Critics have expressed horror at Tory plans to make benefit claimants prove they suffer from anxiety or depression, or risk having their payments cut.
Current rules mean that people cannot be forced into treatment, like psychological therapy, as a condition of receiving their sickness benefits. But the Telegraph reported high-level discussion at the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions are currently ongoing to require hundreds of thousands of people to undergo treatment, if they are declared unfit for work due to mental health problems.
Government statistics show 46% of people receiving £101 a week Employment and Support Allowance have mental health issues, meaning that new rules could apply to 260,000 people.
The plans have come under fire from high-profile Tory backbencher and former GP Sarah Wollaston.
One trial began last month, the Telegraph said, looking at combining “talking therapies” with employment support at JobCentres. Three more are planned for later this summer.
A senior government source told the paper “a huge number” of claimants on ESA who cannot work have treatable mental health issues. “We know that depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. Cognitive behavioural therapies work and they get people stable again but you can’t mandate people to take that treatment,” the source said.
“But there are loads of people who claim ESA who undergo no treatment whatsoever. It is bizarre. This is a real problem because we want people to get better. These are areas we need to explore. The taxpayer has committed a lot of money but the idea was never to sustain them for years and years on benefit. We think it’s time for a rethink.
“At some point something has to be done. Right now it’s an open ended contract.”
Campaigners took to social media to decry the plans.
The main problem for the Tories could be convincing Lib Dem colleagues. Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health minister was "not a sensible idea".
"The idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won't work," he said. "It is not a question of whether tough love is a good concept.
"You actually need someone to go into therapy willingly."