologists Against Austerity group, was one of the 442 signatories. He told The Psychologist the letter was a useful intervention and said: ‘What we’re concerned about is the need for development of policies which aim to reduce inequality. We already know that social inequality is a huge contributor to mental health problems and distress.’ Dr Harper added that welfare reform and austerity measures had been significant in three main ways: through cuts to the NHS and local authority services, in the reduction of welfare and benefits to people who need it, and in the future direction such policies were taking.

Dr Harper told us: ‘In the NHS staff are being made to compete for fewer jobs and are losing their jobs which is obviously having an impact on people who use those services. The cuts being made to benefits are affecting the poorest in society and the more stringent policies mean people are being made to jump through endless hoops when they are at their most distressed.’