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More than half of Universal Credit claimants – and nearly half of those on ‘legacy’ benefits frozen by the Tories – have struggled to pay for essentials like food, or have gone without altogether, new research shows.
Citizens Advice has found that 55 per cent of Universal Credit claimants have gone without essentials such as food, and 51 per cent say they have lost sleep because of their finances.
The charity found 49 per cent of claimants affected by the benefits freeze struggled to meet essential costs such as rent, household bills and food while 40 per cent lost sleep due to money worries in the past 12 months.
Disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries. Around 44 per cent of disabled people’s households and 45 per cent of households with children went without in the past 12 months.
If you thought This Writer was making up all those stories about sick and disabled people being pushed towards death by benefit deprivation, now you know better!
And just remember: One in every six UK households claims income-related benefits.
The charity is calling on the government to end the freeze on benefit rates that has been ongoing since April 2016, and reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit claims.
It wants payments uprated by the Consumer Price Index rate of inflation plus two per cent for four years, the Local Housing Allowance recalculated to at least the 30th percentile of local rents and the link with rental prices re-established.
And it wants the first non-repayable payment of Universal Credit brought forward to no later than two weeks into a Universal Credit claim.
Fat chance of that happening under a Boris Johnson government!
And it is important to bear in mind that, while BoJob is botching up Brexit and boring even his own MPs with dull demands for a general election when he can’t get his own way, the Tories are still bringing agony to millions of people with their benefit denial system.
Citizens Advice quoted Danielle, a mother-of-two who said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and now I am in remission and health-wise am doing so much better.
“Universal Credit during this time added so much stress that I did not need. My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.
“Thankfully I have family who were able to help me to make sure my rent was paid. And I repaid them when I received my Universal Credit payments. But the stress of thinking I might not be there for my children and how I would pay my bills was at times unbearable.”
The stress was at times unbearable.
The whole point of social security benefits is in the second word of the title: Security.
Only the Conservatives could take something that was intended to make people feel safe while they look for a new source of gainful income, and turn it into a threat against their mental health, and indeed their lives.
But that is what they have done. They’ve been doing it for more than nine years, since they came into office, and they’re doing it as you read this. They will continue doing it until they are stopped.
And the only person who can stop them is you.
Read the full Citizens Advice report, Achieving income security for allhere
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The government is acting like an abusive partner with claimants, whom it can beat at will, and claimants are too scared to be able to do anything to escape due to their chronic ill health or disabilities, says Gail Ward.
So the Tories have finally announced the new criteria for employment and support allowance (ESA) reassessments and while it is good news in one way, it has hidden horrors that many people are totally unaware of.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) skulduggery never ceases to amaze me any more, as it lies to the public that it protects “the most vulnerable in society,” claiming it is saving the public purse by scrapping unnecessary assessments — which cause so much stress that people are literally killing themselves — so they can focus on helping people into work.
Work is their primary focus, I hear people say: “Well what is wrong with that?” Well in theory, nothing at all provided the jobs are there.
Many chronically sick people and disabled people are not well enough to do so. In the last eight years this group has faced the worst of the welfare reforms which have lead to disabled people taking to the streets in protest.
Many disabled people’s organisations and charities have called on the government to stop these cuts, and have even taken their fight to the UN in Geneva, which called it a “human catastrophe” and found that they led to grave and systemic violations of the rights of disabled people.
First they had to deal with transitions to ESA, then the abolition of the independent living fund (ILF). Cuts to care packages have left people abandoned, isolated in their homes, then we have had cuts to personal independence payments (PIP), with many losing the cars they rely on to continue employment or to see family and friends, and now we have the debacle of universal credit.
With more cuts to come next year to families and the two-child cap and many other outrages, it is nothing more than conscious cruelty to those who need the most support.
A man suffering from anxiety, stress and panic attacks, but who has still been deemed fit for work by our prejudiced DWP assessment system, tells a mental health practitioner “What’s the point”?
He hands his car keys and bank details to his only acquaintance, saying he won’t need them any longer.
Shortly afterwards, he is found dead on a beach, showing signs of drowning and hypothermia.
And it isn’t enough to suggest that the DWP drove this man to suicide?
This seems like more evidence that the Coroner Service is being told to cover up for the government.
Coroner Crispin Oliver may have satisfied himself that his verdict was within the letter of the law – but was he abiding by its spirit?
A man who had been suffering with mental health problems for many years has been found dead on a beach in England, after being found ‘fit for work’ by the Department for Work and Pensions and told his sickness benefits were being removed.
David Metcalf, 54, was found dead on the beach near Horden, County Durham, on the 3rd January, just four days after being examined by a mental health practitioner at his home in Hartlepool.
In his report, the mental health practitioner Leighann Fishpool said: “David was signed off sick for nine years due to anxiety, stress and panic attacks.
“He has recently been deemed fit for work and told he would need to go to the JobCentre to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.
“He said he was frustrated and upset and thought ‘What’s the point?’”
Concerns were raised after Mr Metcalf handed his car keys and bank documents to a garage owner, who is believed to have been his only acquaintance, saying he would no longer need them.
Mr Metcalf was found still dressed in a jumper, coat and gloves, but was not wearing any socks or underwear. However, Detective Sgt Gary Davison told the hearing that he didn’t think this was particularly unusual.
The inquest heard that a post-mortem showed signs of drowning and hypothermia.
The Hartlepool Mail reports that Mr Metcalf had denied any intention to harm himself, and the coroner said it was unclear as to whether he had entered the sea accidentally or deliberately.
Without clear evidence that Mr Metcalf had intended to commit suicide when entering the sea, Coroner Mr Oliver recorded an ‘open verdict’.
“I simply cannot come to the conclusion beyond reasonable doubt that he intended to kill himself and, therefore, the suicide conclusion is not available,” he said.
The publication of the DWP’s damped-down death statistics (we’ll be given ratios because the actual number of deaths is too inflammatory, we’re told) will be a victory for those of us who have campaigned for the facts, no matter what they actually say.
If you didn’t know already, the DWP only announced that it would publish these figures on Thursday (August 27) after This Writer supplied his submission to the Information Tribunal on the DWP’s appeal against providing the actual numbers – a submission which included a request to have the appeal struck out on the grounds that it is an abuse of process.
Suddenly the date of publication went from being “before the end of autumn” (according to Priti Patel) to August 27. Clearly the DWP was terrified that it would lose control of events and the public would get accurate information, and acted accordingly.
In short: IDS and his department fell apart like a paper bag in a thunderstorm.
It is impossible to say what the statistics will reveal, when they are finally published (at 9.30am on Thursday, it seems). Perhaps they will provide exhaustive information on the deaths that have taken place, broken down into the groups requested by This Writer and others (it is said to be in response to FoI requests), and also providing information on the causes of the deaths, with appendices containing the raw data used to produce the report.
Alternatively, we could get a dumbed-down piece of fluff that provides as little as possible that can be used to find out the extent of the carnage, but can be waved at us by Iain Duncan Smith as evidence that he has given us what we wanted… and as evidence that any figures demanded by the Information Tribunal are of little consequence.
That is the aim – damage limitation. To make it seem that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Plausible deniability.
The DWP already believes it has plausible deniability for every dodgy death on its books; no DWP representative can be said to be directly responsible for any of the deaths – they were a consequence of claimants’ illnesses, right? Even the suicides can be claimed as indicative of claimants’ poor mental health – except we know that anyone confessing suicidal thoughts at a work capability assessment is immediately asked why they haven’t already killed themselves.
Not conclusive? Maybe not. But then, that isn’t the only evidence available. It’s all part of a bigger picture.
In December last year, This Blog published a series of articles (here’s one) explaining how the DWP’s behaviour may be equated with the Nazi ‘chequebook euthanasia’ programme that eventually became known as Aktion T4 – a programme that caused the deaths of 70,000 German people with (among other problems) mental illnesses, before its methods were used against entire races the Nazis considered undesirable, in the extermination camps.
“It could be argued that the Coalition Government doesn’t have any blood on its hands. Nobody goes around the United Kingdom subjecting the sick and disabled to so-called ‘mercy’ killings, after all,” I wrote.
“They just subject people – who are already in an unstable frame of mind – to a highly pressurised ‘fitness’ test and then demand to know why, considering their condition, they haven’t killed themselves yet. Then they let those people do all the work themselves.”
On Thursday, it’s just possible that we might find out how successful they’ve been. If there have been more than 70,273 deaths in the last few years, the Conservative Party will have beaten the Nazis.
And Iain Duncan Smith intends to continue. Only this week, he announced a new plan to purge the Employment and Support Allowance benefit bill of mentally ill claimants. He told us “Work is good for your health”.
In fact, if you have a mental illness, work can drive you to an early death via a combination of (among others) stress, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
Duncan Smith’s claim that “Work is good for your health” may therefore be seen as a lie – almost as great a lie as the slogan from which it was adapted.
You’ll be familiar with it: “Work makes you free” – it hangs in its more familiar form of “Arbeit macht frei” over the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp that Duncan Smith visited in 2009.
People with mental health problems in Wales are being punished for their conditions by benefit sanctions – or the threat of them, according to research by a group of Christian churches.
Two-thirds of those who are sanctioned in Wales are unfit for work because of mental health problems – more than in the rest of the UK. It is likely that the sanctions add to the worry and stress which already cause terrible difficulty for these people.
The information is revealed in the Welsh Data Supplement to the report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, which will be launched in the churches’ tent at the National Eisteddfod in Meifod on Wednesday (August 5), starting at 1pm. The event will hear the stories of some of those who have suffered from sanctions.
In his Preface to the report, the Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, states: “The results are shocking: large numbers of people, particularly those judged unfit for work due to mental health problems, are being punished … by the withholding of their income.”
Chair of Synod Cymru of the Methodist Church, Revd Jennifer Hurd, added, “Over a third of those who are told they may be sanctioned in fact find their sanction is cancelled because of a bureaucratic error. But in the meantime, they will have suffered additional unnecessary stress and anxiety, waiting to find out if their support is to be cut off.”
Moderator of the United Reformed Church in Wales, Revd Simon Walkling, said, “This is a shocking report, and confirms what churches find in their work on the ground with food banks, debt counselling services and other projects helping those in need in their communities. That is why our churches have said that in Wales, as in the rest of the UK, it is time to rethink benefit sanctions.”
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity will be holding a mass demonstration against the government’s austerity measures on Wednesday (July 8) – which is when George Osborne is set to deliver his benefits-bashing ’emergency’ budget.
They have invited Maggie Zolobajluk, who organised the petition in support of my bid to find out how many people have died while claiming sickness/disability benefits, to speak – but not me.
Maggie kindly asked me if I would be able to make it to London and speak instead of her – and I’d love to – but I don’t think it’s possible. The distance is too great, and I can’t justify being away from Mrs Mike – and also the blog, on a day that will affect the way the UK develops for the foreseeable future.
I started drafting out a few words for her to deliver on my behalf – but they turned into a full-blown speech instead. I ended up writing far too much – so, rather than ask her to say it, I’m publishing it here instead.
A previous demonstration, staged by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.
I am neither sick, nor disabled – but I choose to side with the sick and disabled against oppression.
It isn’t an entirely altruistic choice. Mrs Mike – as she is known on my blog, Vox Political – has been ill for many years, and we have fought battle after battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over the benefits to which she is entitled.
You’re probably sick of hearing the famous verse by Pastor Martin Niemoller, but he was right. Who’s going to stand up for me, if I don’t stand up for other people first?
Mrs Mike and I are used to winning those battles, and I wonder how much of that success is due to the fact that I am able-bodied. Think about it – if you are battling constant pain, or are a victim of depression, or your condition fluctuates so you simply don’t know if you’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning, or you have any number of the other maladies that may affect the sick or disabled – then the last thing you’ll want to do is argue over tiny details with a gang of suited pedants in Whitehall.
Additionally, these pedants have employed private contractors to make sure they judge the severity of a person’s sickness using information that is wrong.
If you’re sick, or disabled, the pressure can be too much to bear. And not every sick or disabled person has an able-bodied partner like me to take up the slack.
So, inevitably, the worst happens.
Only last weekend I learned about Graham Shawcross, of Manchester. Mr Shawcross had lived – and worked – with Addison’s Disease for 40 years before having to claim sickness benefit. It is a potentially fatal condition whose symptoms include exhaustion, muscle weakness, dizziness, fainting and cramps that can lead to adrenal crisis, which can be fatal. But that isn’t what killed him!
No – Mr Shawcross died of a heart attack in February, after being ruled “fit for work” by the DWP in November last year. He had been preparing to present an appeal against the decision – writing out the details several times a day, and talking about it constantly.
His widow said the stress of having to do this – stress that was created by, and only by, the DWP’s “fit for work” decision – was what killed him.
You should be aware that the DWP says it is “irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, and “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population”. We’ve seen that comment in the newspapers very often over the last few weeks.
It’s a statement that falls flat when the DWP’s own position is that the individual was “fit for work” at the time of his death.
Months after Mr Shawcross passed away – and despite being told this had happened by his widow – the DWP initially invited him to an appeal hearing, and then admitted he was seriously ill and deserved Employment and Support Allowance.
It’s a bit late for that now!
How many other benefit denials have been reversed after the claimant has died?
We don’t know – but it’s the subject of my next Freedom of Information request!
The man responsible for this regime, Iain Duncan Smith, is said to be religious so he should understand me when I say people claiming benefit must feel as though they have been crucified by their physical or mental ill-health. Instead of offering relief, Mr Duncan Smith and his department complete the job with a ‘crown of forms’ that push them into an early grave.
One has to question the morality of a supposed Christian who approves of crucifixion!
But then, it seems even leading members of the Catholic Church to which he belongs have tried pleading with him to alter the fatal direction of his policies – there was an article to that effect in the most recent edition of Catholic newspaper The Tablet.
But government ministers say it is “irresponsible” to claim that the benefit assessment system had anything to do with the death.
I wonder if they’ll say that to Mrs Shawcross, who is adamant that the system is what killed her husband. That would be a conversation worth hearing!
I first became concerned about the number of people who were dying while claiming benefits when the DWP itself revealed that 10,600 deaths had occurred between January and November 2011. Note that the official figures did not include December, which is considered to be a season of increased suicides.
This concern became alarm after I learned that Freedom of Information requests by other individuals, calling for updated figures, had been refused for no reason other than that the 2011 statistics had been part of an ‘ad-hoc’, one-off, release.
So I sent off a request, and asked readers of the blog to support it with requests of their own – to show that it was a matter of wider public concern. Only 23 did, but that was enough for the DWP to refuse me on the grounds that I was being “vexatious” – trying to flood the Department with work.
I’m still not sure how that claim can be justified. It’s the same information – all they had to do was put it together and send it off to the people who wanted it. It seems that creating a mailing list of email addresses is too much for a government department with more than 100,000 employees.
The tribunal that turned down my appeal did express considerable sympathy for my position, and suggested that another FoI request should result in publication of the statistics. So I wrote another one.
I won’t go into the details – it’s enough for you to know that, after several months of fighting with the DWP, I won.
The DWP then chose to take the matter to a tribunal, employing an expensive Treasury barrister to make out the case. It seems that, while Freedom of Information requests cannot cost more than £600 – that’s the legal limit – the government can spend as much of your money as it likes, if it wants to withhold the facts.
That’s when Maggie Zolobajluk started her petition, calling on the tribunal to refuse the appeal.
Now, instead of 23 supporters, my request has 230,000.
So David Cameron told Parliament that the figures will be published. What he didn’t tell Parliament was that they would be homogenised, amortised, Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, that show the deaths as a ratio compared with the death rate amongst the wider population – and he certainly won’t tell anyone how many people have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits since November 2011.
And now the Justice Secretary is trying to make it harder for Freedom of Information requests to succeed. It seems the embarrassment they cause is just too much for the administration that once said it intended to be the most open government ever.
Michael Gove wants to include “thinking time” in the cost of handling FoI requests.
What does that even mean?
Parliament’s Justice Select Committee has already stated that including “thinking time” in FoI costs would introduce an unwelcome variable into the system, which relies on everyone having equal access to the facts. The cost of “thinking time” would depend on the abilities of the civil servant dealing with the request.
Not only that, but we should ask what “thinking” has to do with it in any case. When a request is made under the Freedom of Information Act, the only questions a public authority may ask are whether it has the information and can publish it within the £600 cost limit. Questions about – for example – the motives behind the request are immaterial.
What are we to conclude?
That we have a government that intentionally complicates benefit claims for the sick and disabled.
That people who might live decent and, in many ways, productive lives are having those lives cut short because of goverment policy.
That the government does not want the wider population of the UK to know the true number of deaths.
That the government wants to shut down the Freedom of Information system so inconvenient questions like this can no longer be asked.
In short, that the government wants to smother any attempt to question it.
Too many sick and disabled people have been smothered already.
The DWP says it is “irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, and “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population”.
That’s all very well, but at the time of Mr Shawcross’s death, the DWP was saying that he was perfectly fit and healthy, and should be looking for work.
And is the Department seriously trying to tell a grieving widow that she is being “irresponsible” by drawing a logical conclusion from the events that led to her husband’s death?
It would be useful for all of us to hear that conversation!
A widow was horrified when a letter arrived for her late husband saying he had won his appeal against his sickness benefits being axed.
Graham Shawcross, 63, had potentially fatal Addison’s disease, but was ruled fit to work last November and had his £400-a-month incapacity benefit halted.
He died of a heart attack in February this year.
Yvonne, his wife of 23 years, claims the stress of losing his benefits, and of launching an appeal against the decision, caused his death.
Disability rights campaigners protest outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London, after they had disrupted a session of Prime Minister’s Questions.
In the same week David Cameron tried to put us off signing the petition on ESA deaths by saying mortality statistics would be published – but failed to mention that the numbers would be fudged into an ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rate’ ratio, rather than be a straight statement of the number of deaths…
In the same week that the Gentleman Ranker, Iain Duncan Smith, tried to tell MPs that his Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t collect those figures…
In the same week that the Labour Party told us the DWP’s flagship Universal Credit will take nearly 500 years to roll out across the UK at the current rate, while the cost has increased to £15.8 billion…
… a disabled pensioner named Susie called an LBC radio phone-in and spoke emotionally to Iain Dale about her worries over the forthcoming budget and its implication for another benefit, Disability Living Allowance. Here’s what she had to say:
It is abundantly clear that this poor lady is being driven out of her mind with anxiety about her future – a future which the Conservative Government is deliberately keeping uncertain by refusing to give any hints about its plans for sickness and disability benefits.
The DWP has stated – repeatedly – that it is “irresponsible” to connect the deaths of people claiming sickness and disability benefits with the stress that its ministers have gleefully encouraged, by making changes to the benefits assessment regime that mean no claimant can feel secure about their immediate future – let alone their long-term hopes.
Susie’s call shows that all this bluster is bunkum.
Whatever happens in the July budget, DLA claimants are being migrated onto PIP, a benefit with much harsher – some would say unreasonable – conditions. For a start, it employs the same brutal ‘work capability assessment’ medical test (in fact a tick-box computer questionnaire designed to put people off-benefit if at all possible) as Employment and Support Allowance.
Not only that, but the claim process – originally estimated by the government to take around 2.5 weeks per claimant – has left thousands waiting more than a year for a decision.
The best way to end this deliberate infliction of suffering on those who are already suffering enough is to join together and present a united front.
Protests against DLA/PIP aren’t currently gaining national media attention – but the petition for the government to tell us how many people have died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance has.
Cameron’s false claim that the government will publish those figures has slowed the number of people signing it – exactly as he hoped it would.
So let’s all get behind it. Tell everyone you know that they have been misled by this stranger to the truth – and let’s get more signatures on the petition!
Conservative-led Coalition Government welfare policy has led to two more deaths, it has been revealed.
One concerns a man suffering from depression who was living in fear of eviction after his benefits were stopped (no reason was given in the news report), and the other involves a woman whose suicide was allegedly triggered by a DWP letter demanding repayment of £4,000 in disability benefit.
The Lancashire Telegraph reported that the body of 34-year-old father-of-three Benjamin Del McDonald, who suffered with depression, was found last November.
East Lancashire Coroner Richard Taylor said: “Something must have happened to make him behave the way he did, because He had so much more to live for, especially his relationship with his daughter.
“At the time, his money had been stopped, he had no form of income, and he said he was threatened with eviction from his home – all matters that can play one someone’s mind very much.
“The appropriate conclusion for me today is that while he was suffering from a significant bout of depression, he took his own life.”
In Northampton, 39-year-old Julia Kelly was found to have taken her own life, days after receiving a series of letters from the Department for Work and Pensions including one demanding that she repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments.
She had faced three tribunals in a bid to keep her benefit, and her family “firmly believed” the stress caused by the DWP over her claim was what “triggered” her suicide.
A statement by her father, David Kelly, said: “We firmly believe the letter from the DWP was the trigger for her actions. Not to be believed by the DWP that she was suffering chronic back pain and also to be accused of wrongdoing and be told her payments might be stopped – we believe she snapped and could not take it anymore.”
Mr Kelly said his daughter had been forced to “fight for every penny” of disability benefit including attending three tribunal cases.
The DWP had claimed that Ms Kelly was not entitled to claim ESA as she had failed to declare capital funds.
Together with her father, she had set up a charity called Away With Pain, to help fellow sufferers of chronic back pain.
The Northampton Chronicle report states: “Ms Kelly, who previously worked for Northamptonshire Young Carers, had to give up work in 2010 due to a severe back injury that had grown progressively worse since a car crash, which wasn’t her fault, in 2005.
“In 2013, Ms Kelly was involved in another car crash which fractured the part of her spine that had been fused together. To repair this damge she needed a major operation lasting six hours.
“Talking to the Chron last February Ms Kelly said: ‘One person said “until it happens to you, you have no idea what is involved”. It stops your life in its tracks and that is it. Pain management is probably the most under-funded area of the NHS and yet this is something that doesn’t go away. People do get suicidal.
“’You actually go through the bereavement process; not losing a person but you have lost the old you. Your morals and everything are the same, but that girl who used to jump in her car or who was the wildest on the dance floor, that has all changed. You have to get your head around that and be realistic about your expectations.
“’In my head I was going to get better, then when it didn’t happen, it was like ‘oh God, now what happens?’ Some people don’t get to that mind-set, through no fault of their own, so many people fall through the net.'”
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