The Telegraph reports that the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions will soon be launching a series of pilot schemes to examine ways of combining treatment for mental health problems with support to find work for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who are deemed to be capable of working with the proper support. The pilots come amid considerations by Ministers on whether to impose mandatory mental health treatment as a condition for receiving benefits, after it was estimated that 46% (or 260,000 people) of benefit claimants receiving ESA have mental health problems. Estimates put the cost of ESA payments for this group at £1.4 billion annually, while it is believed that treatment could reduce the number of benefit claimants with mental health issues by up to 90%. One trial has already been launched with four Jobcentres participating, with three more pilots expected to begin throughout the summer.
The proposals are likely to draw criticism from charities and campaigners, who already claim that welfare reforms have severely affected vulnerable people, as well as raise the ethical question of whether the state should have the power to dictate treatment to patients. Liberal Democrat Minister for Care Normal Lamb has already stated that the system will not work, adding that it is “not a sensible idea”.
The proposal is likely to be included in the Conservative manifesto for the General Election