Putrid Modern Hell #31

by HST UK on June 30, 2012

Oh well, don’t you tell me how blessed are the poor

It had to reach this point, and it has reached this point because already it is too late. Job Centre executives have put out a warning to their employees – the claimants are getting desperate, and they’re feeling suicidal.

The changes to sickness benefit assessments in the UK have left many claimants anxious that the hand that feeds them is about to pull away and let them starve. The welfare safety net that supports them could be cut at any time. An internal email was sent to Job Centre staff by three members of senior management. The email warned them that emotionally vulnerable claimants were at risk, and highlighted one particular case when a claimant had made a suicide attempt:
“Very sadly, only last week a customer of DWP attempted suicide – said to be a result of receiving a letter informing him that due to the introduction of time limiting contribution based Employment and Support Allowance for people not in the support group, his contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance was going to stop. We are not yet clear on the full circumstances of the case and cannot be clear on what factors contributed. Incidents of this kind are thankfully rare, but it does remind us of the responsibility we have, and influence we have, over the lives of those people we provide help to. Sometimes ensuring that a claimant simply understands changes to their benefit and following a process is not enough”.

Due to the stand-offish nature of the Department of Work and Pensions, they only tend to contact claimants with bad news, usually to inform them that actually they’re fit to work and shouldn’t be entitled to benefits. Claimants are also not being adequately supported by equally concerned Job Centre staff who themselves fret about the uncertainty of it all.

Campaigners from Mental Health and Disability charities warned the Government about how issues with the work capability assessment might lead to cases when people would consider taking their own lives. Now these warnings are becoming real.

The catch all nature of the work capability assessment means that each individual case is not given the care and attention required. Unfortunately, due to practical reasons the assessment simply can’t be anything other than as efficient as possible. But, one should ask if the Job Centre’s are equipped to deal with the share volume of vulnerable claimants in face of Government cuts. Have they received the appropriate training to explore options with those claimants who explicitly state that they are considering killing themselves, because there is nowhere left to turn?

Though there have been several suicide cases that have mentioned benefit assessment decisions in the coroners reports, both Government ministers and high ranking Job Centre bosses are reluctant to draw attention to these cases, preferring to downplay the impact of benefit decisions, calling it a contributing factor rather than the main reason for a person’s unnecessary death.

Unfortunately the circulated email is incorrect; incidents of this kind are not thankfully rare. They are plentiful, and to give a few notable examples, there was the case of Craig Monk, who after an accident led to the partial amputation of his leg, struggled to gain state assistance, despite his obvious disability. Monk fell into poverty, and ended his life after hanging himself in October last year. There are hundreds of similar deaths over the last year that can be attributed to the changes in the benefit system; many of those people were too sick and disabled to work.

Another local case saw a schizophrenic man kill himself after becoming fearful about returning to work, the Department of Work and Pensions assessment declared him fit to work, two months later he was found dead. Leaving a note saying “To those I love, I’m sorry. Goodbye.” The prospect of working piled pressure on the man, who up until the assessment had turned his life around.

In the UK, people are living on the breadline, struggling not just to pay the bills, but to eat. Yes, I know in poverty stricken countries around the world thousands die of starvation and malnutrition each day; however it is a great tragedy that this is happening in a so-called democratic civilized society. This has stemmed from several factors including incorrect benefit assessments and a lack of support for those who’ve had their benefits taken away, factors that have led people to suffer through the worst of lows.

Then there was the strange decision made by the Government to close a group of Remploy factories that employ disabled workers. Thirty six of the fifty four factories will close down leading to the redundancies of nearly two thousand workers. Will those workers be able to claim Disability Living Allowance given that they have been working?

The assessment decision itself is an agonizing wait for claimants as they sit by their letterboxes, fearing the worst. This includes those that are terminally ill, who have gone through the assessment process even as they endure their final days. According to statistics three hundred thousand people have contested the decision that they are fit to work, and over forty per cent have succeeded in getting their decisions overturned. The system is severely flawed.

Whilst in a recession it is inevitable that there will be casualties. When businesses fail, when people lose their jobs, they might turn to the bottle; they might choose to end their lives in a horrific fashion. What you don’t expect in British society is for the welfare state not to support those in need, to pull the carpet from under their feet, to take away their benefits, to cause them undue stress, and to lead them to do something that should’ve been completely avoidable.



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