Everyday Austerity

We would like to hear your stories about how the cuts have affected you and your service. We want the wider public and politicians to understand the real life costs of public sector cuts. It can be hard to speak up alone, so we are collating everyone’s stories – together we have more power and a louder voice. We all have stories of frustration, fear and anger, so please use this as a way to tell the world about how the cuts have impacted on you and/or the people you work with. We are interested in stories from everyone who works in, uses, or needs Psychology services.

We may use these stories in other contexts, such as publication and media.

Inspired by the EverydaySexism project.

“Hopeless”: I have sadly had to leave working as a psychologist in the Addictions field because cuts mean there are no jobs. Terrifyingly I have seen addictions services being taken over by charity/third sector services with managers and staff who wouldn’t know an evidence based psychosocial intervention if it smacked them in the face. Poorly qualified and low paid staff are being asked to offer psychosocial interventions they are not trained to use with no access to clinical training or supervision. These staff are having to manage huge and risky caseloads with no clear idea of what they are doing. Clients are literally dying of overdoses because services are not being run properly. There is a very clear evidence base of what works in addictions but in the haste to save money, it is actually being wasted because the wrong staff are being employed and the therapies cannot be done properly.

“ML”: Working in Scotland, I was shocked when a colleague alerted me to an email she had received from a Clinical Psychologist working in a health board in the south of England. On the Microsoft email, rather than having her health board after her name (as Microsoft usually does) it said ‘Virgin Care PLC’. I’m not sure whether this is an indicator of austerity, but to my mind health care should not be tendered out to the lowest bidder. It is not a business. People’s health should not be for profit. Quality of care should not be sacrificed to save money. I have no doubt my psychologist colleagues south of the border are still working with the same values and quality of work within these pseudo-NHS trusts, but I wonder about the direction of profession in the future in England.

“Trainee Counselling Psychologist”: These are clients’ stories – I see them in an inner London IAPT service, suffering from anxiety and depression. The well-qualified, hardworking women in their 30s who are self-harming because they can’t afford somewhere decent to live (decent meaning, more than a room in a shared flat, so that they can have children) and they blame themselves rather than housing policies. The elderly woman, with long-standing health problems, who physically, emotionally, financially supports her disabled and abusive ex-husband because his care package has been cut. He takes out his anger and despair on her. She blames herself, ‘why aren’t I strong enough?’ The chronically sick man who tells me, ‘my GP only does 10 minute appointments, I have too many problems for him.’ ‘I have another WCA coming up and I’m terrified’. He begins every session defending himself to me, as if all this is his fault. ‘I’m not a shirker, I worked all my life until my liver failed’. ‘I’m not a whiner, I have so many health problems and I need help with all of them’. He says, ‘I don’t want to go on living like this’. He says, ‘Maybe the world would be better if I was dead’.

“Collette”: Live just inside Cornwall. Accessing mental health services. Austerity means a year on, I have still not received my diagnosis letter for BPD & PTSD. The service is in total chaos. People are leaving their jobs all the time. I still don’t have meds, a CPN, or a support worker sorted out. I need help filling out forms for PIP. There are deadlines to complete. There are hugely stressful complications getting help to do this. When I phone to chase anything there is never anyone to talk to. I feel hopeless and desperate often because of that. I was told there’s a duty desk number I can call when I’m in crisis in the absence of my CPN. I was verbally abused and traumatised by a man staffing this line a few weeks ago. I am waiting to make a complaint about him now to whatever CPN I eventually do get. 

I’d say austerity is totally responsible for situations like this. Funding cuts are dangerous for mental health provisions.

 

“Jenny”: I trained for five years to become a child psychotherapist. The only work I can find is of a ‘voluntary’ nature because charities are taking over the role of ’employer’ in this area. There are so many people training or trained, so few real jobs to chase, a requirement to practise or lose expertise and membership of the BACP/UKCP….This situation is exaccerbated by austerity cuts to mental health services. Not many of us can afford to work for nothing. In the meantime, austerity also worsens mental health in society. A vicious circle.

“Jill”:  I have just found out today that the long term therapy I have been in is due to be cut. It is the only one in calderdale of this type. I feel bereft. I’m angry that I have been let down by the government who are supposed to have my interests at heart. I feel very angry with the south West Yorkshire mental health trust. Trust??? They should hang their heads in shame. After having several short term interventions, this therapy works and for the first time in my life I began to develop understanding and implement change. Now it’s gone. The future once again looks bleak and dark. I can’t even express my sorrow.

“SLH”: I have worked in a learning disability service for nearly 2 years. Over this time around 6 of my cases have had difficulty with the job centre around being deemed “fit to work”. Leading most of them to have to go through the job seekers process. There are supposedly things in place to provide people with a learning disability extra support through this. However I feel these measures are for learning difficulties, not disabilities. The result of this is our service users become deeply stressed under the pressure of finding a job. In some cases my clients have been sanctioned because they are unable to do what is asked of them from the job centre. This has resulted in my clients, who have a learning disability, feeling suicidal. In other cases they have relapsed into past alcohol addiction. Because the job centre who assess in god knows what way appear to have over ruled  a cognitive assessment carried out by a professional and decided that the person is “fit to work”. I would be the first to encourage people with learning disability to find work to help them have as independent and higher quality of life as is possible for them. However the pressurised and punitive way the job centre goes about getting people in to work is not suitable for everyone it is a dangerous and poorly thought out system which appears to be inspired by the notion that people are trying to avoid work or are lazy.
“Shelagh”: I have suffered and coped with mental health problems for most of my life. Until 2 years ago, when I realised I wasn’t really coping and required long term psychotherapy. My GP could offer no long term help, which is what I needed.
I was given  6 weeks of counselling. But after 3 sessions the counsellor said she did not feel she had the skills to help me. But would refer me to my local psychological services. I had to leave my job as I was too ill to cope.
I returned to my GP who said in response to my plea for talking therapy, that there was no chance of me getting long term therapy due to the financial cuts.
In the end through my own determination I managed to get a referral to adult psychological services for an assessment. At the assessment I was told I wasn’t ill enough to get one to one help anytime soon.The current waiting time was 2 years. The only way that would be possible would to be sectioned. I obviously said well that is something I am endeavouring to avoid. But I need help now. I was offered a conference style group with up to 50 other people. Due to my mental health state I felt far too vulnerable to access that option.
I had to go to my GP for fit for sick notes every month, I constantly reiterated I needed to talk to a psychotherapist. My life was unravelling. I could not open the door, open any bills, answer the telephone, see my friends and family. I was presssurised to take anti-depressants. I felt they were concerned but they had no other option to offer.
I felt more and more hopeless, suicidal and isolated. I have now managed to find a psychotherapist in private practice who is willing to work with me for a greatly reduced fee. It is early days but I do at times feel that there is hope once again. And find myself thinking, if only I had received help sooner, then I wouldn’t have had to suffer so much alone.
The process has felt akin to breaking multiple limbs and being sent home with a plaster and some paracetemol. It was massively detrimental to my already fragile mental health.
“Anon”: My husband became very ill 6 years ago (aged 58) As someone who had worked and paid taxes continuously since the age of 17 I would have expected the State to step up in our time of need. Quite the reverse happened. The assessment with ATOS was held in an upstairs venue, with no lift! over 15 miles away from where we lived, my husband was incapable of driving himself and it was a real struggle for me to help up the stairs. The assessment it’s self was abusive in my opinion, I protested against him being asked to do star jumps and was asked to leave, I refused but later filed a complaint against the assessor which was never dealt with. He was refused benefits but later won an appeal at high court. The judge advised me to speak to my MP about our treatment at the hands of DWP, but I was too busy caring for my husband and keeping a roof over our heads. There was no support for me and I was becoming increasingly anxious and depressed. The DPW then disbanded the benefit my husband was receiving and to reclaim we had to attend another assessment. The waiting room was full of very sick people who I don’t feel should have been out of their homes, one clearly had advanced cancer another had mental health issues and was clearly agitated and distressed. My husband’s assessment was undignified as ever and he was refused benefits despite having deteriorated since the high court ruling. Again his case was heard in a high court although this took two years and again a different judge overruled the DWP descsion. The DWP did back pay my husband in a timely manner, but throughout I found them rude and unhelpful. Counselling was offered to him but it was miles away from where we lived making it impossible to attend. I was offered no support whatsoever. My husband could not have managed on his own and if he hadn’t had me to put food on the table and fight his corner would probably have died . I can see why people become so desperate they commit suicide.
“Helena”: I run a small charitable foundation which provides grants to people in need.   The consequences of austerity measures are clear in my caseload.  Many of my working-age clients claim tax credits as they don’t earn enough.  Pressure at work often leads to ill health – physical and mental.  Clients who have previously been signed off on long-term sickness benefit are magically pronounced “fit” to work.  The stress and worry of being made to be available to work, when they are clearly not fit to do so, gives rise to worsening health.  Some clients are able to claim housing benefit, but are subject to the bedroom tax, which has an immediate impact on a small income.  And it is not always possible to move to a smaller property.  I have clients who seem to be able to manage to live on miniature sums of money without going into debt, but when one looks closely at their budgets it is clear that they go without heating and lighting.  Food security is another worry to many of my clients.  I have referred urgent cases to appropriate agencies which can authorise vouchers for food banks.  Sometimes, I am at my wits end to know how to assist clients who really need long-term, sustained help.  Just “that little bit of help” is all I can offer.  It’s something, but it is not enough.
“Concerned”: I’d like to put across the way it affects those who are not directly affected personally, but who are heartbroken to witness the horrendous effects upon others. I am distressed by the reports of people feeling so much despair that they feel their lives are not worth living. I’m so sad that some take their own lives. I am angry to see the impact that these so called “Austerity” measures have on the poorest in our Nations, and I am disgusted at the attitude displayed by those we have elected with trust that they would keep their promises and look out for the poorest and the well-being of everyone. I am shocked that the same government who say cuts are necessary can spend extravagantly on such spurious things as a private plane when there are people homeless and starving in our Nations!! How hopeless and dejected must those who are victimised feel about this? I am annoyed that the propaganda machine identifies the poor, unemployed and disabled as scroungers, when the facts are clear that those who award themselves large salaries, perks and “expenses” are the true scroungers who want something for nothing. It is beyond greed. It is beyond unfeeling and calculated. People are being dehumanized and demoralised in order to achieve extra funds and slave labour to ensure even more profits for those who want more than they could ever spend and will not pay taxes in case they lose a penny or two!! I’m sick of watching anything profitable being sold off and the Nations being stripped of their assets by those who should be ensuring a good future and a good standard of living for those who elected them. I’m not even sure of how that actually happened!! How can they have full charge with only 39% of the vote? I am worried for the mental health of our Nations, because of the propaganda, media manipulation and all of the news that is denied us. I am concerned that this government are seeking to dis-empower us rather than change their ways. They appear cruel, single minded, selfish, money grabbing and heartless, without remorse or compassion even when they are faced with the awful price people are paying for their disgusting policies. I know that eventually they will be unable to squeeze any more from the less fortunate and their policies will creep up towards the next levels of income. We need shot of them for the good health of our Nations people, and for our Nations as a whole.
“Worried worker”: I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life. I spent my early twenties in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and was out of work for some years. Due to the severity of my mental health I was granted a lifetime DLA award. Fast forward 15 years and I am now able to work full time. However, this means I can no longer access mental health services for ongoing support, as they are only open 9.30 to 4.30/5, Monday to Friday, and I work 9-5 Monday to Friday. I therefore have to use all my DLA to access private therapeutic services, as without a high level of support, I would be unable to maintain working. As a single person, with no family able to offer support, this is a lifeline for me. Having to pay all the household bills from one wage is a huge stretch already!!
I am very concerned about having to be reassessed for DLA/PIP, as without this financial support, I would be unable to afford private therapy. Without therapeutic support, I would quickly become unwell, and would soon be signed off work, and then under threat of losing my job. For the low amount of money I receive per month by way of benefit/DLA, surely it makes sense that I receive this in order that I can continue to work, and thereby pay tax, NI etc. Although possibly better off financially not working, I do enjoy going to work, and I would be claiming far more benefits than DLA, if I was out of work. I am seriously concerned about who will do my reassessment, as I want to remain stable and work, not become seriously unwell, and unable to work again.
Victoria”: The cuts are keeping me in this terrible place where I cannot function day to day. Less support and less services is adding to my acute mental health problems. I cannot access day services as often as I need because there is not enough funding or the service has been cut so much they have had to reduce opening hours and people who can attend. Putting more money into mental health will enable people to become well and then get back to work. I feel like this isn’t possible for me threat thing are and I’m only 25.
“RT”: I self-referred myself for counselling as i had got to the point that I was having daily thoughts about harming myself. I had to wait a month for an appointment, and when I got there found out it was just to work out which service would be best for me. At the end of the appointment I was given another phone number to ring to be put on the waiting list. This was the day before Christmas Eve. I started seeing a counsellor in April. I’m lucky because I made the decision in the mean time to talk to a close friend, but I worry for people who don’t have this option. I don’t know if I’d be here if I’d have carried on feeling the way I did for another four months. 
This process was repeated when I was referred on for CBT, again waiting several months between applying and receiving treatement. 
On the plus side the treatment I had was fantastic and I could not fault the therapists in anyway.
Disabled Psychology Graduate”: I have a lot of illnesses and am disabled.  The stress of ATOS Testing (which I believe to be an invalid and unreliable method of Testing), repeated examinations by Doctors, when my own GP knows my case and could comment on it, being treated like a scrounger, a drain on society and a possible “faker” has taken its toll on me.  My self esteem has plummeted.  I don’t eat healthily now as I can’t afford to and have had to turn to Christians Against Poverty for help with food at times.  I went through one Christmas with only a can of cheap watery baked beans in the larder and nothing in the fridge.  No heat in the house as I couldn’t afford a Gas top up.  Having one “Happy Christmas” card to look at, no food and no decorations was upsetting.  My “fit for work” daughter died (I think that proved she wasn’t fit for work really!) so I was alone and huddled under the duvet all day.  No TV as I sold it when I could no longer pay the Licence Fee.  Depressing picture isn’t it?  I got into debt because the Death Grant only covered half my daughter’s funeral costs and since she was in her 30’s there was no Insurance to claim and no estate.  If I didn’t have religous beliefs I might have thought of ending it all, but I didn’t.  I prayed a lot.  I wished I was fit enough to be working to be able to get out of this horrible situation, but the treatment, physio etc was not going to make much difference.  Just make my condition a bit more managable.  I’m getting my pension next year.  I felt robbed of that when they said I could no longer have it when I was 60.  I’d paid National Insurance thinking I could retire.  Not a chance.  I was constantly pressured to get a job.  At my age, with competition from younger people and with Degrees that went more against me in job hunting, I had no hope.  No hope in life any more.  Austerity took it all away from me.  Now the NHS cuts and restructuring of the Hospital system means I have to pay £32 each way for a taxi to some Hospital appointments.  A big chunk out of my benefits.  I hate all this.  I feel totally helpless to do a thing about it.  I live in Northern Ireland so I can’t even use my vote to get the Tories out of Government as we lie outside of that voting system.  I stare at 4 walls all day.  My home feels like a prison cell as I live in one room to conserve heat and because I can’t get up my own stairs.  Most of my furniture had to be sold over time to pay for my daughter’s funeral.  I am ashamed of my own home.  It doesn’t even feel like a home now.   Just a building I hate being in.  I am alone, lonely and helpless.  I have had many falls causing black eyes, bruising, broken teeth.  I had a bridge fitted and a cap on one tooth.  Fell twice after that and wrecked the bridge, knocked the cap out, and had to have more dentistry.  Some of this happened while they said I was “fit for work” and challenging my case.  More stress, but the Lawyer and Doctor who saw me found me unfit.  The yearly reassessments drive me nuts!  They know none of my illnesses are reversible.  I just want them to leave me alone.  It is worse than bullying.


“Arts Therapist” :
 
Firstly i would like to thank every person and mental health professional taking part in this initiative as I have been increasingly frustrated about the lack of awareness, presence and discourse in regards to mental health services and the consequences (for patients and professionals) of the current cuts. It seems that  junior doctors, nurses and medical professionals have found their voice and perhaps feel they have a right to use it, whilst mental health practitioners seem to be silenced in some way, as though we are fortunate to even exist. I am a newly qualified arts psychotherapist with clinical experience in charitable organisations, nhs and private practice. When I started on my postgraduate journey 5 years ago, jobs and services were just about being funded adequately but there were some talks about changes happening. Now 5 years down the line I’ve been advised (by nhs supervisor) to not even bother to apply for jobs in the nhs or other organisations as any vacancies are advertised internally and given to professionals with years of experience who are fighting over sessional work, and that volunteering or unpaid work could be a way forward. I am horrified by the culture that we have collectively created since the cuts, where most services can afford to stay alive by paying consultants and managerial posts and relying heavily on trainees, volunteers and unpaid staff with little experience. My experience and my thoughts are not isolated as I discuss these issues daily with psychologists and other mental health practitioners. I strongly believe that there is no health without mental health and since austerity measures this message is needing even more amplification in order to truly serve as care professionals, for our patients and for ourselves.  The NHS service I currently volunteer for has been relocated since the cuts and the patients I see are very vulnerable, often not able to make their way to the service unaccompanied. This move and austerity measures have a direct impact on their care and recovery. 

Personally I am having to consider selling my home for the second time since envisioning a career in mental health as I cannot make ends meet despite working hard and utilising all of my acquired skills. I am interested in being actively involved in this cause.
“Anon”: I have autism and mental health problems and learning difficulties. One trying to commit suicide I was stopped by the police and made to go into a hospital ward for mentally ill patients. When I was there staff had no idea how to treat or help me, witch made how I felt worse. They also viewed my coping strategy as me being happy when I was not, discharged me and I was re admitted within 5 hours. They also made statements to me of how they were supposed to help, yet they had not helped at all. Because they are over worked, underpaid, frustrated and try so hard, yet patients are angry and stressed out by the same problems. Eventually after two month of keeping me in with no medication, support or help they have discharged me again. However it’s to late now as the supported accommodation that had been looked in to I was refused because of my autism diagnosis, inspite of me also suffering from mental health problems. So people with anxiety and mild depression were offered better support than me because I also have autism and other needs. It kind of felt like discrimination, yet had the staff had autism training, the funding be available, or people like me not been excluded from services maybe suicide wouldn’t be the only option I have left.

“Clinical Psychologist”: I work in an inner-city Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. One of the young people I work with has a diagnosis of psychosis and lives with her parents, younger sister and older brother in a two bedroom flat, the second bedroom is big enough to fit a single bed only. Her parents both work minimum wage jobs and could not afford to privately rent a larger flat. I have spoken and written to the housing association on their behalf several times, explaining the detrimental effect of overcrowding on her mental health and the family as a whole. Unfortunately, the response of the housing association is that the family has the maximum number of points possible to be re-housed but there is no suitable accommodation and they need to bid online weekly. Often there is also no suitable accommodation on which to bid. It’s heartbreaking that week after week this family tells me of the difficulty of living in an overcrowded flat, how much better they feel things would be if they had a bit more space and that we all are powerless to change this situation.

“Anonymous”: I claimed ESA for ME/fibromyalgia/anxiety and depression…..despite a 16 year medical history, I was found fit for work. I appealed, but was still declined. I cannot work and cannot claim jsa as I cannot commit to 35 hours of job searching………..so I am left with nothing. I am surviving on charity. The DWP harassed me constantly during my 2 years of dealing with them , and my depression and anxiety reached a peak where I wanted to commit suicide. What was so distressing was that I told the DWP and the tribunal that I felt suicidal and they treated me like a liar and a cheat. To add insult to injury, I tried to get medical evidence to support my claim, but 4 separate doctors refused to give it saying they were not allowed to give an opinion……..this made me feel desperate and unsupported. I paid for medical letters and the doctors were happy to take my money, but the letters were useless because they only said ‘she feels blah blah’ and did not confirm the doctor’s opinion at all. I have been forced to use food banks, lost my home, had to beg from family etc just to live, and the nightmare continues every day…….stress and worry…….my son missed so much school because I had no stable home and did not know where I would be living from one week to the next………..but the worst of it all was the continuous harassment and threats from the DWP. Since I have stopped claiming, my mental health has improved dramatically, despite being penniless, because I no longer have to suffer their cruel and heartless tactics. There is no help for people like me….no-one to turn to and no-where to go…….total isolation. My doctor reported me to social services when I approached him about feeling suicidal. Citizens Advice told me I was committing fraud by using my housing benefit to eat and their only advice was ‘pay your rent or you will be evicted’………..there is so much more to tell…so much suffering and stress and heartache which causes so much misery, depression and anxiety, but I won’t bore you with the details. What I want psychologists to understand is that some people, like me, do not want to take drugs or receive therapy for their depression and should not be forced to do so by the DWP. I believe I was refused benefit for this reason. My reasons for not wanting to take drugs are many……I have taken them in the past and they made me feel terrible……I do not believe they work or are effective for my condition…..my depression is caused by my circumstances and the state of the world…unless these factors change, my depression will remain. I do not want therapy because I believe I am an intelligent person and I have read a great deal about psychology and behaviour and I think I know myself better than anyone else. I am a private person and I would like to keep my private thoughts to myself. I think it is wrong to be FORCED to reveal every aspect of your personal life just in order to receive money to live……it’s no-one elses business but my own what goes on in my own mind and I think it is appaling that anyone, especially untrained people from the DWP should have a right to probe people like they do…….I have never felt as miserable in my life as I did when I was dealing with the DWP.

“Clinical Psychologist”: Trafford has a specialist child and adolesent mental health team for the childen in care in Trafford. It is a small specialist team (2 wte) which delivers an effective, efficient and valued therapeutic, consultation and training service  to looked after children & young people, their carers, their social workers, residential homes and schools. The service has great evidence based outcomes.  It has just been announced this service is to be cut by 50% due to the council reducing their contribution to Trafford camhs by £126k. This is identified as an austerity measure arising from a previous council overspend on adult social care. However the council managed to find £4 million to invest in a hotel venture at Lancashire County Cricket ground at the same time as applying this cut to camhs! The result is Trafford Camhs have lost £126 K and managers have decided to apply a significant proportion of this shortfall to the dedicated camhs services for children in care which will now lose 50% of its provision. The most vulnerable kids in Trafford are being hit the hardest by the hachet of everyday austerity. 

“Leah, Trainee Clinical Psychologist”: One of the early policies of the coalition government was a significant cut in local authority budgets. As a consequence, many LAs started to charge for services that were previously fully subsidised. This has had a significant impact on people with disabilities, and I’d like to share a story that illustrates this.

In 2010 I was working in a South-East London borough.  The LA there made the decision to charge people with learning disabilities £15 per day to attend their LA-run day centre.  This essentially meant that if someone wanted to attend their day centre 5 days per week, then they would be charged £45.  Given that Given that the highest rate of disability living allowance is only £82 (and the lowest is £21), this was a huge amount of money for service users to pay.  As a result, many of the people I worked with were forced to either reduce their days or live on a far smaller budget.

The day centre itself was of a poor standard (a result of decades of chronic underfunding), so it was somewhat insulting to be charged for the dubious privilege of attending.  Nevertheless, it served an important function as it provided the people who attended with daily activities and an opportunity for socialising. When one considers that people with learning disabilities have smaller social networks than the general population, struggle to maintain friendships and relationships without support and are routinely excluded from employment, it is clear how important the day centre was.

I know of several people (at the very least!) who stopped attending the day centre entirely.  As a consequence, they spent most of their days at home with no social contact apart from carers and support staff and with very little meaningful activity.  This isolation and exclusion led to them feeling more depressed and put a significant strain on carers who relied on the day centre for respite.

Austerity cuts have the biggest impact on the most vulnerable.  A relatively small change such as a £15 a day charge for day services has had far-reaching consequences for people with learning disabilities and their carers, yet it’s hard to imagine how these people had any hand in the global financial crisis. Something needs to be done to redress the balance.  This seems remarkably unfair.

“Trainee Psychologist”: I was horrified to hear that a friend’s child had recently been assessed by NHS CAMHS as being on the autistic spectrum.
After lumbering the child and family with this diagnosis, they have been offered no further support or intervention by the NHS – the services simply are no longer available in their catchment area and the family are having to sit with a worrying label and my friend is worried that it is somehow his fault.
Scandalous, in my opinion.

“Clinical Psychologist”: I work with individuals who have mental health difficulties & personality disorder in the community.  Many of those I work with face increased stigma and shame associated with the public perception of being on benefits.  Though man of those I see are unable to work the constant dialogue about them being ‘scroungers’, (e.g. laying in bed with the curtains closed whilst their hardworking neighbours trudge off in the dark in the morning) increases their shame and self hatred.  This further impacts on their mental health & behavioural difficulties e.g self harm/suicidal ideation.   There is also a constant anxiety and fear about being abandoned by the state and left with nothing and no way to cope with life.  I have also witnessed mistakes and delays in getting benefits triggering mental health crisis.

In terms of services – my experience is of working in an increasingly fragmented and stretched team.  This offers less psychological containment for both staff doing this difficult work and also patients who are less sure about being able to see someone they know and feel contained by in the event of a crisis.

“Hannah (Trainee Clinical Psychologist)”: I thought I would share my recent experience of an observation I took part in.  I was lucky enough to be given permission to sit in and also take part in a recent set of meetings and action day for a community group in the heart of North London (Hendon) currently campaigning for the right to be housed in their local community.  This group has been carrying out a long and organized event to campaign on the issue of social cleansing.  This area sadly has become an area of social housing that has now made way for gentrified developments. Private developers won the bid and now are currently demolishing and rebuilding new more expensive housing, non of which appear to be affordable or available to prior council tenants. People from these estates find themselves pushed into the maze of their local council’s housing office, left with little rights in where they will be placed.  This area also backs onto an area of outstanding beauty called the Welsh Harp, a reservoir where residents have benefited from the green space and views across the land. As we are aware Britain is in the grip of a housing crisis, however very few psychologists have reported what impact this social cleansing is having on peoples lives.
The meetings were well attended by a set of individuals who had come together in solidarity from diverse backgrounds. It was evident that the current re-build was causing noise pollution and stress on the residents. They had recently carried out peaceful protest to blockade the site, as the private developers had been working outside working hour regulations subjecting residents to additional noise and pollution sometimes late into the night.  The residents had also created action through a petition which again is a important social action asking for change, but timing and delivery of this petition to the council remained crucial as a period known as ‘purdah’ (describes the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on the activity of civil servants are in place).  This could mean that any petition’s power may be likely to be lost in the run up to the election.  Therefore residents jointly felt angry and also powerless, possibly reinforcing their fears that maybe all their efforts had been lost.  I observed how so many had come together in solidarity to fight for a just cause, but again how governments system had made them feel powerless.  I think their story and ongoing journey is powerful, much like the story of the E15 mothers and should be retold.  Psychologists and others are well placed to retell their stories with their permission as the ‘personal is political’. Sadly as we are all aware at the right of this housing crisis is the way in which homes have been turned into assets so that a few can profit from the needs of the many.

“James”: This is a story for my brother and his family; I write this story on his behalf as he is no longer here anymore. My brother developed epilepsy in his late 20’s, and having never missed a days work in life, had to have time off for hospital appointments or if he had a bad seizure. Although committed to carry on working, he was fired from jobs due to his epilepsy. Working in retail, and not having a lot of money, he had no option to fight against this discrimination. This sadly happened for quite a few roles. Not being able to get work, he started claiming benefits just to get by. This upset my brother greatly as he felt he failed his family and himself not being able to work. This was compounded by his experience at the job centre, where his assessment declared he was fit for work. He was constantly made to feel he wasn’t good enough, compounded by the media which described him as a “shirker” “benefit cheat” and “workshy”. Feeling depressed and despondent my brother turned to drink. While no-one forced him to drink, the situation seemed to be so desperate he saw no other way forward. As the epilepsy got more serious, my brothers wife had to give up work to care for him. This left them in a very tight financial situation to make ends meet. My brother died of heart failure in 2012, he was 36 years old. While his epilepsy took him away from us, it breaks my heart that his last years were spent in anguish and despair around his lack of money and not being able to get work. What is even more galling, his wife struggled to find work again after his death. Having given up her car/tv/tables, they suggested her travelling nearly 50 miles round trip for work was acceptable. There was no compassion from the job centre on the loss of her husband, it was all made to feel it was all her fault. As the bedroom tax kicked in, she then had to give up her home she had shared with her husband as she could no longer afford it. From this story is all meant to suggest that we need to change the language and stories we talk about people on benefits. They are not lazy or ignorant, they are proud people trying to deal with difficult situations.

“Clinical Health Psychologist”: Psychology is constantly underprioritised in physical health, as this is one of the areas not considered to be essential to pt care when services are needing to save money. How then can trusts claim to offer a holistic package of care?!

“Trainee Clinical Psychologist”: Our emphasis on requiring a diagnosis solely to access psychological support reinforces stigma, ‘othering’ and disenfranchisement at times when people need human support and care the most. I believe that the current structure of our mental health services serves primarily to individualise distress rather than to acknowledge the impact that lack of social housing, lack of jobs and a prejudice society of huge inequalities has on people.  Rather than offering a place for this to be thought about, we offer a service which diagnoses people, as though their problems are pathological and then ‘treats’ them with either medication or by offering largely short term talking therapies. As a soon-to- be-qualified psychologist, I think talking has something to offer, but this should be preventative, to support those in need to recognise the changes they would like to make and to take action towards these, not ‘treatment’ for a ‘disorder’. We need to acknowledge the huge impact that not having a valued role in society and the shame that feeling like you’re struggling to cope and then being told you’re ‘ill’ can have in a society where ‘doing your bit’ is the message we are fed every day. As services are getting more and more stretched, more and more bank staff are being used as professionals are leaving services. Things such as compassionate leave, permanent contracts, sick pay and opportunities for career progression are being cut. This obviously has a direct impact on the quality of care that those in service receive because they are now being cared for by under-valued professionals who have far too many people to support.

“Trainee Clinical Psychologist”: I have both personal and professional experience of the age of austerity. I graduated university in 2010 with a first class honours degree, but on finishing university I could not gain employment. I am not lucky enough to have family who could support me. As I was homeless, I managed to thankfully gain a council house and religiously went to the job centre. The workers made me feel shame and humiliation. The system did not care what job or what skills I had as long as I had applied for 3 jobs that week. I eventually managed to secure 3 zero hour contracts, but was sometimes unable to meet my rent (I no longer qualified for housing benefit). The stress of this was immense. I became low and my self-worth plummeted. The job centre then wanted me to go on a 10 week course in computer skills. I had a first in my degree and was working! It was a friend who managed to secure me a job as a teaching assistant in a school. I am now on doctoral training but will never forget these experiences. If it wasn’t for the friends I had around me during that time, then I do not know simply where I would be today.

I continue to witness the impact society has on people’s mental health. The crux of the matter is that for many of the people I have seen if they had been supported compassionately by society then they would not be experiencing mental distress. We have failed them. I have worked with people that have attempted to end their life because they could not get respite care for their child with a disability, they were made homeless or were no longer able to cope because they did not meet the criteria for home help. It was heart breaking to witness that my clients needed to attempt to take their own life in order to get the help they needed. I came into the profession to help people, but you soon realise how powerless you are to improve people’s mental health without society changing. It is frustrating, demoralising and you are left hopeless. How can we be asked to continue to work when all we do is put a bandage on society’s pain, when instead we need to be thinking together for a cure. We all deserve to live a life worth living.

“Former Support Worker for Mind and Genesis Housing Association”: This experience is of the effects of recent benefit cuts that I have seen slowly trap and destroy the hopes of the many people I have worked with. As a support worker for supported housing organisations, my day often consisted of multiple calls to the DWP, which over the years has increased. Many of the residents I supported were on JSA and were often sanctioned due chaotic lifestyles, forgetting or sometimes because of clerical errors caused by the job centre. These sanctions caused an extreme amount of distress for the residents as it had a knock on effect on their housing benefit. We walked to and from the hostel and the council many times a week to take in proof of no income so their housing benefit could be reinstated. Then I would arrange food parcels for those who had to make to do on hardship payments or nothing at all. All this took an emotional toll on many who lived in places I worked, I would often be asked to support residents to switch from JSA to ESA when they felt they could no longer cope. To move out of supported accommodation was nearly impossible, as wages (often from 0 hours contracts) would not cover the rent of supported housing let alone save for a deposit leading to a vicious cycle which trapped them in supported housing. The very long wait for council housing seemed pointless to people sometimes. It’s a challenge to lift the spirits of someone who after exploring many options cannot see a way to come off benefits.

“Trainee Psychologist”: As a trainee I have been shocked by the lack of resources available for Clinical Psychologists to properly carry out their jobs, due to a lack of funding within services – for example, old cognitive assessment tool kits within Learning Disabilities services, or no assessment tool kits available within CAMHS. This has a huge impact on their ability to undertake some of the key roles of the Clinical Psychologist. In addition to this is the lack of funding for conferences and CPD, alongside the expectation to be up to date with the latest research and evidence base.

“Trainee Clinical Psychologist”: As a Trainee Clinical Psychologist, I am shocked to be working in services where resources are so tight that evidence-based therapy cannot be delivered. I worked in an inpatient children’s unit for severe mental health issues where the number of therapists providing psychological interventions had been more than halved over the last 2 years, leaving several inpatients with no access to individual therapy. I also worked in an adult depression and anxiety service (IAPT) where very few people with severe depression received the nationally recommended number of sessions (NICE recommend 16-20 sessions of CBT if needed), because the service was forced to set a target for discharge after 6-8 sessions, to meet budgetary cuts. Austerity also impacted individual therapy sessions. One particular young adult was almost unable to think in our sessions because he was only eating one meal a day, having had his benefits removed. Thank goodness for food banks or he would not be alive. He was so keen to return to education and work, and looked for opportunities daily, but had subtle mental health support needs that shrinking services were no longer able to meet. He was one of the brightest young adults I’d met in a long time, yet was getting ready to end his life because he could not access work or education in a way that took account of his valid, individual needs. For me, the UK has become a society where humanity, civilisation and care for fellow human beings has been thrown to the gutter in favour of glittering gold, fat bonuses and drive for profit. I used to work in the Civil Service and I appreciate how difficult it can be to make public spending decisions. However, the current Government is, without justification, prioritising bankers and businessmen over children, the elderly and those needing physical and mental health treatment. Money does not grow on trees, but introducing a 0.05% financial transaction tax would not harm the City in the slightest and would raise billions of pounds which could be used to re-invigorate caring health services (and education services) for all.

“Clinical Psychologist, formerly NHS”: I previously worked within an NHS community mental health team and also in dementia services. Many senior psychologist posts had either been cut, downbanded or were under threat, leading to the loss of professionals with over a decade of training and many years of experience. Such valuable individuals were replaced with newly qualified and relatively inexperienced psychologists or therapists, who frankly could not deliver the degree of leadership and supervision to colleagues, or the level of highly specialist input to complex cases as their predecessors. Moreover, such cheaper replacements had ridiculous caseloads, and so could not provide the treatments for the appropriate length of time, or to the standard, that they would have done. The experienced staff who were made redundant went on to set themselves up privately, and I joined them eventually as I couldn’t work ethically within the NHS any longer. Decades of training and expertise was lost to the NHS and public, and now is only available to those able to pay.

“Trainee Psychologist”: We have abosultely no admin support because “there isn’t the money”. This means that myself, and several highly qualified (and highly paid) members of staff spend a significant proportion of our time chained to computers, answering the phone or stood at the photocopier. This is time we could spend seeing clients and clearing our 12 month waiting list. It would be more cost effective and client beneficial to employ an admin assistant but no one is hearing us. Meanwhile as we type away we become ever more demoralised and demotivated. It comes to something when you see 2 clients in one week and think you’re doing well…

“NHS Employee”: Sitting in a team meeting one morning, it was announced that second generation antipsychotic medication was no longer to be offered to service users/clients in the first instance: this was a trust-wide policy, newly implemented. One of the nurses protested in outrage in light of the fact that we would deny our clients the choice. Indeed, it was raised that this practice opposes NICE treatment guidelines, which emphasise explaining medication options (and their side effects) to clients so that they can make an informed decision. It truly feels like a step back in time, and this time without the shaky justification of knowing what’s best for the patient: this is a cost-driven measure without consideration for side effects and client choice.

 

“Clinical Psychologist”: Cuts to services have meant our care coordinators are more stretched than ever, they have 4 x the recommended number of cases and have no time for therapeutic work and are focused on crisis management and no longer get involved in family work. They are so burnt out they are all leaving and are finding it harder to be compassionate. We have had two incidents where staff have felt very fearful and some have experienced violence as several service users has become aggressive following a series of rejections and lack of adequate support.

“An IAPTS worker”: Austerity in our service has meant that more than ever before it has become almost impossible to engage more people in psychological therapies. They struggle more than ever with the bedroom tax and other financial penalties and putting food on the table, that any kind of therapy is no more a priority…and for good reason of course under the circumstances. However, as a result, more and more people struggle to engage with therapy and then due to internal pressures we have to discharge them, unless they could be referred to a Community Mental Health Team. The targets that are being imposed on us, are ‘brutal’, so when people do not seem to ‘engage’ we have to discharge. Actually even when they do engage we still have to discharge sooner rather than later, as we are being monitored on our activity and it is impossible to offer more sessions even when people need them. This worries me and my colleagues a lot.

“The Psychologist”: Vulnerable people accessing our Psychological Therapy services have been getting worse due to the cuts, the bedroom tax and the pressures to keep looking for a job and to go back to work. It is clear that these pressures have had a detrimantal effect to their already fragile mental health. The government does not seem to appreciate the fragility of people with significant mental health problems and the fact that pressure on their finances and instability around their benefits has a serious negative effect on their well being. Writing letters to the DWP has become a regular feature of a Psychologist’s job now, trying to clearly demonstrate through plain language formulations why the specific individual is not ready to go back to work and what kind of further support they actually require. The focus of DWP seems to be increasingly on targets rather than people. We seem to be losing our humanity as a people, as society. What is exactly the benefit of austerity as it hits hard the most vulnerable people? as it sends a message that they don’t matter? as it slowly erodes any self-respect they got left by treating them as a ‘problem’, as a ‘burden’?

“Activist, I speak true”: I was sectioned under the mental health act after seeking help from my local hospital.What I had hoped for was a supportive chat and advice on my personal problems and ways to overcome them. Instead the hospital receptionist took me along to a secure mental health wing of the hospital,where I was then informed that I was not allowed out,until a doctor gave permission for me leave. A junior doctor was on duty,so this mean’t I had to wait until the next day for an assessment, It eventually turned out 2 days I had to wait,because of staff shortages. At no time did I give the slightest impression that I felt suicidal,so I was shocked to the core to find out an enquiry at the local A&M had turned into my worse nightmare of claustraphobic proportion. I was then alloted a room at the end of a corridor,where the lights were faulty and flickered on and off. Inside the room was the graffiti “EDL”. If I moved slightly in the room,the lights would turn off or on. Outside the window were anti-climb designed drain pipes that looked more like acoustic enhancers,that made a disturbing noise everytime a raindrop fell. Everyone I talked to hated them. While waiting for my first qualified assessment,I got chating to a staff member. I asked her why she had to shine a torch in my face every hour while I tried to sleep. Her response was that it was a new directive,and she hated doing so.This was after I told her it was keeping me awake,as was the corridor doors slamming every few minutes,with heavily built guards marching up and down in size 11 boots,then peering through a small window at you while you’d try to relax.This made me feel more frightened than I’d been in my life. I wanted to be home. The Psychologist doctors eventually arrived and fired away some rather predictable questions,none of which touched on my inner fears. When I tried to have meaningful conversation with the psychologists,they didn’t understand the field I was talking about. I was told by a fellow patient after being further detained against my will,”never to tell them what you really feel,otherwise thy’ll keep you locked up longer.” This chap was right. The Psychological interviews barely scratched the surface,of what I was going through at the time. But I knew if I wanted real help,this was not the place to find it. I was kept detained over Xmas,and had arranged with solicitors to act for me,to get me away from this horrendous place,where slightly depressed,innocent old ladies sat quietly while fights broke out with patients wanting to leave. Onetim I called the police when 4 security guards were pinning down a violent man,only to be informed by the police,they had no jurisdition over the hospital,as it was private land under the NHS hospital.

“Clinical Psychologist”: Cuts to our services have left Social Workers and Psychologists unable to regularly see and visit the most vulnerable Looked After Children. Staff shortages mean the number of cases frontline staff carry have doubled, sometimes tripled, and Social Workers get to meet their young people about once every 6-8 weeks at best. This makes it impossible to build a meaningful relationship and this has a huge impact on the young people’s well-being.

“V., Clinical Psychologist”: While screening referrals I have noticed how thresholds for accepting people into our CAMHS service get higher and higher, and it gets harder to justify not accepting referrals when I know there is a real need for a service, but not the resources to provide it. Many of the early intervention services we used to be able to refer to have had their funding cut, such as non-statutory sector provision for support with parenting. We have been advising GPs to refer to voluntary sector counselling services, but now their waiting lists have got really long too. Our service is being put out to tender. Our manager told us that when writing a bid to run a service, you are expected to put in a ‘bid’ 10% lower than the amount asked by commissioners. I realised this must part of the mechanism whereby over time services become more and more poorly resourced.

“Anon”: Austerity has had such a huge impact on the services I work in and the people I work with that its difficult to know where to begin. It has created so much damage it feels overwhelming at times and difficult to think about. There are lots of examples… One child & family mental health service I worked in lost all its social workers (this was just the start of many of losses) and then some of its Systemic Therapists. Cuts like this make ‘joined up’ work and thinking between professionals difficult which is essential if child protection concerns and complex mental health needs are to be tackled collaboratively with clients. They may save the local authority some money in the short-term but create a fragmentation in services that belies the holistic layers of cohesive support that many families in deprived areas need to help prevent long-term damage. In services that I have worked in the impact of austerity has meant that workers are over-stretched and unable to give their clients as much support as they would like. It has also created a corrosive climate of fear amongst staff who are worried about losing their jobs or not having their temporary contracts (permanent contracts are slowly becoming a thing of the past) renewed. Staff must receive more support and stability if they are going to be able to truly assist the children and families that are referred to their services.

One thought on “Everyday Austerity

  1. I have autism and mental health problems and learning difficulties. One trying to commit suicide I was stopped by the police and made to go into a hospital ward for mentally ill patients. When I was there staff had no idea how to treat or help me, witch made how I felt worse. They also viewed my coping strategy as me being happy when I was not, discharged me and I was re admitted within 5 hours. They also made statements to me of how they were supposed to help, yet they had not helped at all. Because they are over worked, underpaid, frustrated and try so hard, yet patients are angry and stressed out by the same problems. Eventually after two month of keeping me in with no medication, support or help they have discharged me again. However it’s to late now as the supported accommodation that had been looked in to I was refused because of my autism diagnosis, inspite of me also suffering from mental health problems. So people with anxiety and mild depression were offered better support than me because I also have autism and other needs. It kind of felt like discrimination, yet had the staff had autism training, the funding be available, or people like me not been excluded from services maybe suicide wouldn’t be the only option I have left.

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