The May government is in trouble this week. An open fight with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over a second independence referendum, the election expenses scandal heating up, no plan for Brexit, and her former Chancellor (and leadership foe) taking up editorship of The Evening Standard. Which may explain why The Andrew Marr Show forgot to mention the scandal that would, in a just world, bring down her government.
The DWP ‘Kill Yourself’ scandal
As The Canary‘s John Shafthauer writes:
On 28 February, The Canary reported the case of a woman who claimed an assessor working on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) asked her why she hadn’t killed herself yet.
Since we published that report, several people have approached us claiming the same thing happened to them. In this follow-up, we are publishing several of their testimonies. We have also spoken to Atos, the company which carries out assessments for the DWP. And in a separate report, we have discussed these claims with the President of the British Psychological Society, Peter Kinderman.
You can read the full testimonies here. And below is an example of what chronically sick and disabled people face in their DWP assessments:
I was at my ESA assessment in Poole, Dorset, summer 2016. I was suffering from suicidal depression and cluster headache (aka suicide headache). The interview was on the third floor. I opened the window to alleviate headache symptoms and he started making jump jokes and asking why I didn’t? In front of my social worker.
She wanted me to make a complaint but my mental health couldn’t take more conflict. I had gassed myself in a tent only 8 weeks previously.
I was asked if I’d thought about killing myself and then asked how I would do it. That was PIP. Have brain injury, constant anxiety attacks, and my meds for depression were increased today by doc. Didn’t score a single point. Nothing awarded. Have an ESA one to get through one week today. Absolutely dreading it.
Each testimony is the true story of a human being, hounded while at their most vulnerable. And by the very people who should be supporting them into care, treatment, or work.
The reality of welfare cuts
The government’s own statistics show that between 2010 and 2011 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their work capability assessments by Atos and the DWP. As this horrific figure of more than one person every hour is almost too large to conceive, here are some names among that number.
Linda Wootton, 49, was on 10 different types of medication each day after a double lung and heart transplant. She was weak and suffered regular bouts of blackouts. She was put through the Atos Work Capability Assessment, and as she lay in a hospital bed dying, she received confirmation she was ‘fit to work’. She died just nine days later. Her husband Peter said:
I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own bodily fluids. It took half an hour for her to die; a woman who is apparently fit for work
Brian McArdle, 57, had been left paralysed down one side, blind in one eye, unable to speak properly and barely able to eat and dress himself after a stroke on Boxing Day in 2011. Despite this, he was deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos. He died of a heart attack the day after his benefit payments were stopped. His 13-year-old son Kieran told the Daily Record:
Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go…He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man, but even an idiot could have seen my dad wasn’t fit for work.
Colin Traynor, 29, suffered from epilepsy. He was deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos and forced to enter a lengthy, bureaucratic process to appeal the decision – during which his benefits were frozen. He did not live to see the result of his appeal. Five weeks after his death, his family received the news that his appeal was successful. Too late for Colin. His father Ray said:
I firmly believe – 100% believe – that the system this government introduced has killed my son.
Enough is enough
The government quickly stopped counting the number of people dying while undergoing work capability assessments, but as the project only accelerated – we can safely assume that things have at the least remained the same. At the rate at which people are dying, these three represent the death toll in only the last three hours. This is not the occasional poor decision. This is a Linda, a Brian, or a Colin – every hour, all day, every day, dying because this system is designed to throw people out of the social security system. Whether they need it or not.
– If you are having a mental health crisis or are feeling suicidal, contact The Samaritans by calling 116 123.
– Sign the petition to stop cuts to disabled people’s benefits.
– Write to your MP asking them to take action on poverty and inequality.
– Find out when a protest against austerity is happening near you.
– Watch the trailer for I, Daniel Blake.
Featured image via Screengrab