A man collapsed and died in the street on the way home from the Jobcentre on 12 December. He had been declared ‘fit for work’.
Lawrence Bond suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after leaving the Kentish town Jobcentre, reports The Camden New Journal. The 56-year-old had longstanding health problems such as difficulty with mobility and breathing.
Last year, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) cut Bond’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This happened after US private firm Maximus carried out his Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in July. The DWP turned down a subsequent appeal. His sister, Iris Green, said that Bond was waiting for the outcome of a second appeal when he died.
Bond had suffered prolonged health problems, associated with being heavily overweight. But in turn, his obesity may have been linked to his mental health problems.
[he] held down regular jobs and was never out of work from the age of 16 when he trained as a car mechanic, then did computer studies and went to companies fixing computers, photocopiers, cash tills – so he had his van which he felt safe in – but, of course, his diet was shocking so he put on weight.
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Bond was distressed about a lack of treatment for his mental health issues, his sister said:
His anxiety was getting worse as he could not pay bills and was afraid to leave home to go to the shops. Two referrals his GP had made for mental health services had been lost and he said he felt annoyed about that.
He functioned very well when he had a job, and money, and a van and functioned as a productive tax-paying member of society, but he was frustrated that, although he was an intelligent person, he could not seem to get his needs met.
She expressed concern about the controversial Work Capability Assessment, and called for change:
I realise that the reception staff have no clinical knowledge or responsibility for doing it, but the rules need to be changed so that they have the right and discretion when they see a human being turning up in physical distress to flag the situation up and ask for urgent re-assessment.
Mental health and WCAs
The WCA process seems to be failing Bond and others in our society. A doctor who carried out WCAs for Maximus issued a damning indictment of the process, alleging the system was “severely flawed”. The Guardian reported that the doctor said the problems include:
unreasonable targets leading to poor quality assessments; not enough specialists in mental health; and tests that are too subjective and often skewed against the claimant.
The doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said:
There may be cases where a person was seriously unwell, but within the criteria in the assessment, I would have to classify them as well.
Numerous studies have produced worrying statistics on the relationship between WCAs and mental health. Research from the universities of Liverpool and Oxford found that the Conservative DWP’s fit-to-work tests for sick and disabled people have coincided with 590 “additional” suicides, 279,000 cases of mental illness, and 725,000 more prescriptions for antidepressants. And research by the mental health charity ReThink found that a staggering 21% of GP patients had experienced suicidal thoughts due to the stress of WCAs.
Time for change
Speaking about Bond’s death, a DWP spokesman said:
The local Jobcentre had been supporting Mr Bond and our sympathies are with his family at this difficult time.
ESA decisions are made following a thorough assessment and after considering all of the evidence, including that provided by a claimant’s doctor or other medical professionals. Anyone who disagrees with a decision can ask for it to be reconsidered, and if they still disagree they can appeal.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, one in four British adults is obese like Bond was. We must address the root causes of this widespread issue. If the government dedicated proper support to people, perhaps Bond may have continued to be a “productive taxpaying member of society”. But most importantly, he might still be alive today.
– Contact your MP to express any concerns.
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