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27 August 2008
Recent outspoken comments by the head of a leading mental health charity have stirred one of our members into action.

Sane website

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive and founder of Sane, was quoted in a Mail on Sunday article which claimed there had been a £3bn increase in disability benefits with much of this additional money paid to drug addicts and alcoholics.

In the article – Drug addicts and alcoholics behind £3bn increase in disability benefit - she said: “This huge rise in the number of claimants for psychosis could be linked to the Government's relaxation of cannabis laws. But all the evidence suggests psychosis sufferers have remained - relatively stable. I suppose that calls into question the validity of the claimant.”

This comment so incensed our member that on June 30 he emailed a complaint to Sane, asking if the charity endorsed its chief executive’s views.

He stated: “If you do (endorse the comment) I suppose that calls into question the fitness and integrity of your organisation to represent the best interests of your client group, many of whom of course are extremely vulnerable and also in receipt of state benefits.

“The whole of the article itself was a smear against sick and disabled benefit claimants, and at best Marjorie Wallace is guilty of reckless stupidity in making those remarks, at worst she is hostile and suspicious towards the very people your charity was set up to help.”

Our member, a former trustee, correspondent and Secretary of a registered charity himself, suggests Sane should consider disassociating itself from what he describes as “harmful and ill-judged remarks”.

“I do have some mental health problems myself, as well as a physical disability, and I do know that I'm not the only disabled person in receipt of state benefits disgusted and amazed by such remarks from a senior official of a mental health charity.
“With ‘friends’ like her, who needs enemies?”

After hearing nothing in response, our member contacted the chair of Sane’s trustees on July 23 regarding his original complaint and the failure of the charity to offer any kind of reply.

In his email to the chair, our member added that unless he received a response he would refer the matter to the Charity Commission.

Finally, on August 16, after still hearing nothing from Sane, our member referred the issue to the Charity Commission. He understandably and justifiably feels that he has been treated with utter contempt by the charity, but is still very angry at the comments of the chief executive that led to the original complaint.
We have also contacted Sane’s media office regarding the original complaint and the failure to respond to our member. At time of publication, we are still waiting for a response.

We feel our member does raise a legitimate point regarding the original comments in the Mail on Sunday article.

The reason the number of DLA claims by people with psychotic mental illnesses has gone up is much more likely to be increased awareness of the benefit by people with severe mental illness and their support workers and the effect of case law making it more straightforward for people with these conditions to claim.

To suggest that the rise calls into the validity of the claimant is a shockingly ignorant and damning thing to say. What compounds the folly of the remarks is the fact that the finger is effectively being pointed at a large proportion of the people Sane is supposed to help and there is a complete absence of evidence in the article to support the claim.

It is very difficult to see how thousands of people could be faking psychotic mental illness in order to claim benefits.

Claimants already have enough mud slung at them without the charities supposed to support them joining in as well.