Category Archives: Well-being

Many of us will spend hours in our gardens because we we want to create a space we enjoy spending time in and are proud to show off to guests. But, did you know that gardening can improve both your mental and physical health?

Nature has long been known for its relaxing qualities – as a place that provides peace and tranquillity. Simply spending time in a garden can be good for you and is it any surprise when you are in the fresh air, surrounded by sweet-smelling flowers all of which are teaming with wildlife?

In care homes gardens have actually been found to reduce agitation and aggression, while hospices have found they play a key part in end-of-life care.

If being in a garden can have such a positive impact on your health just imagine what working in one can do.

It is believed that ‘horticultural therapy’, which has already been implemented for those who have had strokes or are recovering from physical trauma, should be prescribed on the NHS. The thinking behind this is that if gardening were more widely used as a treatment for mental illness and obesity, substantial savings could be made to the UK economy.

But before you head to your local garden centre or a site such as Bakker and start purchasing your bulbs, here is how it improves your health:

Physical Health…

Gardening is a very physical activity – due to the stretching, bending, lifting and walking that comes with pushing wheelbarrows, carrying bags of soil and cutting back bushes, you can burn up to 330 calories in just one hour. Spending an hour in the fresh air amongst nature and wildlife has got to beat running on a treadmill in a stuffy gym for the same amount of time, hasn’t it?

This physical exercise also helps to prevent disease, weight bearing tasks in particular are good for your heart and blood flow. In fact, it is believed that daily digging can actually extend your life and can help with flexibility and mobility – helping to stave off debilitating conditions.

You know what they say, healthy body equals healthy mind – when we exercise levels of serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel good, rise and levels of cortisol, which makes us stressed, is lowered.

Mental Health…

Stress is the cause of many illnesses but gardening can alleviate this before it gets any worse. A study conducted by Gardeners World Magazine found that 90% of gardeners, from a poll of 1,500 think that it improves their mood. This is because it enables you to take your negative feelings out on it.

Alongside this it will lower levels of fatigue, depression, tension and anger while heightening self-esteem, mood and sense of worth.

Perhaps it is time to dig out the spade from the back of the shed, dust off the cobwebs and start digging up the soil – improving your health at the time as creating a beautiful space.

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It’s no secret that the general population is growing at a rate faster than ever before. As it stands, the UK has a population of 64.1 million – a number which is predicted to reach 70 million mid-2027, just 10 years from now.

The world’s population is expanding at a similar rate, with more than 7 billion people on the planet currently and urban populations rapidly developing and branching out.

The healthcare systems supporting these huge urban populations will find themselves under strain, as more and more health issues arise due to people living in such close proximity to each other and the pollutants existing in such cities.

Slums are being erected more and more in some of the world’s largest countries, such as India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico – the number of people in the world living in slums reached 863 million in 2014 – and these have significant effects on the environment and the people who live in them. In turn, healthcare services for those who can afford it are being impacted and, due to poor sanitisation, such close confinements and the sheer number of people in one place, there are a number of cases of serious illnesses such as cholera and diarrhoea.

In China, the air pollution in the country’s large cities is causing serious respiratory issues as breathing the air in Beijing is likened to smoking 40 cigarettes a day. Therefore, healthcare services in the country are significantly under strain as the population suffers due to the radical urbanisation the country is undergoing.

Focusing on the UK alone, the strain such a huge population can have on a free health service is threatening to its ability offer the best care. The NHS currently deals with more than 1 million patients every 36 hours and is already under great strain. As the population grows, this issue will only increase along with it. Patient safety is currently the major issue, as under strain and overworked staff make decisions that could further jeopardise health because they are unable to think clearly.

The strain extends further than patient care too, supply and demand for items such as medical supplies and protective equipment will rise and there could also be a threat to the amount of available antibiotics and medicines to treat injuries and illnesses.

So what can we do?

It’s important we act now, to lower the potential strain on health services in the future, here are a few key ways to do this:

  • Encourage healthier living – obesity is rising in the world and this is one of the major contributing factors to the strain healthcare services are currently experiencing. Eating well and exercising more will improve general health across a population.
  • Businesses can implement healthcare plans in the workplace – many people get ill but their symptoms worsen because they do not want to pay for a check up at the dentist or antibiotics from the doctor. A healthcare service such as Bupa can cut costs and ensure people remain healthy.
  • More free phone services – People who simply want to talk about their symptoms should be able to call and speak to an advisor. The NHS 111 service took 1,351,761 calls in December 2016 alone, suggesting more support is required for this service.
  • Stronger support for mental health services and charities – Support for those suffering with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can find that their symptoms worsen if they don’t seek help, but the current healthcare system isn’t prepared for this. Free advice services and support networks can lighten the load on healthcare providers such as the NHS, as well as offering people the help they need.

The growing population will continue to have a significant impact on the healthcare services around the world, with the above points implemented we can help reduce this strain.

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In recent years there has been a growing understanding of just how essential sleep is in order for us to live healthy and active lives.

This has led to an entire industry of sleep scientists and bed retailers all seeking to find new ways of helping us achieve that mythical eight-hours sleep. But what is it that sleep does that’s so essential to our well-being?

sleeping

Physical benefits

When sleeping our bodies carry out essential maintenance in everything from repairing blood vessels to regenerating damaged skin cells. And such is the power of this activity, that those suffering from sleep deprivation have been shown to also be afflicted with ailments like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

As children we need plenty of sleep in order to sustain healthy growth and development, and with recent research that shows that sleep can influence obesity levels, it’s clear that we are only just starting to understand how our sleeping habits can affect our physical lives.

Mental effects

We also need plenty of sleep in order for our brain to operate properly through the daytime. Although there is still a lot of debate over the function of dreaming, it’s been suggested that this activity could play a large part in helping us process and form memories.

Adequate amounts of sleep are also essential in order for us to control our emotions and stave off feelings of anxiety and depression. 

Behavioural impact

Anybody who has suffered a poor night’s sleep will know just how hard it is to do even the most basic of tasks the following day. This is because the amount of sleep we get can govern our reaction times and productivity which has many worrying aspects if we are involved in any physical labour.

This is especially so as recent research has shown how the phenomenon of microsleeping could mean that many accidents have been caused as a result of mild sleep deficiency.

And above all, it shows how we need to do all we can to take advantage of any bed offers to ensure that we get enough sleep for our physical and mental well-being.

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Archery may be considered as a fun hobby by many but there is much more beyond that. The first bow and arrow were used as far as 5000 BC. It was conventionally used for hunting and nowadays is a popular sport, even featured in Olympics. Professional archers require a considerable amount of strength and focus making it an ideal activity to keep a person fit and healthy.

Here are some ways in which archery can benefit your health.

Improves hand-eye coordination

The primary benefit of archery is that it improves hand-eye coordination. Aiming and firing the arrow increases your focus as well. Coordination can be improved with more and more practice. The body must be held in a constant position while making aim and taking a shot, this improves balance. Over time the player gets better at gaining control of the body.

Strength building

All body components are used when practicing, especially arms, hands, chest, and shoulders. Tension on the muscle is maintained for many seconds before the string is been released. Repetitive activity results into muscle development.

Patience

Archery helps to build more patience. This sport requires immense patience because the game is not about speed but precision. Precision can take time and you should be patient enough to maximize accuracy.

Focus

Archers need to filter out all the distractions and focus primarily on their form releasing the bowstring consistently. Concentration also helps a person to cope up with the high-pressure situation which is helpful in daily life.

Improves confidence

Archery is a game where you can even compete against yourself. Similarly, it can be held against others as well. Results can be calculated to improve person’s form and boost an individual’s self-esteem and confidence.

Socialize

People of any age and any type can enjoy the sport. Archery is meant to be for everyone. It also teaches a person other benefits like teamwork. Furthermore, it is a good way to socialize. A person needs to have adequate socialization levels in order to sustain a healthy mental life. Archery is an ideal way.

Form of exercise

At competition level, participants walk a lot carrying heavy loads. This helps to burn approximately 280 calories per hour. It is the perfect form of exercise. So if you are concerned about your health then consider practicing archery.

Relaxing

Releasing an arrow and watching it hit the target can be extremely relieving. It can help you get rid of stress and make you feel relaxed. The act of focusing is a perfect package of relaxation.

Hand flexibility

Finger and hand strength increases in archery. Flexibility increases as well because they are fully in use while practicing.

Open to all

Archery can be done by disabled people. People with severe disabilities can use special equipment to enjoy the sport.

Conclusion

There are a lot more benefits associated with it. You can view source of the article to get a detailed idea of archery. Make sure you experience it once in your lifetime.

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Keeping your feet healthy is vital if you’re to stay active and healthy all-round. Mistreating or neglecting your feet can cause you pain, as well as periods of debility that may make other problems worse, so you need to make sure your feet are always ready to go.

Thankfully, keeping your tootsies in top condition isn’t complicated, so here is a rundown of the things you can do to stay on their good side.

Keep them clean and dry

This is something you can do every day to make sure your feet and toes are comfortable. Wash and dry your feet once a day and make sure you dry them before putting on socks and shoes. If your feet are warm and damp, various fungi will see them as the ideal place to settle down and start a fungal family.

Check out your feet once a week

Once a week or so, take a good look at your feet. Examine the soles for discolouration, dry skin or blisters, and look in between your toes for peeling or redness, as this can mean a fungal infection like athlete’s foot. You should also look at your nails for discolouration, flaking or pitted areas as this could also mean fungal problems. If you’re diabetic, you should perform this check every day.

Don’t be scared of seeing the foot doctor

They’re there to help you and the sooner you get that help, the sooner you’ll recover. You may need a small procedure, or some meds, or even a set of stretches – seeing a foot physiotherapist in Northwich often leads to a new exercise regime!

Cut toenails straight

Make sure you always cut your toenails straight across, rather than following the natural curve of the nailbed. You should also avoid cutting them too close to the skin as this can cause ingrown toenails, which is painful and debilitating.

Don’t gloss over ugly nails

Covering up ugly, discoloured and ridges toenails with polish won’t make the problem go away if it’s a fungal infection, in fact it could make the problem worse.

Take care in public

When you’re at the pool or the gym, make sure you wear shower slippers otherwise you’re almost guaranteed to come away with a little “gift” in the form of a verruca or athlete’s foot!

Keep your shoes to yourself

In the same way as you can pick up a fungus at the gym, you can pick one up by sharing shoes and socks with another person.

Wear cotton socks

Each foot has 250,000 sweat glands! Once they’re ensconced in socks and shoes, that sweat can find it hard to evaporate, so wearing socks made of fabric that can wick away sweat is important. It’s also a good idea to wear shoes that let your feet “breathe” – leather shoes are good for this, as well as any footwear that incorporates mesh.

Make sure the shoe fits

Shoes that are too tight will compress your bones, muscles and nerves, leading to short-term pain and long-term damage. You need rounded shoes that leave your toes enough room to wiggle, as well as a stable, low heel. Pointy shoes should be avoided as much as possible. Shoes that are too loose can cause gait problems and blisters.

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Health is wealth; it is an old saying which is true as well. Your life is nothing you are physically healthy and fit. These days, with the growing rate of diseases all around the word it is not easy. You are not able to keep yourself safe and healthy.  To some extent, it is not your fault because the lives of people are busier than before. You do not have time to go out to the dietician and plan a healthy diet for you. Well, this thing might make you get worried. But you do not need to get worried. There are number companies who are offering healthy products for you.

Why You Need Healthy Products?

Yes, the “healthy products.” It seems a strange word in these fast moving markets cheap products. Your body needs it, and many companies still exist who know the value of your health. They offer a variety of goods which plays a vital role in keeping you active all day. You and your family also need them. It is not about any medicated product but anything you will find effective like yoga products which keep you active, calm and concentrated. For instance, if you are afraid of obesity then you can go for the natural products which will help you in maintaining weight. If you have any skin issue like a pimple, then you can try any natural product for it online. In short, these healthy related products are going to get rid of daily routine issues. For example, if you do not have any issue but still you take vitamin supplements. It is going to keep you away from many uncountable diseases.

Shop The Healthy Products Online

It is up to which way is more suitable for shopping at your side. But people out there prefer the online buying and selling methods. It is considered not only money saving but a time-saving way of buying things. You can get all kind of health related products by just clicking on it. Life has never been so easy like it is in this era. Thanks to the researcher who are working hard to do it for you. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind while buying any health product:

  • Always consult with the nearest physician before using any product because it is about your health.
  • Never use any product if you are allergic to any of its ingredient.
  • If you are buying it online, then search for the reviews of customers. Prefer the one with positive feedback.
  • Pricing matters a lot. Never pay without doing a little market search. Get the price of the particular product from the different source then buy.

What are you waiting for? There is nothing more important than a healthy living. So, just search what your body needs at the particular age. Buy the product and use it in your daily routine. Just see, how it will bring a positive change in yourself and will make you feel more active.

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Healthy Habits

Living a healthy life is not just about looking good. It is about feeling good about yourself and caring for your future. A healthy lifestyle is something that comes out of a habit. Train yourself to keep choosing the healthier options in all circumstances. Most of all, you start a healthy lifestyle not because you are jealous of others, but because you want to improve yourself. Here are some tips to live a healthier lifestyle

  1. Constantly weigh yourself

It helps if you have a bathroom scale that you can step on any time. The goal here is not to feel bad about your weight, but to be more realistic with your goals. If you have a weighing scale at home, it is easy to monitor your progress. You can set clear goals. For instance, you can say that you would lose 5 pounds in 2 weeks. You will give yourself a tap in the back if you are almost there, but to also push harder if you are still far from the goal.

  1. Stop eating out

Learn how to cook in order to avoid eating out. It is better if you cook what you eat so you can decide what goes into the dish. Choose nutrient-rich ingredients. Include fruits and vegetables on your daily diet. Remove unhealthy fats and cut back on salt and sugar. If you cook your own dish, you can manage your weight easily. The problem with eating outside is that even if the food tastes better, you don’t know what goes into it.

  1. Live a more active lifestyle

It helps if you are more active. Hit the gym even just for 40 minutes to an hour each day. Do cardio exercises. If not, try outdoor activities that are enjoyable like trekking or mountain climbing. You may also drive a bicycle to work instead of using your car. There are a lot of ways to live an active lifestyle. If your job demands you to face your computer all the time, learn some exercises that you can do right in your chair.

  1. Learn how to do portion control

Just because you want to live a healthy life does not mean you have to starve yourself. There is no need to totally give up meat or sweets. The point is to control what goes into your plate. A balanced diet is preferable. Eat more of healthier foods like vegetables and fruits while reducing the amount of alcohol, sweets or processed foods from your daily diet.

  1. Choose healthy snacks

Some people might tell you to give up snacks to lose weight. This is not true. You can still eat snacks, but you have to choose the healthy kind. You can check out the best healthy snack recipes online so you can still eat snacks without feeling guilty. Besides, eating more frequently in smaller amounts is better than eating 3 big meals a day. If you are working, there are healthy snacks on the go that you can easily prepare in the morning or a night before.

  1. Stay connected

Aside from physical health, take care of your emotional health too. Stay connected with friends and family. They will make you feel good about yourself. They will also keep you grounded. If you are too busy with work or you are totally stressed out, these people will ease your pain. Simply chatting with them via social media or calling them on a regular basis helps a lot.

Changing your lifestyle requires a conscious effort. At first, it seems difficult. You will feel like you are punished. Eventually, it forms into a habit. Everything will come naturally.

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If you are a mom or a caregiver, it’s easy to focus on others to the point where you neglect your own health and happiness. There is something to be said for selflessness, but it’s also possible to take it too far. When your own health and wellbeing starts to suffer because you tend for the needs of others, it might be time to reevaluate your commitments and start to formulate a plan that will work for you for the rest of your life. After all, if you can’t survive your own strategy for helping others, you won’t be much good to anybody at the end of it.

This isn’t hippy dippy stuff. It’s part of learning a good balance of priorities that all parents and caregivers need to deal with sooner or later. Here are some simple steps to giving yourself long term health and beauty, even as you work hard to make others’ lives the best they can be.

Model the Beauty Standards You Think Are Legitimate. A woman who tends to her appearance communicates something about her poise, capability, and priorities. Sometimes people feel guilty for paying attention to their own needs when they are dealing with people who have needs which seem greater. However, by modeling health and beauty priorities which are healthy, you are giving the people you care for a good example of how to live. So pay attention to the food you eat, to the skin around your eyelids, to the way you dress, and to the amount of sleep you get at night. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it should be a way that communicates your values of self care.

Don’t Overcommit. It can be hard for people who clearly see the need in the world, or in their own home, to make commitments that are appropriate. If you’ve got kids, it’s important to find ways to have a life that is your own, even as they continue to take precedence in your day to day. Find time in the mornings and/or evenings to do things that have only to do with you. Read books that interest you. Take on projects that actually excite you and help you grow.

Learn to Delegate. Part of being a good parent or caregiver is to know when it’s time to pass on responsibility to another party. This is a great thing to model for your children especially, who will learn what it means to live a balanced life not ruled by stress and obligation. Being a strong leader means identifying the capabilities of other people and helping them to be unlocked. Delegate authority, and it will help you live and lead a lot more effectively.

There are a lot of ways to live a healthy and balanced life, even when you have a lot of personal demands from people you love and care about. If you need to realign this balance, take some time to relearn what it means to prioritize your needs, for yourself and the people you care for.

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When New Year rolls around, people tend to make resolutions and self-improvement promises to themselves. Fitness goals and losing weight are usually at the top of their lists. But once January and/or February pass, it is common to find motivation has waned. Some people have already moved on without coming close to reaching their goals.

Sound familiar?

This year you really want to stick with it though. So, how do you keep your fitness goals on track during 2017?

1. Schedule in a routine

Scheduling in a workout with its own dedicated block of time makes it’s easier to stay on target. If you’re able to work with being flexible and stick to it, that’s OK too, but keep in mind if you don’t promise yourself specific dedicated time to exercise you leave room for lots of “I’ll do it later”. For many people, after a few weeks the fitness enthusiasm falls to the wayside and before they know it, all goals are out the window and “later” has won. Consistency is important, so make the commitment and stick to it.

2. Set realistic goals

Setting the bar too high, especially in the beginning, tends to set people up for failure. Losing weight and getting fit takes time. Ultimately, it involves lifestyle changes and slow and steady really does win the race. To start, choose exercises you can do without injuring yourself. If you hurt yourself, not only will you feel pain (and not the good workout kind!) but you’ll set yourself back.

3. Clean out the kitchen

It’s essential that you keep those “problem” foods out of your house. Substitute the cookies, chocolates and other less diet-friendly foods with healthier options. After a short period of time, both you and your taste buds won’t miss the junk.

4. Keep track of your progress

It’s helpful to watch your progress as you meet each milestone. Pick a tracking method that appeals to you, for example:

  • An app, a calendar or a journal – this way you have fitness data to compare.

  • Take a photo of yourself once a week and contrast these to see your progress.

  • Keep a video diary – show yourself working out and getting fit and lean.

Tracking your progress can be a high motivator because as the days and weeks pass by, you have a visual to see the accomplishments you’ve made.

5. Try new workouts like suspension training

Try to find new exercises or activities. Varying your workout makes things more interesting, which will keep you engaged as you work towards your goals. For instance, have you considered suspension training? Look into different models of trainers on the market, like the newly introduced suspension trainers from aerobis for a more advanced workout. These are versatile pieces of equipment that can be used to vary your routine up. You can also train several muscle groups at the same time, not to mention it’s extremely portable. As long as you have a sturdy base, you are never far away from your workout.

6. Partner up with other people

Try partnering up with other people who are dedicated to reaching their own fitness goals. Working out with someone else passes the time more quickly and keeps things fun. If you prefer to exercise alone, choose someone you can talk to during those times you feel you want to give up and need encouragement; a person you can contact in moments of weakness if needed.

Or, simply post your goals on social media. If you are planning a specific workout in the morning, tell everyone. People may respond with inspiring comments or ask you how you did. Either way, by putting it out in cyberspace, you’ve increased the accountability factor. Chances are you’ll follow through.

7. Reward yourself

Think of ways to reward yourself that will encourage you to keep going. First, set the goal (i.e. losing 15 pounds, beating your running record or working up to a specified level of workout) and then work towards it. A reward shouldn’t mean a plan to binge eat after you’ve lost those pounds or to go out and max your credit card. Think of something inspiring and fun. Maybe a weekend trip, a spa visit or some new clothes.

Getting started is often easy, but keeping on track is another thing entirely. However, by structuring your fitness goals in a way that makes them achievable, before you know it you’ll be setting your goals for 2018.

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Whilst most smokers and the population in general accept that cigarettes expose the user to a high risk of many types of cancer, heart disease and COPD, what is often underestimated is the danger of second-hand smoke.

What is Passive Smoking?

First let’s consider what passive smoking is, as the two elements which comprise it might surprise you in terms of the risk associated with them.

There are two distinct types of tobacco smoke. The first is mainstream smoke, and this is what the smoker exhales. The second is sidestream smoke which comes directly from the burning tip of a cigarette. Passive smoking comprises those two smoke types and in fact of the two sidestream smoke is the more toxic, at around 4 times, because it includes many of the chemicals which make cigarettes so deadly.

Is Vaping an Alternative?

Vaping is a good alternative to smoking as it does not produce any tobacco smoke and therefore the risks which arise from passive smoking are negated. The NHS website outlines that at the present time they feel the risks arising from passive vaping are negligible.

Vaping also has the distinct advantage of not producing the unpleasant smell and taste which comes from smoking cigarettes. Eliquids are inhaled instead and as they come in a wide variety of tastes, there is something for everyone. This is not only good for the smoker, but also for those around them, who will no longer be exposed to the taste, smell and ultimately dangerous levels of toxicity which arise from cigarettes.

Why Are Cigarettes so Deadly?

Every time a smoker lights up they are breathing in a mix of over 4,000 chemicals. Around 60 of these chemicals, including lead, arsenic and ammonia, have been shown to be carcinogenic. As these chemicals mix in a smoker’s bloodstream they can cause cancer, heart disease and other lung problems such as COPD.

Passive Smoking Risks

This risk is also passed on to those around the smoker through passive smoking, particularly if they are in confined space such as a vehicle or inside a building.

A non-smoker has a 25% increased risk of lung cancer if they are exposed to second-hand smoke. Alongside that comes an increased risk of stroke, COPD and heart disease, as well as cancers of other parts of the body, particularly the throat and voicebox. Sidestream smoke mentioned earlier has at least 3 times as much carbon monoxide present in it, 10-30 times more nitrosamines and between 15 and 300 times more ammonia.

It is little surprise therefore that globally five million smokers die every year as a result of their habit and around 600,000 people die from passive smoking.

Because children are in the early stages of development, their bodies can be even more susceptible to the risk and they can experience higher levels of asthma, respiratory infections, meningitis and even an increased risk of cot death if they are exposed to second-hand smoke. In 2015, smoking in cars with under-18s was banned and there is even talk of this ban being extended to homes where children are present.

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 Magical thinking or evidence-based policy?

“To own the discourse is to win the argument”
The Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability  was published online late afternoon of Monday 31st October.  The DWP had been briefing since the Saturday before, that a major reform was proposed to the Work Capability Assessment and that all the evidence was that work is good for people’s health.
Newspapers and television news highlighted the proposals but no-one actually saw the document until news media had been running the DWP storyline for almost 48 hours  The BBC initially intended to film some interviews at a London disabled people’s organisation on Monday afternoon but cancelled it as by then the story was no longer news.
The consultation on the Green Paper is running until 17th February, long enough for individuals and organisations to get to grips with what is really being proposed.
I’ve focussed in this blogpost on three important contentions made in the Green Paper, on which some of its proposals are based.  I’ve tried to get behind the spin which accompanied its launch to see what exactly is being proposed.
Contention No 1:  There is a causal relationship between work and health, such that if someone moves from unemployment into work their health will improve.
The Green Paper opens with the statement that “The evidence that appropriate work can bring health and wellbeing benefits is widely recognised”. The reference for this is the major review of evidence, published by the DWP in 2006.
On the face of it, this is a fairly uncontentious statement.  The word ‘appropriate’ recognises that not all work has a positive impact and the phrase ‘can bring’ indicates that this is not a claim of a unilinear causal relationship.  Indeed, early on in the Green Paper the complexities of the relationship are acknowledged:
…….whilst work is good for health in most circumstances, the type of work matters. Many factors such as autonomy, an appropriate workload and supportive management are important for promoting health at work.
This reflects the conclusions of the 2006 review.  The Green Paper could also have drawn on more recent longitudinal research from Australia which found that low paid, insecure jobs, characterised by a lack of control, were associated with poorer health than that found amongst those people who remained out of work.
Getting a high quality job after being unemployed improved mental health by an average of 3 points, but getting a poor quality job was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed, showing up as a loss of 5.6 points.
This is an important finding, particularly bearing in mind the conclusion of the DWP’s 2006 literature review that: “After leaving benefits, many claimants go into poorly paid or low quality jobs, and insecure, unstable or unsustained employment. Many go on to further periods of unemployment or sickness, and further spell(s) on the same or other social security benefits”.
Unfortunately, the tone of the rest of the paper and its proposals assume a straightforward unilinear relationship between being in paid employment and good health, as illustrated by what the DWP calls an ‘infographic’ on page 4 of the Green Paper.  This shows two circular relationships, good health and work on the one hand and worklessness and poor health on the other.
The Green Paper would have been more accurate if it had concluded that, while paid employment can increase your standard of living, social interaction and self-esteem, it can also be bad for your health and can create or worsen illness or impairment. Whether work is good for your health will depend on your state of health and the nature of the job. As, according to the DWP’s own evidence, people leaving benefits often go into poor quality jobs, they are less likely than the average person to find that paid employment has a good impact on their health.
Contention Number Two:  Withdrawal or reduction of income (or the threat of withdrawal) will increase entry into employment.
The payment of out of work benefits has always been conditional but since 2010 the conditions have increased and withdrawal or reduction of payment can now last from four weeks to three years.The assumption is that this threat of, or the actual experience of, withholding income will make it more likely that a person will take steps that increase entry into employment.
The recent decision to reduce, by almost £30pw, the money paid to people who have been assessed as being unfit to work but able to take on work related activity (the ESA Work related activity group) is based on the same assumption: the DWP claimed it will “remove the financial incentives that would otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work”.
In an earlier blogpost I examined the evidence that DWP relied on to make this claim.  It’s worth reiterating that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between a reduction in benefit levels and an increase in employment amongst disabled and sick people.
There is, in fact, a more convincing case to be made that reducing or withdrawing income will make people less able to gain employment. An evaluation of the impact of benefit reduction found that the more benefit was removed the less likely they were to move into employment.  A study which carried out four ‘natural’ experiments in the US and in India concluded that poverty undermined people’s ability to think clearly, carry out tasks and to make good decisions (a conclusion which is perhaps obvious to anyone who has experienced the pressures that come with even short-term financial difficulties):
The poor must manage sporadic income, juggle expenses, and make difficult tradeoffs. Even when not actually making a financial decision, these preoccupations can be present and distracting. The human cognitive system has limited capacity. Preoccupations with pressing budgetary concerns leave fewer cognitive resources available to guide choice and action.
The widely disseminated conclusion from this study was that, because people living in poverty expend more of their mental capacity on managing with a low income, government programmes aimed at helping them should not impose what some called a ‘cognitive tax’ – such as complicated forms, frequent monitoring systems, onerous requirements to prove eligibility.  As the Behavioural Insights Team argue:
“The worries involved in making ends meet every day already deplete [cognitive] bandwidth so government services aiming to tackle disadvantage – such as savings schemes, employment advice and parenting programmes – should be required to pass a cognitive load test to ensure these services do not make it harder for people on low incomes to make good decisions for themselves.”
The Behavioural Insights Team is an organisation originally set up by the government (the ‘Nudge Unit’) and still partly owned by them. This study was carried out in partnership with the Cabinet Office.  We would normally expect their conclusions to be treated seriously but that does not appear to be the case in this instance.
Contention Number Three: ‘Employment support’ will reduce the numbers of people on long-term out of work benefits
The Green Paper indicates an intention to reduce the numbers of people in the ESA Support Group. These are people who have been assessed as having limited capability for employment and also limited capability for work-related activity – meaning that they are exempt from complying with requirements to take ‘steps back to work’.  Concern that there are ‘too many’ people claiming this type of benefit dates back to the 1990s when Invalidity Benefit was replaced by Incapacity Benefit.   A series of changes since then in the method and process of assessment have not had the desired effect of reducing numbers qualifying for long term sickness and disability benefit.
The Green Paper proposes yet another change in the assessment regime and an extension of ‘employment support’ to people who have been assessed as not able to either work or to engage in work-related activity.  Instead of one assessment (the Work Capability Assessment) there would be two: the WCA would assess financial entitlement and then everyone on ESA, whether in the Support Group or not, would be subject to a “separate process” which would decide whether “someone should engage with Jobcentre Plus or specialist programmes”.
People would be required to have continuing contact with a ‘Work Coach’ who: could have full discretion to tailor any employment support to each individual claimant. This approach would be truly responsive, allowing the work coach to adjust requirements and goals dependent on changes in a person’s condition or circumstances.
While Damien Green previously announced that those in the Support Group would not have to undergo repeated WCA assessment, this new system could potentially require repeated and continuing ‘discretionary’ assessment by a work coach as to what a person should be required to do.
So let’s look at whether there is any evidence that the ‘support’ to be offered by this new system is likely to increase employment amongst disabled people or people with long-term health conditions.
The first thing to point out is that the assumption underpinning the Green Paper’s proposals is that people who are unfortunate enough to experience ill health and/or disability and unemployment are not capable of – or are not to be trusted to – make decisions in their own best interests.  Instead it is the role of a State employee or contractor to do this.
So the Paper proposes that “trained work coaches could have discretion to make case-by-case decisions about the type of employment support a person is able to engage with” (para 132).
The second thing is that anyone entering this system gives up all right to privacy about personal information held on them by the “NHS, the adult social care system or through other benefit applications, such as from a Personal Independence Payment application” as the assessment for financial support (the current WCA) and the work coach would draw on these sources of information (para 135).
A third point is that the employment support programmes have not in the past been very successful at helping people on long-term out of work sickness/disability benefits to find and retain paid employment.  Only 12.5% of ESA new claimants on the Work Programme get a job outcome within two years. The equivalent figure for people moving onto ESA from Incapacity Benefit is 4.7%.  Work Choice, the specialist programme aimed at disabled people has a higher rate of success but less than 1 in 5 of participants are on ESA with the majority being on Job Seekers Allowance, so the programme has not proved its effectiveness with people on ESA.
As the government has previously announced, the Work Programme and Work Choice are being discontinued and replaced with a new Work and Health Programme.  However, this will only have 20% of the funding previously invested in employment support.
The Green Paper also proposes that the:
“earlier engagement between an individual and a work coach in Universal Credit will also serve as a gateway to a wider, integrated system of support offered by the Department for Work and Pensions and other agencies, such as the NHS and local authorities”. (Para 84)
This “wider, integrated system of support’ is called Universal Support and is intended to “assist people with their financial and digital capacity throughout the life of their claim”.
“Through Universal Support we are transforming the way Job centres work as part of their local communities to ensure they more effectively tackle the complex needs some people have and support them into sustainable employment”. (Para 85)
Unfortunately, this transformation is not borne out by the DWP’s own evaluation of Universal Support in the trial areas.  The evaluation, published in July this year, concluded:
“the results suggest that participation in USdl had no statistically significant impact on either digital or financial capability…..Overall, the estimated annualised cost of the eleven trials was just over £4 million. Staff costs made up £2.7 million of the total.”
So £4 million was spent with no resulting improvement in claimants’ ability to engage with the UC system or with managing their finances. (Incidentally, the Green Paper also holds up the Troubled Families programme as ‘another example of an integrated approach’.  It’s surprising that they infer that this programme makes any difference as the evaluation published recently “was unable to find consistent evidence that the programme had any significant or systematic impact”)
It is unlikely therefore that there will be sufficient assistance available through the specialist employment support programme.  And Universal Support is unlikely to be of much assistance in terms of helping people to navigate the complexities of the system. So what will be offered to people in the Support Group as part of the ‘claimant commitment’?  The Green Paper does not spell this out explicitly but it would seem that the intention is that Work and Health coaches will decide what kind of health-related intervention someone needs.
How long before part of the ‘claimant commitment’ includes a requirement to participate in a ‘health intervention’ of some kind and sanctions are attached to non-compliance?
It isn’t really employment support that is on offer – rather we are on the road to a situation where people who are too ill or disabled to work are required to subject themselves to health interventions that an employee (or contractor) of the DWP decides is good for them.
In summary….
It’s important that responses to the Green Paper home in on what is actually being proposed, rather than merely respond to the questions posed by the DWP.  The proposed changes are merely the latest in a long line of attempts to reduce the numbers of people qualifying for long-term out of work sickness/disability benefits.  If the assumptions on which the proposals are based are not backed up by evidence then they will be unlikely to have any more impact on reducing the disability employment gap than their predecessors.
And finally…..
Magical thinking refers to the false attribution of causal relationships. In the context of psychology it refers specifically to the belief that one’s thoughts by themselves can bring something about – or that thinking something is the same as doing it.
Not only does this Green Paper ascribe a fallacious unilinear causal relationship between work and health, but it replicates a common feature of government policy – the assumption that saying something will happen makes it happen.
This is the fourth time in my engagement with social policy that a government has complained about the number of people ‘languishing’ on long term out of work benefits.  The fourth time that proposals are made which will supposedly reduce these numbers.  Any bets on how soon we will see a fifth?
First published on Jenny’s blog
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