I actually thought we had got past this; how wrong could I be?
At one point I had thought it might become a tradition, here on Vox Political – and in real life, for This Writer: The post-general election week of talking people down from suicide after a Tory win.
I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort standing up for people claiming sickness and disability benefits, who have been targeted by Conservative Work and Pensions policies ever since the Coalition Government came to office in 2010 – the constant grind of assessments, refusals, reconsiderations, re-assessments, acceptances and then notice of another re-assessment was unbearable for many claimants, and it took a lot of persuading to keep them from pulling the plug on their lives. My favourite argument was that this would be helping the Conservatives; doing their work for them.
That didn’t happen so much this year – at least, if it did, I didn’t notice it. Perhaps people weren’t telling me about it as much; my own campaign to find out the number of sickness benefit claimants who had died while at the DWP’s mercy had enjoyed limited success, proving that 2,400 people had died for no good reason between December 2011 and the end of May 2014, within a two-week period, and I had not yet requested an update. I had requested the total number of deaths after benefits were removed but the DWP doesn’t keep track (I think the number would be so large it is not politically expedient ever to release it.
Now I discover that another group targeted by the DWP has started to die, and for the same reason as many of those on sickness benefits: Suicide caused by despair.
They are the members of WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality). These are women who were born in the 1950s, for whom the age at which they become eligible to receive their pension is being pushed upward, to make it 66 – the same as men – by 2020.
The Conservative government of John Major made that decision in 1995 – but it was kept quiet and those affected did not start to receive notification until 2009 – 14 years later and long after it became impossible for many of them to address the loss to their income that it implies.
Mhairi Black, the SNP’s pensions spokeswoman, revealed that she had been told of the death in an email from an English member of WASPI, during a debate on women’s pensions in Westminster Hall.
It came at the end of a stunningly good speech which I strongly recommend everybody should watch. Here it is – if, for some reason, you don’t want to experience it all, the reference to the death comes around five minutes and 55 seconds in:
I cannot believe we are still having to argue the case for WASPI women and the Government still refuse to listen. pic.twitter.com/U9f2bcWOTX
— Mhairi Black MP (@MhairiBlack) July 5, 2017
The death certainly seems to fit the description of “social murder”, as laid out by Friedrich Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England:
“When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death… its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”
After a 90-minute debate MPs agreed they had “not considered” the changes – a symbolic move designed to try and force a full House of Commons debate.
Let us hope they do.
Conservative MPs spoke up against the injustice faced by these women, and Theresa May might just get her first defeat of the new Parliament.
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