Friday 28 February 2014


Minister for the Disabled Mike Penning has apologised

The UK Government has apologised for sending a letter to a woman in a coma pressing her to seek work - see the story here.

I don't doubt that this specific error (sending the letter when she was in a coma) was a rare or even one-off mistake but the full story reveals a much more common problem, namely the hounding of people with a serious mental illness to the point where they become ill.

The family of Sheila Holt reports credibly the sequence of events after she was required to attend a job-seeking course during which she became progressively more agitated and distressed (she has bipolar disorder) to the point where she had to be admitted to hospital. She subsequently had a heart attack which caused the coma...and then the nightmare continued as she got the next letter.

She had to attend the wretched course because otherwise her means of survival - her benefits - would have been taken from her.

Her father says "If they had left her alone she would not be in this condition. They were threatening her with cuts and she needs the benefits. I just believe it's all wrong, you should be chasing the people who are fit, get them to work, not them that are not fit. It's outrageous."

Yes, outrageous - and thoughtless and cruel. There is no economic case for harassing people with a serious mental illness towards employment, even if it was not unforgivably unjust as in Sheila Holt's case. Anybody can see that it is counterproductive to pressurise people who are vulnerable - and in this poor woman's case the result is huge financial cost in addition to the terrible personal price she has had to pay.

Many people with a serious mental illness can get back to work and it should indeed be a personal goal for all but a few of those who are of working age - but it has to be on the basis of them determining when and if they are ready.