Benefit cuts link to deaths

michael o'sullivan-benefits cuts related death

Michael O'Sullivan: coroner blamed benefits system for his suicide

by Sandra Webster, SSP national co-spokesperson All deaths impact on the family and friends of the person who has died. Especially so when it is by someone’s own hand. Frequently, suicide is accompanied by the guilt of those left behind while they wonder if they could have helped. Coroners rarely comment on the reasons for a suicide but for the first time a British coroner laid the blame of Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide at the benefits system that had failed him.

In previous tragedies, the failure of the DWP and the Kafkaesque benefits system has been linked to many people’s deaths but Mary Hassell concluded the trigger for his death was the fitness for work assessment. She raised her concerns that others may face a similar burden to Mr O’Sullivan.

The DWP have admitted that they did not take into account Mr O’Sullivan’s depressive illness and that it was not even part of the notes which formed his fit for work assessment.

They also ignored of the opinions of three health professionals who knew Mr O’Sullivan well including his own GP and consultant psychiatrist.

The DWP stated that suicidal thoughts expressed should be noted but were “regrettably not followed in this case.” Unfortunately, the tragedy of Mr O’Sullivan’s death is not the only one.

Pensioner Malcolm Burge committed suicide after being pursued for a housing benefit payment of only £800. He had worked as a gardener all his life before becoming a full time carer for his elderly parents who suffered ill health.

The coroner in Mr Burge’s case cited he was let down by a bureaucratic nightmare. He was described by family members as a quiet man who did not understand new technology. Rather than sending emails, he sent letters to his local council using carbon paper.

Just a few days after being threatened by court action, he set himself on fire suffering 100 per cent burns and died in hospital shortly after.

Mr Burge had £50 in his bank account and in his final letter wrote to the council told them this. He could see no other way out. Again the council involved has said they have changed their systems to prevent further tragedies.

The fact remains though that the changes in the benefit system are contributing to individuals’ deaths. This is both a human and a societal tragedy.

Iain Duncan Smith may claim in interviews that there is no direct link with benefit reforms but his own department the DWP have instigated 60 internal reviews since 2012 after the suicides of 60 people.

We are talking about humans here not statistics. Disability charities also say 90 people a month have died after being found fit for work by work capability assessments.

The benefit cuts which are having a huge impact on people’s lives is dangerous for your health. It should come with a government health warning. Though this government will see these deaths as nothing more than cold Malthusian mathematics.

Mark Wood starved to death after his benefits were cut after being found fit for work. His weight had plummeted to just five stone and eight pounds when he died. He had no food in his refrigerator only the insulin he was dependent on to control his diabetes.

Mr Wood lived with Asperger’s and had food phobias. His family link the stress of being found fit for work for his death.

This is modern Britain—one of the richest countries in the world—but it seems the clock is turning back to Dickensian times.

Since the benefit cuts began, people have been dying. Many others find their health severely affected by being forced to look for work or survive on an ever increasingly limited budget.

As the Voice often reminds its readers, when Cameron came to power, he promised to protect the most vulnerable. What happened to Michael O’Sullivan, Malcolm Burge and Mark Wood and all those who have died after being found fit for work?

The Smith Commission promised to devolve disability benefits to Scotland and the Scottish Government are consulting on policies at present.

This will be the testing time for the SNP to see if they truly are an anti-austerity party by demonstrating to the rest of the UK that there is a decent way to treat and respect people and that professionals who know people well should decide if they are fit for work someone who sees them for an hour or so at a work capability assessment.

They must take up the challenge and not just criticise the policies of this Tory government, though they are inhuman.

In these times, we must reach out to others too, in our individual actions and as a political movement—that is truly anti-austerity and offers a different way.

We must challenge the ‘strivers and skivers’ rhetoric and remind everyone that we are all human. Each death is a personal and societal responsibility, and we should hope that each death will be the last.

Let’s put pressure to those who wield power—even better—let’s campaign, so we have the opportunity to transform our society.

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  1. Benefit cuts link to deaths | Scottish Socialist Voice - Glasgow NW and Clydebank SSP

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