Monday, 23 July 2012

Suicide risk linked to benefit cuts and flaws in government incapacity test!

An internal e-mail which was recently circulated to staff working within the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), has warned staff that 'ill-handling' of benefit claims involving claimants being moved off sickness benefits to Jobseekers Allowance(JSA), could lead to suicide risks amongst 'vulnerable customers'. The e-mail says:

"Very sadly, only last week a customer of DWP attempted suicide...said to be the result of receiving a letter, informing him that his sickness benefit would be cut off."

Although the e-mail from the DWP, emphasises the need for the "utmost care and sensitivity", when dealing with 'vulnerable customers', disability campaigners have repeatedly warned government ministers that flaws in the Work Capability Assessment(WCA) - which is carried out when someone applies for Employment and Support Allowance(ESA) - could lead to mentally ill people taking their own lives.

In April, the 'Daily Mirror' newspaper revealed that: "at least 32 people are dying each week despite them being ruled not sick enough in the medical test carried out by the private firm 'Atos Healthcare', for the new sickness benefit."(ESA). Among the cases referred to by the newspaper, was that of a warehouse worker whose degenerative lung condition forced him to give up work. Although the man had trouble breathing and walking and his weight had dropped to seven stone, he was awarded no points in the medical test for ESA carried out by 'Atos', and was told that he would be fit to return to work within three months. But the man died, before the 3 months had expired.

While some people gleefully clamour for more benefit cuts and want more welfare reform, it is the less well off, and the most vulnerable, who are making the biggest scarifices to pay off Britain's financial deficit brought about by the banks.

In August 2011, northernvoices blog reported the tragic case of Richard Sanderson aged 44, from Southfield, South West London, who took his own life when he and his family were threatened with eviction following government cuts in his housing benefit.

In May, it was reported in the press that a man had slashed his wrists during an appointment at Birkenhead Jobcentre. The man - who had mental health issues - had missed several appointments and was warned by the benefits officer that he was at risk of being sanctioned and had two options. He was told that he could start turning up on time or continue being late and lose his benefit. The man replied: "I have a third option." He then took out a knife and cuts his wrists.

Last month, the Guardian reported on the case of a 48-year-old man who set himself on fire outside Birmingham Jobcentre over a dispute about delays in receiving his benefits. According to the newspaper, the man had just been found fit for work following a medical assessment.

Though these kind of cases do get reported, negative press reports about feckless workshy scroungers who are "Living the life of Riley" on state benefits, has allowed the government to take away support from the disabled, the unemployed, and the 'working poor'. As a result of this, the government has been able to slash benefits by £18bn and brush aside objections because it believes that the public support a hardline, on benefit cuts. Indeed, opinion polls do suggest that the majority of the British public tends to believe that the government pays out too much in benefits and that welfare levels overall, should be reduced. However, public attitudes towards welfare are often based on little knowledge or influenced by misleading and negative press reports which are drip-fed, to the public on a daily basis. Although many may believe that benefits are too high in this country, it is a fact that out of 27 EU countries, only Estonia has a higher level of poverty among unemployed people than this country. Benefits paid in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe and over the last 40 years, unemployment benefit has been cut by 50% as a proportion of average earnings, to just 10%. Though the cuts in benefits have been savage, what few people realise, is that 88% of all benefit cuts are still to come.

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