Viewpoint: Conservative manifesto and the rights of those with mental health issues

Peter Kinderman is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society

“The Conservative party’s election manifesto published yesterday contained an extraordinarily retrograde assault on the rights of people with mental and physical health problems in receipt of benefits.

On page 28 of the manifesto, under the euphemistic heading; “We will help you back into work if you have a long-term yet treatable condition”, they propose that; “People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.”

In other words, people with mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems, or who are overweight will no longer be able freely to choose to consent, or withhold their consent, to treatment – to decline a recommended treatment will result in benefits sanctions, and consequent misery and poverty.

This is particularly ironic, given that poverty and social inequality are significant contributory factors to many long term health and mental health difficulties in the first place.

This suggestion undermines a fundamental principle of medical and psychological healthcare, namely that of informed consent: a person who is capable of giving their consent has the right to refuse to receive care or services.

It is wholly inappropriate to threaten the withdrawal of benefits in order to influence that decision. This is particularly true in mental health care, where there is considerable controversy about the overall benefits of many available treatments, including psychiatric medications, and where therapy based on coercion simply will not work.

I am pleased that all political parties have made commitments to increase investment in mental health care. It is regretful that the Conservative Party appear to believe that it is appropriate to constrain the freedom of choice and basic human rights of the most vulnerable people in society, and, if this is not their intention, then they need to clarify their stance.”



Leave a comment