Mind Outed

Charities often come in for criticism for various reasons, and our charity law is in some respects curious. Many question why schools founded hundreds of years ago for the education of poor scholars – clearly a worthwhile charitable aim – should still have charitable status when they now are exclusive high-fee institutions maintaining the English class system. And others, founded more recently often to meet desperate social needs often now seems to be rather commercial undertakings more interested in empire building than in their original aims, with directors paid ten or twenty times the average wage – though often still relying on a great deal of volunteer labour as well as charitable donations.

I probably should declare an interest, as my wife is a trustee of two small charities and a volunteer for another, all unpaid and all still serving some useful purpose.

Mind is a mental health charity, and most of those taking part in this protest were from the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and with first-hand experience of the charity as users, and some had disturbing stories about how they had been treated at local centres run by Mind.

Of course when people speak we are only hearing one side of the story and having had considerable personal experience of living with and knowing people with mental health issues, starting at a very young age, I sometimes had my doubts about how others might have seen the events they describe. Of course we all see the world from our own perspective, but sometimes this is more distorted than others.

Since the Tories came to power – at first in the 2010 coalition – welfare reforms and sanctions, along with cuts in local authority services because of their austerity programme, have led to the premature deaths of many with mental health problems. The MHRN and Mind for some time worked together taking the government to court over the unfair way that Work Capability Assessments discriminated against people with mental health conditions.

But now, Mind has dropped out of the fight, ending support for the court case and failing to mention the effects of government policies in its latest five-year strategy report. MHRN says it is now colluding with the government, and as evidence, its policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard has been seconded to work as a senior policy adviser to the DWP, the arm of government responsible for the deaths.

What was unusual about this protest was that instead of locking the doors, hiding inside and calling the police as so often happens when protests take place, Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, came out to speak and argue with the protesters.

There were some angry exchanges, with Farmer insisting that Mind was still working for people with mental health problems and not for the DWP, and that Pollard’s secondment had been a personal decision by him to find out more about the government’s thinking, not to assist them in discriminating against the mentally ill. I don’t think any of the protesters were convinced, but I did feel that perhaps there was really more common ground between them than the protest suggested.

But while Mind may be convinced that their change of approach is still fighting their corner, I suppose what matters is how effective it is, and nine months later government policy has only worsened. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to think that starvation and suicide are deliberate Tory policies for dealing with the the disabled and mentally ill rather than simply a side-effect. Time I think for Mind to rethink.

More pictures at Mind’s collusion with the DWP.


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