The Guardian‘s Frances Ryan took the opportunity to examine the Department’s treatment of Paul Donnachie, whose body was found on January 15 by bailiffs trying to evict him after a series of errors by the DWP and Glasgow City Council.
He had committed suicide around two months previously and nobody had noticed.
That, in itself, raises an issue. The DWP (reluctantly) publishes information on benefit-related deaths – but Mr Donnachie’s is unlikely ever to be included in it because his would have fallen outside the narrow period in which the Department records deaths of claimants who have been kicked off their benefit.
And then there is the Department’s vile attitude to suicide itself…
When I speak to the DWP about Paul’s case, a spokesman says, “Suicide is a tragic and complex issue, so to link a death to someone’s benefit claim is misleading. We are fully committed to ensuring that people who are too sick to work get the support they need.
“If someone with a mental health condition fails to attend an assessment, we consider whether they have good cause for not attending and if so benefit may continue. If a claimant is considered vulnerable attempts will be made to contact them by telephone and, if appropriate, to arrange a ‘safeguarding home visit’ before a decision on entitlement is made.”
It took me several days to wade through Paul’s dealings with his local council and the DWP – formal letters, forms and phone calls – and I wasn’t hungry, afraid, or dealing with a severe mental health problem at the time. It seems a mix of incompetence and cruelty to be surprised when someone struggling with mental illness is unable to do as this system wants them to – to expect resilience from the very people least able to cope.
It has been estimated, in research hotly contested by the DWP, that “fit for work” tests may have resulted in 590 extra suicides.
It’s dehumanisation in its bleakest form to turn a blind eye to that – to believe bad things will inevitably happen to a certain rung of society or that this is just what comes with “welfare reform”.
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