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It seems that some commentators, in focusing on the issue of food banks raised by Ed Miliband in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, completely missed the discussion of an even worse scandal – one that the Coalition has encouraged and that legislation coming into effect next year will escalate.
“I have in my hand a genuine suicide note,” said Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, “from a constituent of mine who, sadly, took his own life after he was informed that he was no longer entitled to Employment and Support Allowance and disability benefits. Across the UK, more than 1,000 people have died only months after being told to find work.
“This is 2012 — we are supposed to be a civilised society. We should be looking after disabled citizens in the UK. Will the Prime Minister listen to the 62,000 people who have signed Pat’s Petition and please finally order an assessment of all changes hitting disabled people in this country?”
David Cameron began his response with an anodyne expression of sympathy to the family of the deceased, before going on to support the government’s actions: “Some people have been stuck on these benefits and not been reviewed for year after year after year.” Like Iain Duncan Smith, who responded in a similar manner to a teenage boy who had lost his father because of the government’s choice to cut his benefits unnecessarily, he refused to address the fact that it was his choices – and those of his government – that had led to the death. If I was a family member of Mr Lavery’s constituent, I would be nauseated.
In itself, you might think that was offensive enough, but worse was to follow when Canterbury’s Conservative MP, Julian Brazier, stood up and opened his mouth: “May I reassure my Right Honourable friend that those of my constituents who are most strongly in favour of reforming benefits — focusing them more on those who need them and taking them away from those who do not — are people who live on council estates and are fed up with working long hours to subsidise the lifestyles of those who do not want to work?”
Did this creature not realise how offensive that remark would be, coming after the exchange with Mr Lavery? The whole point of Pat’s Petition – and its successor, the WOW Petition – is that people on council estates are not working to subsidise the lifestyles of those who don’t want to work. Their tax pounds are subsidising the luxury lifestyles of government ministers, whose actions are killing people who, already, don’t have enough to live on. I’m referring to people who may have worked their entire lives before illness or infirmity stripped them of that ability, and of their dignity.
I have a few examples of the people affected by the Coalition’s benefit cuts. Perhaps readers can work out for themselves whether these cuts really are “focusing… more on those who need them and taking them away from those who do not”. I am grateful to my Facebook friend Jim Moore for supplying the list.
Paul Reekie, 48, left no suicide note – but a letter informing him that his welfare benefits were to be stopped were found next to his body. Was that the action of someone who had been taking advantage of hard-working council estate residents?
Paul Willcoxson, 33, Who had mental health problems, was found hanging in Pignals Enclosure, near Hollands Wood campsite. A suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about the cuts to his benefits.
Leanne Chambers, 30, was found in the River Weir five months after she walked out of her home. She had battled depression for a number of years and had taken a turn for the worse after receiving a letter telling her she had to be assessed by a doctor she did not know, to see if she was fit to return to work.
Christelle Pardo, 32, and Kayjah Pardo, 6 months: After having all her income cut off and her housing benefit withdrawn, and with a baby to care for, she had been left destitute. When she begged for help, the only response from the Department for Work and Pensions was that she didn’t qualify under the rules. So she killed herself and her young child. Destitute. Is there anybody reading this who is shameless enough to say this woman was cynically exploiting her working neighbours?
Elaine Christian, 57, was found in a drain after walking out of her home. A post mortem revealed she had died from drowning, despite having more than 10 self-inflicted cuts on her wrists.The inquest in Hull was told Mrs Christian had been deeply worried about a meeting she was due to have to discuss her entitlement to disability benefits.
David Groves, 56, died of a massive heart attack the night before his medical assessment as he sat at his computer and scoured the internet for ways to raise cash in case he lost his entitlement. He was a striver. He knew the odds were against him keeping his benefit, even though he clearly deserved it, and was trying to find other ways of earning money. That is not the action of a scrounger.
Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side in their home after committing suicide together. They had been left destitute after Helen had her claim for benefit turned down. They had no food, no heating and no electricity. If that’s the kind of lifestyle subsidised by working people, under this government, ask yourself: Would YOU want it?
Stephen Hill, 53, died of a heart attack a month after his benefits were stopped. He had been told his heart problem were not serious enough to stop him working.
Craig Monk, 43, was found hanging in his home. He’d had one leg partially amputated and was described by his family as “vulnerable”. He became depressed because his benefits had been cut.
Martin Rust, 36, a schizophrenic, had his benefits cut and was ordered back to work. He left a note saying: “To those I love, I’m sorry. Goodbye.” Coroner William Armstrong said the Department of Work and Pensions’ decision to cut his benefits “caused distress and may well have had an adverse effect”. He recorded that Mr Rust had committed suicide while suffering from a treatment-resistant mental illness.
Paul Turner, 52, died from ischaemic heart disease – caused, his family claim, by the stress of losing his benefits. He was told his heart problems were not serious enough for him not to work, and died four weeks after receiving the notification.
Mark Scott, 46, who suffered from anxiety and epilepsy, was left penniless when he was declared fit for work and his benefits were stopped. He died six weeks later in the Southport flat where he lived alone.
Colin Traynor, who was a lifelong epileptic, was assessed as fit for work. He appealed, but according to his parents he became depressed and lost weight. He died less than four months later. The day after his death, his parents found out he had won his appeal.
If you are getting depressed by the details on this list, let me remind you that these people are a drop in the ocean. According to the last set of official figures I’ve seen, 73 people die every week after being involved in a government reappraisal of their benefits in some way. As you can see from the evidence, those reassessments were wrong more often than they were right.
It is thanks to the support of people like Julian Brazier and the council-estate constituents he quotes (if his remark was accurate) that the Coalition is getting away with these deaths. I hope he reads this article and reconsiders. I hope his constituents do the same. It’s too late to save people like David Groves or Mark Scott, but there are hundreds of thousands more who face hardship that will be just as bad, if the repression of the sick and disabled is allowed to continue. As far as they are concerned, it’s not too late for you to change your minds.
The WOW Petition (it stands for the resistance to the War On Welfare) is now open and can be found here. If you have found any of the above to be persuasive, please sign it.
And for those of you who remain homicidally determined to continue with the policy, no matter how much harm it does – that means you, Mr Brazier, you, Iain Duncan Smith, you Mr Cameron…
Merry Christmas. You’ll get what’s coming to you, soon enough.