It is nearly four years to the day since I published evidence that private contractors carrying out the Work Capability Assessment for the Conservative government were asking ESA claimants why they had not killed themselves. But Labour MP Laura Pidcock has raised concerns that it is still happening.
It should be plain to everybody that one does not ask why a person who has confessed to suicidal thoughts has not acted on those thoughts.
But that is clearly what happened to Abi Fallows, as described in my December 2014 article. We know it did because she recorded it.
I wrote at the time: “Abi Fallows described the interview on the I bet I can find a million people who DON’T want David Cameron as our PM Facebook group after reading Vox Political‘s article on the hidden cost of the Coalition Government’s benefits policy.
“‘At my last Atos ‘assessment’, when mentioning depression, the ‘assessor’ asked me why I hadn’t killed myself yet,’ she told astonished members of the Facebook group.
“She said the assessors’ attitude seemed to be that she couldn’t be depressed if she had not already killed herself.”
The resemblance between her words and those of Ms Pidcock – as quoted in this Canary article – is uncanny. The Labour MP stated: “Constituents have told us that they are concerned that some assessors are not specialist qualified mental health professionals. They tell us that they feel they are being judged as ‘not genuine’ – i.e. if you really were suicidal you would have killed yourself by now. This has caused great distress.”
So she tackled now-former Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, asking, in a written question, “what steps she has taken to ensure that (a) work capability assessment providers do not ask claimants with mental health problems why they had not carried out their suicidal ideas and (b) the conduct of assessments does not increase the risk of suicide and self harm among claimants with mental health problems.”
The response from minister of state Sarah Newton seems to suggest that no such steps have been taken. It explains: “All healthcare professionals (HCPs) carrying out WCA assessments were given face to face training on exploring self-harm and suicidal ideation in May 2018. The training which was quality assured by the Royal College of Psychiatrists was designed to enhance the skills of HCPs in sensitively exploring self-harm and suicidal ideation.”
Unfortunately, as Ms Pidcock herself complained, that does not answer the question. She did not want vague comments about training in sensitivity; she wanted to know that assessors had been banned from asking what is potentially an extremely harmful question.
And the Royal College of Psychiatrists has distanced itself from Ms Newton’s claim, saying its contribution could hardly be described as quality assurance: “The College’s role has been limited to assessing the written training material sent to them by the Centre for Health and Disability Assessment to ensure that it is factually correct.”
We don’t know what that material is. We don’t know what it says. And we don’t know what readers are intended to draw from it.
Ms Pidcock is quoted as saying: “The minister has not answered the specific question. MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee put it to Newton in December 2017 that this was a standard question on the assessment. Although some discussion of suicidal thoughts may be appropriate in order to safeguard vulnerable people, she has not answered whether this particularly direct question has been removed.”
We must, therefore, draw the only logical conclusion: The question is still part of the assessment and government assessors are still drawing the attention of people with mental health issues to suicide.
And the Conservative government is doing its best to hide these facts because the Conservative government wants to attract suicidal benefit claimants to suicide.
It gets them off the benefit books and the Tories know they can dodge the blame for it.
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