At 9.20am last Thursday, a man tied himself to the railings outside Selly Oak job centre in Birmingham, doused himself in flammable liquid—and then lit it.
Reports say he was in despair over being denied benefit payments, as he had recently been found “fit to work” despite having health problems. His case shows the incredible suffering caused by the Tories’ benefit crackdowns.
“He tied himself to the railings and tore open the bottom of his trousers,” said one eyewitness. “You could smell the fumes from the liquid he used.
“He would have to have been very desperate to have done something like that. It’s shocking that somebody could have been driven to those depths.” The 48 year old is now recovering from burns in a specialist hospital unit.
PCS civil service workers’ union general secretary Mark Serwotka told Socialist Worker, “This shows what happens when the welfare state is targeted by the rich. The most vulnerable pay the price for the attacks on the welfare state.”
Around 50 people came to a protest outside the job centre last Saturday, at just a day’s notice. Clare Lister was one of many there who were unemployed.
“I know how isolating and degrading looking for jobs is,” she told Socialist Worker. This won’t have been the first or the last person who does something like this.”
The protest was called by Birmingham Against the Cuts. The protesters discussed how David Cameron’s cuts have driven people to such desperate acts. “More than once in over a year of unemployment I have considered suicide,” said one.
They aren’t alone. It was revealed last month that job centre bosses knew vulnerable people were at risk as Tory benefit cuts started to hit.
Senior executives sent out a memo admitting that a benefit claimant “attempted suicide”. This was “said to be the result of a letter informing him that… [his] Employment and Support Allowance was going to stop”, it adds.
It came after all staff were sent a “six-point plan” ahead of the benefit cuts last year, “to help them manage suicide and self-harm declarations”.
Mark Serwotka added, “The memo that warned of more attempted suicides as a result of what is happening with benefits has been proved to be right.”
Last year one coroner found that a man who died after stabbing himself through the heart was driven to despair by cuts in his housing benefit.
Richard Sanderson, who lived in Wimbledon, south London, couldn’t face the thought of his family being homeless, his inquest heard. Their housing benefit was cut by just £30 a week—but it left them unable to pay the rent.
He had wanted to train as an electrician, but his benefit would not have continued while he was on the course.
These tragic cases could be just the beginning. Already £18 billion has been axed from the benefits budget—and George Osborne announced another £10 billion in March.
“This system is inhumane and brutal,” said Ian Nannestad from TUC Centre for the Unemployed in Sparkhill. No wonder people are going over the edge.”
Private firms pushed for more punishments
Private firms have got the government to stop the benefits of 500,000 people last year alone, a new report reveals.
The companies, contracted by the Tories, got benefit claimants “sanctioned” for up to six months by reporting them to job centre bosses.
And the firms—including scandal-hit firm A4e—applied to hand out even more punishments, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not approve them all.
The figures reveal that the privateers submitted three times as many requests for sanctions as were granted.
The government claims the companies do not get financial benefits for punishing claimants.
But the firms are on “payment-by-results” contracts—and it’s clear what results the Tories are after.
Thanks to Liz Jolly for reports from Birmingham