Unemployment is being “rebranded” by the government as a psychological disorder, a new study claims.
Those that do not exhibit a “positive” outlook must undergo “reprogramming” or face having their benefits cut, says the Wellcome Trust-backed report.
This can be “humiliating” for job seekers and does not help them find suitable work, the researchers say.
But the Department for Work and Pensions said there was no evidence to back up the “highly misleading” claims.
The paper, published in the Medical Humanities journal, says benefit claimants are being forced to take part in positive thinking courses in an effort to change their personalities.
They are bombarded with motivational text messages – such as “success is the only option”, “we’re getting there” and “smile at life” – and have to take part in “pointless” team-building exercises such as building towers out of paper clips, it adds.
New benefit claimants are interviewed to find out whether they have a “psychological resistance” to work, with those deemed “less mentally fit” given more intensive coaching.
And unpaid work placements are increasingly judged on psychological results, such as improved motivation and confidence, rather than whether they have led to a job.
The report’s co-author, social scientist Lynne Friedli, described such programmes as “Orwellian”.
“Claimants’ ‘attitude to work’ is becoming a basis for deciding who is entitled to social security – it is no longer what you must do to get a job, but how you have to think and feel.
“This makes the government’s proposal to locate psychologists in job centres particularly worrying.
“By repackaging unemployment as a psychological problem, attention is diverted from the realities of the UK job market and any subsequent insecurities and inequalities it produces.”
Friedli also criticised the way psychologists were being used as “government enforcers” and called on professional bodies to denounce the practice.
“I don’t think anything can justify forced psychological coercion. If people want to go on training courses that should be entirely voluntary,” she told BBC News.
She also questioned the aim of the motivational courses and welfare-to-work placements, which felt like “evangelical” self-help seminars.
“Do we really want a world where the only kind of person considered employable is a ‘happy clappy’, hyper-confident person with high self-esteem?
“That is a very a narrow set of characteristics. There is also a role in the workplace for the ‘eeyore’ type.”
But the DWP said Friedli and Stearns’ report had no basis in fact and was just relying on anecdotal evidence from blogs and social media.
The government plans to place 350 psychologists in job centres by the end of the summer to help benefit claimants beat depression and get back into the jobs market.
Claimants will also be offered online cognitive behavioral therapy to boost their “employability”.