The National Audit Office (NAO) is to investigate the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over its refusal to provide figures on the number of benefit claimants who have committed suicide.
It seems the situation at the DWP is so bad that the NAO may attempt to collate the figures itself, if the government department fails to co-operate.
Ministers denied a request from Frank Field MP, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions committee. In a letter to the NAO, he stated: “I struggle to believe that, given the time it must take to put together evidence for inquests, attend court hearings, and internally review the decisions, that there is no record of such.
“It shocks me even more that the DWP is apparently unconcerned with the most drastic efforts [sic; I think he meant “effects”] of its policies and conducts no internal monitoring of the tragedies in which it is complicit.”
“The tragedies in which it is complicit.” What a damning line from the chairman of the MP committee tasked with scrutinising the DWP. He was stating the belief that the DWP, its ministers, controllers and workers, are all knowingly involved in an activity that they are aware is morally wrong – that leads to the deaths of claimants.
There have been many studies linking with suicide the so-called “reforms” of DWP benefits since the Conservatives came back into office in 2010 and I do not propose to go over that old ground here.
I practically kicked off these investigations myself, when I forced the DWP to publish figures on the number of people who had died after being denied sickness benefits in 2015 – after a two-year struggle.
So I welcome this intervention by the NAO.
I hope it will include in its investigations all benefit claimants who may have taken their own lives as a result of the DWP meddling with their claims.
For example: the figures I extracted from the department in 2015 related only to those who died within a two week period of being denied their benefits. No effort had been made to discover the fate of those who survived beyond that point – although we have a multitude of news stories about people who died weeks or months afterward. They should be included in the NAO’s work.
I find myself in agreement with Sue Jones, who wrote, on her own website:
“An inquiry is long overdue.
“How many people with chronic illness and disability have simply died because they can’t meet their most fundamental survival needs in light of austerity cuts?
“What kind of government shows no concern or remorse that its policies are destroying some citizens’ lives?
“And continually denies that this is happening?
“Does the government intentionally disregard us as economically “surplus to requirements” and ultimately disposable? When the evidence points so clearly to the relationship between austerity cuts, which have disproportionately been targeted at the poorest and most fragile citizens, and suicide, it’s hard to reason otherwise. Especially when the government shows nothing but supreme indifference to those of us raising these serious concerns.”
The Tories’ attitude suggests that they regard benefit claimants as “useless eaters” – in just the same way the Nazis viewed people with long-term illnesses and disabilities in Germany between 1933 and 1945.
The only difference between their policies is that the Nazis took direct action to “euthanize” their “useless eaters”, while the DWP seems to prefer pushing UK-based benefit claimants to suicide, starvation, or death due to illnesses they can no longer afford to treat.
We have long suspected that the consequences of DWP – Conservative government – policy were far more serious than we had been led to believe, and we already have evidence that they are extremely serious.
Perhaps this investigation will prove it.
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