An article in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal condemns the ‘coercive and punitive’ use of psychological tests and training on benefits claimants, as the DWP moves closer to treating unemployment as a mental health issue. Claimants are even being forced to attend highly questionable Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) workshops.
Power of positive thinking
The authors of the report look at the misuse of psychology and the role of psychology professionals in helping to force claimants on the work programme into mandatory training and unpaid work.
In particular, claimants are encouraged to believe that they are unemployed because of their own shortcomings, especially a failure to think positively and strive to be better.
Those who do not engage with psychological programmes can find their JSA or ESA sanctioned for ‘lack of motivation’.
As a result of this approach, claimants are bombarded with positive thinking messages not only on training courses but also by daily texts and emails, such as:
Nobody ever drowned in sweat
Go hard, or go home
It's always too soon to quit
The sin isn't falling down but staying down
Success is the only option
Smile at life
This can be the greatest, most fulfilling day you've ever known. For that to happen, you have to allow it
Some claimants, however, far from feeling uplifted by these ‘motivational quotes’ have described feeling anger, humiliation and depression. For claimants with serious health conditions, exhortations such as “Nobody ever drowned in sweat” could even be life-threatening.
Psychological testing and training are used as a way of controlling people. As one claimant explained
“I've been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for about 8 weeks. I haven’t sworn or shouted at anyone. I have had 3 advisor interviews already; yesterday my adviser asked me to see their psychologist. I did not consent. I've been told that I shouldn't look into things too deeply...& that I am asking too many questions.”
This particular claimant was given a choice between seeing a psychologist or being put straight into a mandatory work placement.
Another claimant explains:
“My ‘advisor’ said I needed to see a psychologist because I was tearful and anxious after having my JSA cut for 4 weeks despite having a young child to look after by myself. When I said I did not trust anyone who finds it acceptable to starve others as a punishment, he told me that I was paranoid and again, needed to see a psychologist.”
Mandatory NLP training
Some claimants are forced to attend psychology based workshops:
“I duly attended the offices of A4e and (along with 6 other “customers”) was treated to INSPIRE. This turned out to be a session on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) run by an outside company claiming to be “Master Practitioners in NLP”. I was “mandated” to attend under threat of loss of benefits and was effectively unable to leave the session because of the same ever present threat.”
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) was dreamed up in California in the 70’s and is based on allegedly copying the way that highly successful people behave. It has no scientific legitimacy whatsoever – many people would regard it as sheer quackery. There are many companies advertising online who will provide an NLP Practitioner Certificate – allowing you to teach NLP - on completion of just 7 days’ training.
The article in the BMJ comes in the same week that the British Psychological Society (BPS) has demanded a complete overhaul of the work capability assessment. Whilst such a call is welcome, a complete overhaul of the BPS so that it actually prevents its members forcing their views and techniques down claimants throats would be equally well received.