Shocked By This Benefits News Story? I’m Not.

The fact that 90 people a month die after being found fit for work has shocked a lot of people. It should probably shock me, but after having to rely on benefits for nearly a decade, I’m not surprised. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is determined to force people into work at any cost. They don’t care if vulnerable people suffer, as long as they meet their targets.

The government (who are supposedly elected to serve all citizens) insists that there is no proof of causation — and they are right, but lack of evidence is not the same as there being no link. If nothing else, the strong correlation between deaths and people’s Employment Support Allowance (ESA) being stopped is a cause for concern. The matter needs to be investigated.

The government seem to like picking on the poorest, most vulnerable people in society. As much as I abhor benefits cheats, they cost the country very little compared to the wealthy companies and individuals who avoid and evade paying tax. Punishing all benefits claimants in an attempt to weed out the cheats is an immoral and dangerous policy.

Unfortunately, people who work for the DWP are under so much pressure from their superiors and the government that they can’t afford to be compassionate. Very few of the employees I have dealt with understand mental illness. Some try to empathise, but they can’t get their head around the fact that someone with mental health issues can be “fine” one day and a wreck the next. They assume that recovery from mental illness is linear or simply a matter of time. They believe that if I had a job, I would be miraculously cured — despite my mental health being a key factor in my resigning every job I’ve had.

Even the people who have performed my medical assessments, to ascertain whether I’m still eligible for ESA, have not had qualifications related to mental health care. Yet, over the course of a 20-30 minute appointment, they are expected to determine the extent of my illness. And the Powers That Be would rather believe the results of these snapshot assessments than the testimony of my doctor and psychiatrist.

Two and a half years ago, I was taken off ESA. I won my appeal, but the two months of uncertainty and poverty were awful. My mental health declined further, after several months of progress. I became suicidal for the first time in three years. If I had not won my appeal, I’m sure I would have ended my life.

What other option would I have had? My parents can’t afford to support me indefinitely and my mental health is too poor to withstand working regular hours. The stress of having no money, in addition to my other problems, took its toll on my physical health as well. It reminded me of when I was struggling to hold onto my last job, being threatened with dismissal despite providing doctor’s notes stating that my illness was genuine and my absences necessary.

People on ESA and other benefits need to be empowered, not punished. We need enough money to be able to live, opportunities to develop our skills and support to guide — not force — us back into work. Until the DWP and the government stop caring more about targets than people, there will be more deaths.