Monday, 11 January 2016

mental health peer work in Scotland: paying proper wages, professional posts, full team members #SRN #Penumbra

Here is an Email just sent to Scottish Recovery Network workers and the Penumbra CEO:

Strapline: mental health peer work in Scotland: paying proper wages, professional posts, full team members, identifying as EBE (£16K pro rata is insulting)

"I wanted to say something more in response to your tweet regarding the "lived experience" post at Changes, Musselburgh, peer work, £16K pro rata.  (copying in your SRN colleagues and the Penumbra CEO) 

Great opportunity for someone with lived experience to gather opinion etc re crisis services in East Lothian

My annoyance isn't with you or other SRN people personally, rather it's to do with your "positions".  Because you are working in an organisation that is funded by government to promote recovery.  Yet in reality the concept of mental health recovery in Scotland hasn't really taken root in statutory agencies (or in voluntary sector), in terms of paying the real Experts by Experience a decent wage or giving us the respect we deserve.  Equals at the table.  Especially those of us who survived psychiatric treatment, didn't believe in the mental illness mantra and escaped the drug regime by tapering ourselves, making a full recovery despite the labels. 

There has to be room for psychiatric survivors in Scotland.  For mental health activists and campaigners who challenge psychiatric abuse and coercive drug treatment.  I and others are not going to disappear back into the woodwork.  Regardless of being excluded, badmouthed and metaphorically backstabbed.  It was Scottish Recovery Network that got me involved through the narrative project, 2005 and 2008 sharing my "story".  That didn't go anywhere much except exposing us to public view. 

[August 2015 blog post about this:

Following the abuse of my youngest son in Stratheden Hospital, February 2012, I had to mount a long campaign for justice, winning an Ombudsman case in Sep14, my son on the front page of the Scottish Sunday Express 5Oct14, exposing himself.  NHS Fife got £4.4million from Scottish Government as a result of our whistleblowing, to build a new locked ward/IPCU.  We got nothing.  Yet they had been abusing patients for years in this psychiatric ward.  Locking them in a room with no toilet or water for hours on end.  Unobserved.  Getting away with it.  I continued to campaign following the SPSO decision until summer 2015.  Since then I have retreated and changed direction.  Returning to my original reason for getting involved.  Which was to promote peer support and recovery.

We need Peer Workers in psychiatric hospitals and on statutory mental health teams.  Getting paid proper money as full members of the care "team".  To be able to speak out from the user/survivor perspective (they have this in England).  Because advocacy isn't doing the job, especially not in Fife.  They were of no use whatsoever in 2012 when my son was being abused, and neither were Mental Health Officers or the Mental Welfare Commission.  Chocolate teapots.  Trying to blame mothers for a failed system.

The PDA units in peer support are useful (I came up with the HN unit in PS idea in late 2007) but someone like me wouldn't need to do them.  I have postgraduate qualifications in community education and FE lecturing, care subjects.  Reflective practitioner awards.  Plus over 30yrs experience of working with people, mutually, empowering citizens, doing groupwork, delivering training.  It is ridiculous to expect people like me to have to jump through hoops when we are already very well qualified and experienced in terms of doing "peer work".  The main thing is for a professional to identify as a person with "lived experience".  Offering me £16K pro rata would be an insult, considering my background and life achievements.  I was earning £26/hour as a lecturer due to my TQFE qualification in 2008.  The same can be said for many other EBE.  There should be job posts for us in peer work with appropriate salaries.  Promoting recovery.

Therefore what is SRN doing to bring about a real shift in health board culture so that Peer Workers can be employed as professionals on decent rates of pay?  This question is for Simon Bradstreet.  What are you doing to bring this about?  I'm talking action not just words or documents.  I am interested in knowing what is happening because I don't see anything about it on the SRN website.  

I do wonder if having Penumbra as the hosting organisation is compromising the work of the Scottish Recovery Network?  This question is to Nigel Henderson.  Penumbra hires workers with "lived experience" with job titles like "recovery practitioner" and have their "IROC" tool which I admit to being sceptical of.  I wasn't convinced of its competence, regardless of the sales pitch at the CPG on MH when I heard it from Nigel.  I'm not sure that it's helping the recovery movement and people like me and my family, who have all engaged with psychiatry in Scotland, in every decade since 1950s.  It may be helping Penumbra to win contracts.  But that isn't shifting abusive psychiatric cultures and creating alternative ways of working with people in mental distress or psychoses.  We need peers on the ground and in management, employed by Scottish health boards and other institutions.

I will put this Email in a blog post and look forward to receiving a response from Simon Bradstreet and Nigel Henderson, being the two highest paid people copied into this Email. 

[I am also copying in my MSP for his information]

Yours sincerely,



further comment:

I describe the £16K pro rata wage for a person with "lived experience" as insulting because to share your mental health story is a costly business.  It can cause emotional pain to remember distress and feelings of disempowerment or loneliness or depression or suicidal ideation.  I know what it's cost me and my family, having to expose the indignities and humiliation of psychiatric incarceration.  The slandering of reputations in medical "notes" used to justify coercive drug treatment.  Being left to pick up the pieces while trying to get justice and speak out on behalf of my sons and other family members.  For 20 years in Fife and before that in other Scottish health board areas.


  1. "To share your mental health story is a costly business."

    This has been my experience.

    My experience as a psychiatrist.

    Those who continued to 'understand' me by label were, with some exceptions, my psychiatrist colleagues.

  2. Very interesting to read Chrys, as I remember tweeting when SAMH introduced their first Peer Support Workers at a project in Lanarkshire and from memory I recall the salary as measly £12,300+.

    Having googled again, I see there are some peer support roles again at SAMH with a salary in line with their Support Workers, but still a VERY low salary £15,308 which is not even the UK Living Wage of £8.25.

    So I went off to check Goodmoves as I know Support Worker salaries generally have never been that good, and have been challenged time and time again with little improvement. If everyone who seeks funding for Support Workers actually stood up together and made a point of highlighting the enormous energy, dedication and value of this role it would help.

    So I found the minimum was £13,830 (seriously!), inbetween was £16,287 - £17,500 and tops at £21,160 and £24,000. I couldn't find anymore Peer Support Worker roles but the pay, as you know continues to be pretty poor.

    Once again, in this country, we have a poor culture of not valuing people and the jobs that they do, we just expect people to be paid peanuts and get on with it, because apparently you're lucky to have a job. My view is, if you pay peanuts, you get monkey's. Offering low salaries will not attract skilled workers and retention rates are much lower.