A ‘shocking’ report on suicide attempts among benefit claimants has surfaced. But the media is silent.

Disabled people claiming ESA have high rate of attempted suicide
Sam Woolfe

In September 2016, the NHS published statistics on the mental health of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants. Shockingly, figures showed that nearly half (43.2%) of claimants had attempted suicide at some point in their life. Disability News Service recently highlighted the figures. But it says the mainstream media still isn’t reporting them.

“A population in need of great support”

The NHS report revealed that the suicide attempt rate was higher for female ESA claimants (47.1%). Also, it showed that two-thirds (66%) of claimants had experienced suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. The report’s authors said that disabled people claiming ESA are “a population in great need of support”.

Consultant clinical psychologist Jay Watts, who brought these ‘shocking‘ statistics to light, pointed out:

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The government have committed to a ‘zero suicide’ approach yet, even though this population has pretty much the highest rates of suicide out there, the government is acting in a way to make things worse, despite the testimony of claimants, disabled activist groups, health professionals and even the United Nations.

Disability News Service says that rates could be even higher among ESA claimants now because the NHS conducted this survey three years ago. Since then, some ESA claimants have experienced a £30 a week cut in their benefit. As Frances Ryan detailed in The Guardian, these cuts can have a “devastating” mental health impact.

Disability News Service approached the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for comment. It said suicide is “a very complex issue” and pointed out that its staff had “clear guidance” on dealing with claimants who express “a desire to self-harm”.

The government’s harsh approach

Labour has been highly critical of the government’s approach to the welfare system. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has called Conservative policies “absolutely brutal”. He claims that cuts have targeted disabled people.

Watts adds to this sentiment, saying that the NHS report:

shows that there are very specific pressures on people on ESA now that make living unbearable. Being treated like a second-class citizen, being blamed for not being the ideal neoliberal subject, being denied the basic financial means to survive, being sanctioned for being too ill to make an appointment – these belittlements monopolise the internal world and the result is often now suicide.

As The Canary has previously reported, the government appears intent on forcing disabled people into work, even those who are unable to do so. And the DWP time and time again limits support by cutting benefits, denying disabled people benefits or sanctioning claimants.

Now these statistics show that many of the people who have to deal with this “absolutely brutal” system are in “great need of support”. That’s certainly not something that the media should be quiet about.

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