The tragic death of severely unwell Mark Wood, who died of malnutrition just five months after he was found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and the DWP, was not just ‘wrong’ as the Government have today admitted – it was grossly negligent. Whether this negligence was criminal must be urgently investigated.
Morally, and almost certainly legally, the DWP have a duty of care when making decisions which can potentially devastate the lives of those called ‘vulnerable adults’ by care professionals. The Work Capability Assessment, which led to the death of Mark Wood, has already been found unfair for people with mental health conditions in the courts. Instead of halting the assessments based on this judgement, Iain Duncan Smith has brushed it aside – convinced he knows better than the courts, the medical establishment and the thousands of sick and disabled people themselves driven to despair by the current system.
Mark Wood’s death is far from the first linked to welfare reforms. A recent report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (PDF) highlighted another suicide which they found was directly linked to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). In a damning report, the charity surveyed 56 psychiatrists who had treated patients facing one of these crude, computer based assessments. Their findings are both horrifying and desperately sad:
“85% of the 52 respondents to this question told us about an increased frequency of appointments. 65% had at least one patient who required an increased dose of medication and 35% reported at least one patient who had changed medication. 40% had at least one patient who had self-harmed after the WCA. 13% of respondents reported that a patient had attempted suicide and 4% (two RMOs) stated that a patient had taken his/her own life. 35% said that at least one of their patients had been admitted to hospital as a consequence of the WCA and 4% told us about a patient being detained under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.”
The Work Capability Assessment must be brought to an immediate halt. Even the company in charge, the notorious Atos, finally seem to have realised this, confirming this week they will pull out of the contract early. This is the only way to stop any more deaths, and it needs to happen now, as in this week. Otherwise more people will die.
It is no longer enough however to call just for the Government to scrap every aspect of the bungled and brutal welfare reforms that are destroying so many lives. People are dying in one of the richest countries in the world as a direct result of this horrifying attack on the very poorest people. The politicians in charge know this, but are happy to let these deaths continue as part of the ideologically driven obsession with proving that people on benefits are scroungers or fakes and that unemployment is caused by unemployed people.
According to the Daily Mail, David Cameron has backed an urgent review into the Work Capability Assessment. This review should not just look into the failures in the process but assess whether negligence has taken place and if so who is culpable and whether criminal charges can be brought. If Iain Duncan Smith. Atos or the DWP, can be put on trial over these shameful deaths it will not bring anyone back. But at the very least it will send a message to every politician, today and long into the future, that the UK’s legal system will not tolerate reckless cost-cutting experiments that put human lives at risk.
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