§ Mr. Ashdown
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the extent and quality of training given to his Department's staff involved in processing the claims of people with a mental illness now living in the community, whether he has any plans to extend this training; and what is his policy on involving the voluntary bodies who represent the claimants in such training.
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd
The Department's Local Office staff who are involved in customer service receive, as an integral part of their initial training, advice and guidance on how to deal efficiently and sympathetically with people suffering from mental illness. There are no plans to extend this initial training as it is considered to be both satisfactory and sufficient.
More detailed and specific training has been provided for social fund officers. They need to appreciate and recognise the significance of disability, the problems arising and the circumstances pertaining to that disability. To this end, 3½ days of an intensive training period is given over to looking at groups of people with difficulties such as the mentally handicapped and mentally ill. Social fund officers discuss the problems of being discharged back into the community and the stigmatising of the mentally ill. They are also given information on the different types of mental illness, e.g. neuroses (anxiety disorders and phobias) and psychoses (depression, manic depression and schizophrenia), to assist them in helping with the claims of these people.
This training is at present the subject of refinement as experience of operating the fund increases.
All the Department's internal training in this area is developed with the advice and guidance of in-house professional resources. This ensures a nationwide consistency of approach which would not be possible if voluntary bodies were to be involved. The logistics of availability of external assistance on the large scale required, would also seem to preclude an alternative approach.