In a country where vulnerable people such as the sick and disabled are being driven to suicide by a government hell-bent on taking away their benefit money, support for this should be universal.
Petitioner Stephanie Purcell has launched a bid, on the UK government’s e-petitions website, to ensure those who have suicidal feelings always have a place to go.
The petition states: “Often people who feel suicidal are discharged from mental health services, against their will. This can gravely increase the risk to their lives and causes needless deaths. No one who feels suicidal and asks for help should be turned away.
“There should always be somewhere for people who feel suicidal to go where they can receive professional help and feel safe. This would also prevent the high numbers who resort to going to A&E to try and find help because there are so few alternatives.
“Let’s protect vulnerable people.”
Yes – let’s protect vulnerable people. The link to the petition is below; please support it.
So you thought Mary Hassall was the only British coroner to have blamed a benefit claimant’s death on the DWP? Think again.
To This Writer’s shame, the case of Julia Kelly was reported in This Blog, earlier this year – but I did not recall that Northamptonshire County Coroner Anne Pember’s report had conferred responsibility for her death on the Department for Work and Pensions after the case of Michael O’Sullivan was reported last month.
Mr O’Sullivan committed suicide in late 2013. North London coroner Mary Hassall, at his inquest early the following year, recorded that his death occurred as a direct result of being declared “fit for work” in a DWP work capability assessment, made in response to his claim for Employment and Support Allowance.
Julia Kelly took her life in November 2014. At her inquest in March this year, according to the Northampton Chronicle, “Coroner Anne Pember, recording her verdict of suicide, said she also believed that the ‘upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life’.”
Ms Kelly had been forced to give up work in 2010 due to pain caused by a car crash (which was not her fault) five years previously. In 2013, she was involved in a second crash and had to undergo a six-hour operation on her spine as a result.
Together with her father, David Kelly, she formed a charity – Away With Pain – to help fellow sufferers of chronic back pain.
But then the Department for Work and Pensions told her she had to repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments, saying she had failed to declare capital funds.
It seems the government department was referring to money held by the charity, rather than funds owned by Ms Kelly herself.
Ms Kelly, who had fought for every penny of her benefit at three tribunal hearings, was bombarded with a series of repayment demands. According to her father, it was this relentless stream of brown-envelope letters that pushed her to suicide.
He told Channel 4 News about it. Take a look at the report:
A few months later, the DWP started stridently claiming that no causal link had been shown between claims for incapacity benefits and the suicide of claimants, in response to demands from almost 250,000 petitioners – and more than 90 MPs including the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – to publish the number of claimants who have died on benefits.
We all know the DWP was lying, thanks to Ms Hassall’s report on Michael O’Sullivan.
The facts about Julia Kelly mean we must now question the magnitude of the lie.
We know the DWP examined the cases of around 60 people who committed suicide after their benefits were withdrawn or reduced – that fact was most recently mentioned in Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 21) – but the Department has refused to publish its findings.
All Cameron would offer was that he would “look … at” the question asked about publication. He can look at it all day without doing anything about it, of course.
Meanwhile, serious questions are arising as we learn more about these deaths and the extent of the DWP cover-up.
How many people have died due to the reduction or withdrawal of incapacity benefits?
How many of these deaths happened long enough after their benefits were withdrawn that the DWP never bother to record them – on the grounds that it was none of the Department’s business (this is what happened with Mr O’Sullivan)?
How many more coroners’ verdicts have implicated the DWP in the deaths, but have been quietly swept under the carpet?
And – as the United Nations investigates possible grave and systematic violations of incapacity benefit claimants’ human rights – what can be done to secure the release of the facts?
Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (that’s me) will be appearing on LBC radio at around 1pm to talk about the revelation that a coroner ruled that a man died as a direct result of being involved in a work capability assessment organised by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Thanks to the Daily Mail, we now know that the deceased was 60-year-old Michael O’Sullivan, of Highgate, north London, who took his own life six months after being found fit for work. The Atos assessor never asked him about suicidal thoughts and the DWP decision maker never considered relevant evidence from his doctors.
The DWP said this was because its policy on further evidence was “regrettably not followed in this case” and that it would circulate a reminder. We have no evidence that this was done or that further deaths did not follow because of similar omissions – and any claims by the DWP must be treated as suspicious.
This is because the DWP, knowing that a causal link between the work capability assessment and the death of claimants had been proved by north London coroner Mary Hassall in January 2014, spent the whole summer denying any such link to campaigners and MPs who were demanding publication of up-to-date claimant death statistics.
Even after its statistics – poor as they are – were published, the DWP kept up the pretence. Clearly, we cannot trust a word that comes out of that organisation.
… and that’s what I’ll be saying at around 1pm today.
Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have neglected to carry out their duties properly, and this has led to the death of at least one claimant.
Let’s get this straight: In an inquest into the death of a disabled man, a coroner ruled in early 2014 that his suicide was a direct result of being declared ‘fit for work’ in a work capability assessment.
Bearing this in mind…
What has the DWP been saying about there being “no causal link” between its administration of the benefit system and the deaths of claimants, again?
Time and time again, we have been told that there is no link between the deaths of any benefit claimants and their treatment by the DWP, even though that government department had at least one report proving the opposite. We can say “at least one report” because we have no evidence to show that coroners have not submitted many, many more.
We do have evidence that the Department for Work and Pensions – and with the Conservative Government as a whole – has been lying to us.
The DWP’s response to the concerns raised by North London coroner Mary Hassall was that its policy on dealing with cases such as that of ‘Mr A’, the deceased, “regrettably was not followed in this case”. And in how many others?
The Atos-employed work capability assessor, responsible for collecting evidence to determine whether Mr A should receive Employment and Support Allowance, had recorded that Mr A was “at no significant risk by working” and failed to ask him if he had suicidal thoughts. Perhaps this is for the best, as we know from experience that the next question is “Why haven’t you killed yourself?” – the query that many of us suspect has ‘nudged’ many towards suicide.
According to Disability News Service, “The Atos healthcare professional had failed to take into account the views of any of Mr A’s doctors during a 90-minute assessment, telling him the DWP decision-maker would look at that evidence instead.
“But the DWP decision-maker did not request any reports or letters from Mr A’s GP (who had assessed him as not being well enough to work), his psychiatrist (who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression and panic disorder with agoraphobia), or his clinical psychologist (who had assessed him as “very anxious and showing signs of clinical depression”). Instead, Mr A was found fit for work. Six months later, he killed himself.”
Six months later? So Mr A would not have appeared in any of the statistics released by the DWP in August, then.
You see how the government has tried to spin its way out of responsibility?
The DNS report continues: “The coroner said in her report that she believed that action should be taken ‘to prevent future deaths’ and that DWP had the power to take such action.
“In its response, DWP said there was a ‘clear policy that further medical evidence [should be requested] in cases where claimants report suicidal ideation in their claim forms which regrettably was not followed in this instance’. It said it planned to issue a reminder to staff about this guidance, but appeared to make no further suggestions for how to prevent further such deaths.”
We have no evidence that any such reminder was issued to staff or that any of them acted upon it if it was.
These are circumstances that should lead to a major prosecution for corporate manslaughter.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
It seems clear that, not only has the coroner accused the DWP of such a breach; the Department has admitted it – and failed to take steps to stop it happening again.
Let’s pause for a moment and note that we would not have evidence that the DWP has been lying about the “causal link” between its behaviour and the deaths of benefit claimants without my now-infamous Freedom of Information request – submitted in May 2014, after the inquest into the death of Mr A.
The request called for the number of deaths of anybody who had been found ‘fit for work’ between the end of November 2011 and May 28, 2014. This would, of course, have included the death of Mr A. The DWP failed to include his death in its statistical release of August 27 this year (which the government claims is a response to my request). Only people whose claim ended within two weeks of their death were included in the figures. I have asked the Information Commissioner to enforce publication of the full number of deaths, in line with both my request and his decision notice of April 30 this year.
It is only when the full number of deaths is known that we may be able to start assessing the full, devastating effect of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy of hate towards people with long-term illnesses and disabilities.
For those of us who are working to defend the most vulnerable people in society, important ground has been gained.
Surely here in the UK we wouldn’t abuse disabled people? Could that really happen in London, for example – a sophisticated and rich world capital, recently revealed by an article in Forbes as the world’s “most influential global city”?
A few days ago I caught up with long-standing Greenwich food bank client Mark Bothwell, who has depression and whose shoulder injury had developed into a chronic problem. I’ve interviewed Mark many times, and he’s a warm, intelligent and engaging young man of 29. His experiences must make him one of those said to be experiencing diabolical treatment – those “grave violations” – at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over many, many months. Mark told me that by July he was so distraught that he felt suicidal.
[Referring to the way the DWP handled his ESA claim, he said:] “From about the beginning of June until mid-July I made about 60 phone calls trying to sort out the appeals and the (lost) ESA (claim). I had to resubmit the application for ESA because they said they lost it. On almost every phone call I’d be told something different. That process left me feeling suicidal. They were telling me a different thing every single time. They would tell me it (my money) would be a week, then I phoned up and they said no they shouldn’t have told you that. Then with the last phone call the woman said, no it doesn’t happen like that, it takes another two weeks. She was so rude I just hung up and collapsed on the floor. Tears were running down my face. I actually said out loud the word suicide to my flatmate, to my family and to complete strangers. I hit rock bottom around July 10-12.”
About a week later, Mark was told that he would get ESA, and that it would be backdated from the end of May…
You can read the rest of this account – and there is much more – on Ann’s own site but here’s a question for you to consider right now: Having read Mr Bothwell’s account of his treatment as part of routine DWP work, do you think the UK has slid from being an international disability rights leader to risking becoming a “systematic violator of these same rights”?
It is described as such in a new report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era, published by the Just Fair consortium, which includes Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London.
Evil eyes: Esther McVey seems to get a perverse thrill from pretending her government’s policies are helping people; it is more likely she is driving the needy to despair and suicide.
Only Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions could claim that its success in bullying tens of thousands of people who deserve Jobseekers’ Allowance off-benefit is an achievement.
How are these people supporting themselves? Savings? The good graces of rich friends or relatives? In the long run, the British economy will suffer as this money is drained from the communities it should be feeding.
According to a government press release, there has been a “dramatic fall in the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance”. The DWP says this is due to its policy entitled “Helping people to find and stay in work”, but this seems unlikely – as more people are out of work now than when the Coalition government took office!
“The number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance fell dramatically over the last month, by more than 40,000,” the article begins, stating that this is “the biggest drop in a single month since 1997.
“That contributes to a total fall of 450,000 in the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits since early 2010. And for the first time since the end of 1997, Jobseekers’ Allowance claims fell in every local authority in Great Britain over the last year.
“Minister for Employment Esther McVey said: ‘The number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance is down in every local authority over the past year. Off the back of a global recession, this is not something that should be sniffed at. It’s a huge testament to the tenacity and determination of business owners and workers in this country.
“‘Add to this the fact that the last month saw falls in both long term and youth unemployment – and the fact that there are now a million more people in jobs compared to when this government took office and we can see that this government is making good on our commitment to helping people get off benefits and into work.'”
So 20,000 more people are unemployed than in 2010 and Esther McVey is celebrating because 40,000 have stopped signing on.
This does not mean 470,000 people aren’t signing on but should be – statistics aren’t as clear-cut as that (unfortunately). But it does mean that there is a large amount of uncertainty that should be cleared up.
Several explanations present themselves. Firstly, a significant number of these people may have been sanctioned for a period of one month or longer – for such terrible crimes as attending a job interview when they were due to sign on (Jobcentre Plus staff habitually refuse to alter signing times to accommodate jobseekers attending interviews).
Many may be taking part in Workfare or Work Programme activities, for which they continue to be paid benefits but are not listed as being unemployed. Didn’t the Conservatives announce a plan to put long-term unemployed people into indefinite Workfare, in a bid to massage the unemployment figures in exactly the way highlighted by Ms McVey in this press release?
Alternatively, they may have been forced to apply for a sickness or disability-related benefit. Many jobseekers report worsening mental health including depression and suicidal thoughts as a result of encounters with unsympathetic Jobcentre staff. From this we can deduce that the policy title “Helping people to find and stay in work” is a misnomer. It should be “Forcing people to sign off and stay away from the Job Centre”.
This leads to the fourth possibility – that jobseekers have been bullied off-benefit by the attitude of DWP staff. I was having a conversation with a friend a few days ago, who said that he was fed up with the attitude of the people at his local Job Centre. They weren’t interested in what he had to say, and were only interested in threatening him with loss of benefits if he didn’t do what they said. My friend was increasingly of the opinion that it wasn’t worth going through this charade every week, and it would be better for him to stop signing before he became another mental health statistic.
Finally: Many may have committed suicide. The pressure may have been too much for them to bear, coupled with the shame – which has been magnified hugely by the right-wing tabloid press – of being on benefits in the first place. Suicides climbed by eight per cent in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available).
Does Esther McVey tell us how many people have been sanctioned? No. Does she say how many have moved onto other benefits? No. Does she tell us how many moved into jobs (a statistic that Job Centre staff must have, as this is what they are supposed to be “helping” people to do)? No. Does she say how many have died – due to any cause, not just suicide? No.
This is yet another useless, make-believe announcement from the Department of Statistical Fiction.
If this is the best Esther McVey can manage in her new position as Employment Minister, then let us all wish her the shortest tenure possible, followed by an ignominious and humiliating departure.
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