The stupidity and insensitivity of bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions goes from one bizarre level to another.
Now they are handing out guidelines on how to deal with suicidal Universal Credit claimants – in advance of Iain Duncan Smith’s latest plan to push the unfit back into work, which focuses on those with mental illnesses.
Here’s the catch: Call centre staff aren’t being told to use this guidance to help people – instead it has been printed on a pink card that they must wave over their head in a very clear “Here’s one!” gesture.
A manager is then meant to rush across to listen to the call while workers who have no formal training must then assess the degree of risk by asking a series of questions.
Make a note of the date, folks – we’ll need it to judge the effectiveness of the DWP’s procedure when the next figures on claimant deaths are published (sometime after Hell freezes, one suspects).
Or shall we just accuse the DWP of planning to increase the number of suicides among mentally-ill benefit claimants?
As part of a six-point plan for dealing with suicidal claimants who have been denied welfare payments, call-centre staff in Glasgow have been told to wave the guidance, printed on a laminated pink card, above their head.
A manager is then meant to rush over to listen in to the call and workers – who insist they have had no formal training in the procedure – must “make some assessment on the degree of risk” by asking a series of questions.
Glasgow-based call-centre workers have accused the DWP of asking them to carry out the job of a psychologist or social worker.
The SNP have accused the UK Government of “playing a dangerous game with people’s lives”.
Processors and telephonists have to contact claimants to tell them they have been denied the new benefit or are facing sanctions which can mean payments are withheld for up to three years.
One Scottish call handler, who asked not to be named, said: “…This would suggest the DWP is expecting it to happen and I assume that this procedure is in place so that they can say they did their part. But we are not trained to deal with vulnerable people in this way. It’s a very distressing thing for us to handle.
“They’re basically telling us to assess claimants by asking how they intend to self-harm or commit suicide, which is a job that only a trained psychologist, social worker, or at the very least, a counsellor should be doing.”
Another worker said: “There was a man on the phone to me who said if he didn’t get money he’d kill himself. This was before we were issued with the guidelines and I wasn’t sure what to do so I could only try to calm him down.
“He hung up the phone and when I tried to call him back I couldn’t get through. It was very upsetting. I spent the rest of the day worried that he may have taken his own life.
“It wasn’t until the next day that a colleague told me they spoke to him later and he didn’t go through with it.
“But I know of colleagues who have been told by claimants that they are going to commit suicide and they have done so. It’s devastating for them.”
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