Saturday, 29 April 2017

Figures show link between suicide and welfare re-assessments

The government has flagged dozens of deaths of people subjected to welfare reassessment as “possible suicides,” it  has admitted following a written parliamentary question from the Hull North Labour MP Diana Johnson two days ago that  revealed that the DWP carried out 15 internal reviews into suicides or alleged suicides of so-called DWP "clients" in 2012/13.
Fourteen reviews were carried out in each of the following two years, with 11 reviews in 2015/16.
This then fell to six last year.
These  figures will certainly reignite the debate on how DWP treats vulnerable benefit claimants.
"Families who've been left in the dark need to know everything the DWP knows about these cases," Ms Johnson said.
"Most importantly, we need a welfare system that supports, rather than victimises, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society."
Work and Pensions Minister Damian Hinds confirmed the government has carried out internal reviews relating to 60 deaths over the last five years. In his answer he said the internal reviews were carried out in relation to suicides or alleged suicides.He had previously told Labour MP Luciana Berger: "Suicide is a tragic and complex issue which we take extremely seriously.
"If information is received that a DWP client has attempted or completed suicide and it is alleged that DWP activity may have contributed to this, we carry out an internal review to establish whether anything should have been done differently.".
The Hull North MP said she was “appalled” that the figures had been unpublished until now.
“Ministers have repeatedly claimed there to be no link between suicide and welfare reassessment whenever figures have come to light,” she said.
“If there was no link, there wouldn’t have been 60 reviews of suicides in the past five years.
“Families who’ve been left in the dark need to know everything the DWP knows about these cases.”
Rethink Mental Illness charity head Samantha Nicklin said: “People with mental illness consistently find the welfare benefits system — the interview, the sanctions, the number of assessments — stressful and harmful to their health.
“Currently the system is fundamentally unsuited to supporting people living with mental illness.
“We hope that the next government will use this opportunity to conduct an overhaul of the system to ensure that people are not needlessly penalised and everyone can get the support they need.”
Last year campaigners led by the Disability News Service successfully appealed to a tribunal that these internal reviews should be made public.
Recommendations from these reviews showed that DWP staff repeatedly failed to follow strict guidelines on how to support benefit claimants who had expressed thoughts of self-harm or threatened to take their own lives, which were introduced in 2009.
Anita Bellows, from Disabled People Against Cuts, which was among the groups that launched the appeal, said it was not surprising there were further cases that DWP had needed to review.
She added: "DWP now admits that the peer review process lacked 'robust governance' and has decided to improve its processes.
"It is too late for these claimants who took their own lives and it might be still inadequate if DWP is not prepared to look beyond procedure compliance."
All this comes as new figures show private companies that run the assessments on behalf of the DWP are set to rake in more than £700m from their five-year contracts .Also in January, a National Audit Office report revealed that the Tories are spending more taxpayers’ money on assessing whether Britons are fit to work than they are saving in reductions to the state’s benefits bill. The study found that while assessments conducted for the government by private firms have skyrocketed in cost, providers are struggling to meet required performance standards.
Assessment for benefits has been for a long time  controversial  for the DWP, particularly the effects they can have on those with mental health issues. It also established, through dozens of in-depth interviews of people who had been through the tests, that "in the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide" The work related assessments mean people get ill and fall into sanctions and rent arrears. It has led to some committing suicide –this is irrefutably the case.
Alice Kirby, a disability rights activist, says she was asked in her assessment for disability benefits why she had not killed herself.
She told the Press Association: "It's important we hold the department to account on this, especially when people's deaths are caused by, or linked to, benefit cuts and sanctions.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the number of reviews carried out does not represent the number of cases that should have been looked into."

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit their website

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