Mental Health: Cost of Living Support — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 7th November 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour 11:30 am, 7th November 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that people with mental health problems get the help they need to meet the cost of living.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, the association between poor mental health and poverty is clear, and it is equally clear that the best way to meet the cost of living is through work. We are committed to improving employment outcomes for people with poor mental health by supporting them to return to, and stay in, work through a combination of tailored work-focused healthcare and employment advice and by ensuring that they are supported equably in the benefit system.

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

My Lords, when an alcoholic schizophrenic with mental health problems turned up at St Vincent’s community support in Cwmcarn in south Wales, the person attempting to help her by applying for the new personal independence payment had to answer more than 40 questions in an hour-long telephone conversation with the DWP, simply to get the application form. The helper said she found this very distressing. Without this intervention, this mentally ill penniless woman would be destitute. Is there nothing the Government can do to simplify the way in which people with mental health problems can get the support they need, without enduring this bureaucratic nightmare?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, on the process of getting PIP, we have been taking advice from people with an interest, particularly the autism group, which I know the noble Lord will be interested in, and we have been adjusting our PIP application process to reflect the observations and points made by those groups.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, does the Minister accept that if people in those circumstances can find work, fine—but if they cannot, they need all the help they can get to access what they have a right to? Should we not therefore ensure that the citizens advice bureaux, which play a key role in these matters, have the resources they need to help such vulnerable people?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, helping people with mental health problems and similar conditions is, clearly, not easy. The main problem is that they face a huge variety of problems. We need to help them as much as we can to negotiate their way through a complicated system. I have taken a huge interest in this issue myself, and in the most important area in this respect. We now have a study on what we are calling psychological well-being and work, to look at how we can help people negotiate their way into the workplace, with adequate health support on the way.

Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that although people in this category are legally allowed to claim money that will help them get to work if they are able to work, the person allocated to them from the health service to try to give them all the advice they need hardly ever tells them that they can claim money for this purpose? Will he please look at that point?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I will look at that point—but we are making real efforts now to join up the provision by the DWP and by the Department of Health. I am working very closely with Norman Lamb in this area. We have put a lot of effort into signposting, and into training our teams in the DWP and the Work Programme providers, who have put in a toolkit to help. However, I will certainly look into whether I can do more.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that when dealing with people with complex needs, which include mental health and also usually addiction, expecting them to get back to work within three months is absolutely unrealistic? I know a man who is working exceptionally hard to get ready for work; he volunteers with our organisation. Twice in the past year he has been denied benefit, then a judge at a tribunal and an appeal reinstated it. I heard that this week he has again been denied benefit and that the department is again appealing against what was said. He is doing remarkably well, but this is knocking him day in and day out. If he has to go back into treatment it will cost the Government more. Why do the Government not listen to organisations that are telling them that three months is not long enough?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will write to me with the details, I will look into it. We do not have a rigid three-month rule like that, but I will look at the particular circumstance that she is so concerned about.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in the Health Act there was a recognition of the importance of parity of esteem for physical and mental disturbances. However, of course the treatment of physical and mental disturbances often requires different amounts of time. A short appointment for a physical treatment may not be the right thing for the psychological treatments to which the noble Lord referred. That makes it difficult for people in work both to get the treatment that they need and stay in work. Does the Minister’s department recognise, as the health department does, that parity of esteem may mean extra time and facilities for those with mental disturbances as against those with physical diseases?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, that is a vital point, which is why we are introducing the Health and Work Service, particularly to help those who are in danger of falling out of the workplace. Every year 300,000 people do that, and a quarter of those cases are due to mental health issues. We are intervening at the four-week stage to get those people signposted on to the kind of support that they need.