Angry protesters marched on Streatham jobcentre today to share their dismay at a pilot scheme of therapists for the unemployed.
The scheme, announced by the Department for Work and Pensions and later retracted, would open a mental health clinic inside the jobcentre, nicknamed the ‘Sanction Factory’ by protesters.
Around 80 people joined the protest from several groups including the Mental Health Resistance Network, Lewisham People Before Profit and the Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign.
Leading the protest for the Mental Health Resistance Network, Roy Bard, said: “Psychological services need to be there to meet the psychological needs of people and not as a means of coercion or forcing people into non-existent jobs.”
Mr Bard began organising the protest after the Chancellor’s March budget announcement and stated that there could be a major issue if the pilot scheme goes ahead.
“We see this as a way of removing people’s already limited support and driving people off the benefits they need to survive on and putting them onto Jobseeker’s Allowance which for many people would make their lives unmanageable,” said Mr Bard.
“The biggest question which we can’t get answered is whether the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) will be in any way tied to the sanctions regime, so if people refuse to cooperate, will they get sanctioned?
“If the CBT therapist says they are not working hard enough at their therapy, or if they complete the course but not become work compliant, will they be sanctioned? These are all questions that need to be asked.”
While CBT is widely available as a resource for mental health help psychologists from the British Psychological Society are not sure of the benefits of having the interventions forced.
Many protesters had had experiences with mental health services as either patients or carers.
One member of the rally, Sara, 31, said that she felt that the merger would be removing people’s choice of care and that the government should not be involved with forcing people into mental health services.
Joining the rally were members of the Green Party, mayoral candidate Jonathan Bartley and London Assembly hopeful Andrea Carey-Fuller, who gave their support to the protesters.
Mr Bartley said: “If they really want to help [with mental health services] they should be providing it within a proper centre.”
Protestor Paul Sutton, 46, spoke out saying: “The jobcentre is simply not there to be used against the unemployed forcing them into unwanted treatments.”
The protest coincided with the launch party for the CBT pilot scheme.
A Lambeth Living Well Collaborative spokesman said: “The aim of the Living Well Hub is to support people and their mental health needs, keeping them well and at home, avoiding the need to go into hospital or access secondary care.
“The pilot in the north of Lambeth has shown that the new Hub model is providing people with the support they need sooner, and we’re delighted that we can now offer the same effective service across Lambeth.
“The new Living Well Hub will open in Streatham from Monday in Crown House, Station Approach. Streatham Job Centre Plus hosts many organisations within the building. People will be able to attend appointments at Crown House if they choose, however it is anticipated that people will be seen in their local communities and staff at the Hub are set up to work in the community.
“The decision of the Collaborative to locate the Hub on the third floor of Crown House was one based on the need for adequate space for the service and cost. There are no plans for formal links between the Living Well Hub on the third floor and the Jobcentre on the ground floor of Crown House. People can be signposted to support agencies and refer themselves to other organisations working as part of the Living Well Network.
“Lambeth Talking Therapies, are not involved in any Job Centre Plus pilot and are not located at Streatham Job Centre.”