Jobcentre bosses warn of suicide risk among benefit claimants | | 20 June 2012

June 22, 2012

From, 20 June 2012 (story by John Domokos and Patrick Butler).

Senior jobcentre executives have warned staff of the risk of benefit claimants attempting suicide as controversial changes to sickness benefits are being pushed through.

The warning, contained in an internal email sent to staff by three senior managers of the government-run jobcentres, warns staff that ill-handling of benefit changes for vulnerable claimants could have “profound results” and highlights the case of one suicide attempt this year.

It emphasises the need for the “utmost care and sensitivity” when dealing with customers, as a result of “difficult changes which some of our more vulnerable customers may take some time to accept and adjust to”.

The email, adds: “Very sadly, only last week a customer of DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] attempted suicide” – which it adds is “said to be the result of receiving a letter” informing him that his sickness benefit would be cut off.

The memo will crystallise concerns among charities, campaigners and medical professionals over the impact of welfare reforms on the mental health of some of Britain's most vulnerable people.

Disability campaigners privately warned ministers last year that flaws in the work capability assessment, would lead to some mentally ill people taking their own lives. But they said they were accused by ministers of scaremongering.

Neil Coyle of the charity Disability Rights UK, said: “The government is cutting direct support for thousands of disabled people and using a process to do so which is unfit for purpose. The assessment process for out of work benefits needs urgent improvement to ensure genuine needs are identified properly and to avoid further tragic consequences.

“We and our members warned the government – and DWP especially – of the impact of cuts in support but the problem has been swept under the carpet in the rush to deliver cuts in welfare expenditure. Numbers on a balance sheet have been considered more important than the lived reality of disabled people sadly.”

The memo was sent in late April, days before the controversial change of time-limiting contributions-based employment and support allowance was introduced, which will see thousands of sickness benefit claimants with a working partner or some savings lose up to £91 a week in support.

The email sent to jobcentre staff emphasises the importance of being “empathetic” with vulnerable clients, “taking the time to properly understand their circumstances … and talking through their options or signposting them to other sources of support/advice”. It adds: “The consequences of getting this wrong can have profound results.”

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West Labour MP Tom Greatrex said: “The DWP should take seriously the potential impact its decisions can have on people's lives.

“The ‘one size fits all' nature of the work capability assessment is at the root of the problem. A crude computer test of fitness to work leaves little room for a consideration of the affect on mental health.

“It's not just those with pre-existing mental health problems who are at risk. People suffering from conditions such as Parkinson's and cancer find themselves in distressing situations, with added anxiety caused by these tests. At a time when they need help, too often they feel they are being hounded.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “It remains rare to find incidents of self-harm where the benefits system is said to have been a factor, but we are not complacent when it comes to ensuring that our staff can provide the right support and help to those affected.

“We ensure our staff are highly trained and ready to help people, however vulnerable they may be and whatever pressures they face.

“We have worked hard – and continue to do so – to improve the way the work capability assessment works for those with mental health issues, but it is right to reform the welfare system. The old incapacity benefits system let down too many people by simply writing them off to a life on benefits, which did nothing for their wellbeing.”

But the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents Jobcentre Plus staff, says that they feel ill-equipped to deal with the volume of work, vulnerable claimants and cutbacks.

One jobcentre telephone adviser told the Guardian that the change had been handled “abysmally” and that they feel ill-equipped and “helpless” when talking to distraught customers on the phone, who are phoning up to ask about other options.

“A lot of them are very distressed. They are asking us what to do … how are they supposed to live. And there's nowhere else we can signpost them to, there's literally nowhere for them to go.”

Several coroners' reports into suicides have mentioned benefits decisions as a contributory factor, but ministers have always been careful to avoid acknowledging a link.

The Guardian has spoken to dozens of benefits workers and recipients as part of an investigation into the problems faced by Britons living on the breadline and identified three separate cases of attempted suicide among people where changes to their benefits appeared to have been a factor. Several others claimed to have felt suicidal.

Speaking in the Commons recently, the employment minister, Chris Grayling, said: “We will always look very, very carefully indeed where something like that happens. So far my experience is that the story is much more complicated. But that does not mean we are not doing the right thing.

“I passionately believe that we should be helping [people], particularly those with mental health problems. I have met people who have been out of work for years and years and years with chronic depression who we are now beginning to help back into work. We have got to be very careful but we do look very carefully when those situations arise.”

6 thoughts on “Jobcentre bosses warn of suicide risk among benefit claimants | | 20 June 2012”

  1. I personally know of a suicide which was a direct result of being refused benefit after a so called health assessment. My partner’s brother who was living with us at the time hanged himself on the 15th May after his benefit was stopped. He had suffered with mental health problems and was already seriously depressed and this was just too much for him.

  2. This is an inevitable consequence of the cruel nightmare that is dressed up as welfare “reform”. There have already been many documented deaths associated with the cuts.

    I urge readers to have a look at some of the many excellent and highly informed comments which follow a recent Comment is Free in the Guardian, by welfare “reform” top-banana David Freud. Whilst he regurgitates the predictable government line, the anger, the intelligence and the deep knowledge of the REAL situation for chronically sick and disabled people facing penury, which emanates from the commenters is palpable.

  3. I am very sorry to hear about your partners brother Kathy. What a terrible tragedy. Poor man.

    Disgraceful and terrifying situation for those needing government support.

  4. I am writing this in the hope it will help others I have ME and POTS, last July I was migrated over from ICB to ESA. I do not have a mental health issue, but I was so distressed by the process, the fear and worry really got to me, I was called in for the “medical” and had really wound myself up to face up to going though it, then just as my friends were about to take me, I got a phone call (15 mins before we left) to say that the medical was counselled and had to be rearranged, because of computer problems, nobodies fault, but it meant that not only was I going to have to rearrange transport and somebody to come with me again, but I was going to have to face the stress a second time and it delayed the outcome and extended to worry. I can’t explain the affect that had on me, I could not cope any more, I “fell” into the darkest place I have ever know, as a result I tried to kill myself, I really intended to end my life, it was not a cry for help, I ended up in hospital, in ICU for 7 days, 3 of which were on a ventilator, I suffered acute Kidney failure. When I came around I was so upset to have serviced, now I am glad, I was put into the support group of ESA, because there was no choice, the DWP couldn’t do any thing else I was too sick to attend the medical!. BUT I was reassessed 4 MONTHS later!!!!! I felt they really didn’t care. I was assessed the second time and put into the support group of ESA, but I had to spell out in detail what had happened to me, I now live in fear of another ESA assessment, and what is going to happen with the DLA changes. This goverment simple don’t care it is not about what is best for claimants, it’s about making sure as few people as possible get benefits. I will not be the last person to suffer I this way, I would be very willing to help in way I can, and if telling my story will help then I will. I wrote to my local MP about what had happened to me, all I got was a official reply that benefit cuts were nessacery and that not truly sick or disabled person would be hurt!!!!. I wonder just how many people have to die or nearly die before they admit just how wrong they have gotten things. Yes I the end I have been put on ESA, but Did I really have to driven to the point of suicide in the process? and how long will it be before I have to go though the same distressing process again, My illness is not going to get better over night, if I did DWP would be the first to know, why do I have to be so Bully by DWP and the goverment?????

  5. I’m one of the ones who actually did attempt suicide through the benefits change, got too stressed through it all, not the first time i have done it, seems the only way out when i get too stressed and can’t cope anymore. I have chronic depression as well as M.E and Fibromyalgia and the stress of all the benefit changes are making disabled people a lot worse. Don’t mean to sound horrible here but when David Cameron’s son was ill he was all for the disabled and benefits but now he’s changed the opposite way, this i don’t understand. Why is it always the elderly and disabled who seem to get punished when something goes wrong.

  6. Tabatha, Sarah25, and anyone else reading this who has been driven to suicidal thoughts or attempts, because of your understandable despair at the nightmarish and bullying process of massive benefit cuts dressed-up as “reform”. It’s outrageous, it’s a scar on the face of this government of over-privileged, out-of touch and incompetents, that innocent people like yourselves, who are already suffering with a severe illness, should be hounded and denied support. Thousands of people are suffering like this, because sick and disabled people are an easy target for cuts, because they are least able to fight back.

    Please speak up, shout out about this appalling treatment as much as your condition allows you. Opposition to all this is growing rapidly: very sadly, it’s too late for the many who have already died.
    Tomorrow, the British Medical Association will be voting on motions already supported unanimously by the Local Medical Committees of GP’s, to scrap the current fiasco of the unfit-for-purpose WCA. :

    My own health has deteriorated greatly with the constant stress of knowing I will have to be re-assessed with this flawed and unfair process, which denies disability and has the fingers of the private insurance industry all over it. It stinks. But I’m damned if I’ll give in. I’m lucky; I have the support of a rock-like partner, without whom I think I might well have been one of those suicide statistics.
    Fighting illness, fighting the lies and prejudice about ME, fighting a benefits system which has been hi-jacked to impose swingeing cuts to those least able to oppose it, takes such a grim toll. My heart goes out to all those who are facing these injustices on their own.

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