I had learnt from campaigner Samuel Miller that the DWP was refusing to update its document Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients, published two years previously, which had shown that around 222 people were dying every week, while claiming incapacity benefits.
It took a further two years for me to crowbar the statistics from the DWP’s clutches. By then, the number of deaths had risen to 692 per week.
At the time (August 2015), the DWP strenuously asserted that “any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics”.
That’s very similar to the comment at the end of the DNS story (below), that suicide was “a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim”.
Maybe – but the figures very clearly indicate that something badly wrong has been happening to people claiming Employment and Support Allowance since the Conservatives took office in 2010.
But the Tories have resisted all efforts to encourage official research into it.
Isn’t that damning?
“Staggering” new figures show that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.
The new analysis of NHS statistics, being published for the first time by Disability News Service (DNS), shows that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
By 2014, following four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – and six years of the WCA – more than 43 per cent of claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.
The figures therefore strongly suggest that government cuts and reforms, and particularly the introduction of the WCA, have had a serious, detrimental – and sometimes fatal – effect on the mental health of a generation of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.
Disabled activists, who have spent years highlighting serious concerns about the impact of the WCA, have told DNS this week that ministers must now be held accountable for the damage they have caused and for repeatedly covering up links between the WCA and suicides.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman refused to say if the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, agreed that the WCA and the government’s austerity-related ESA policies had had a significant negative impact on the mental health of ESA claimants, or whether she would launch an inquiry into the links.
But she said in a statement that suicide was “a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim” and that the government’s welfare reforms were “restoring fairness” and “supporting people into work”.
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