According to South East London newspaper, the News Shopper, Victor Cuff, aged 59, hung himself in May after his sickness benefits were cut. The newspaper reports that Mr Cuff had previously had suffered from depression and an inquest into his death heard that he had been “feeling down” and was having money problems after his sickness benefits were reduced.
This is the second suicide linked to withdrawal of sickness benefits which has been reported in just one week. On Monday the Bristol Post featured the story of Jacqueline Harris who took her own life after being found ‘fit for work’ resulting in her benefits being slashed.
Anyone who claims these suicides are not linked to welfare reforms has probably never been poor. The trauma of poverty can be devastating and perhaps the worst part is looking to the future and seeing little way out. For those suffering from depression – and many people without any money end up suffering from depression – the feelings of hopelessness can be even more acute. People on sickness benefits were poor already. To make them even poorer, via a system of inhuman and crude computer based tests, is breathtaking cruelty.
Attitudes towards mental health are hopefully slowly changing. Several high profile people have spoken out about their own experiences and been well received by most of the public. There is no doubt that this has helped remove some of the stigma associated with mental health. But sadly this seems to only apply to the rich or famous. The same newspapers who praise the bravery of well known personalities like Stephen Fry and Alistair Campbell accuse poor people with mental health conditions of being scroungers and benefit scum.
Few people are depressed enough to qualify for sickness benefits anymore. The vicious regime run by French IT firm Atos has declared hundreds of thousands of people with mental health conditions ‘fit for work’, often even against the advice of their own doctors.
One of the most serious symptoms of depression is suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Not everyone will report these to the Jobcentre, and even if they do they are unlikely to receive any real support. They certainly are unlikely to get their benefits back, which is what they need.
It is hard to imagine a more callous system than one which requires people who claim they are feeling suicidal to prove it, often at a series of repeated assessments. Yet that is the way people with no money now face being treated if they expect to be able to eat whilst they manage their condition. These deaths are far from the first tragic events linked to welfare reform and sadly they will not be the last.
(above pic from a memorial service held by disabled campaigners outside the offices of Atos, the company responsible for carrying out the Work Capability Assessment)
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