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Disabled person’s suicide shows up the Tories’ cruelty over benefit cuts

This article is over 7 years, 1 months old
Government welfare ‘reforms’ are having deadly consequences for disabled people. Eleanor Claxton-Mayer investigates the devastation of the cuts
Issue 2553
Activists protested last month against attacks on benefits
Activists protested last month against attacks on benefits (Pic: Socialist Worker)

A 67 year old disabled man set himself on fire outside a job centre after his benefits were cut, an inquest heard last week.

Peter Sherwood told a mental health team about his intention to kill himself just hours before doing it.

After Disability Living Allowance was cut, Peter was told to apply for Personal Independence Payment (Pip) in 2015 (see below).

Unfortunately, Peter’s case is far from unique.

According to the government’s own figures, thousands of disabled people died within six weeks of being found fit to work under the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

Jayne, a disabled Pip claimant, told Socialist Worker, “When my condition worsened I was assessed by a paramedic at my Pip reassessment.

“I was depressed and suicidal. The paramedic thought it was a good idea to compare what I was feeling to finding dead bodies—it was very graphic.

“It wasn’t about asking ‘why do you feel like this’, but was aimed at ‘let’s see if we can scare her away’.”

These WCA interviews are carried out by private subcontractors such as Atos, Capita and Maximus. There are reports of interviewers asking benefit claimants with mental health issues, “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?”


A staggering 65 percent of Pip decisions that go to appeal are overturned.

Research by Oxford and Liverpool Universities found that 590 additional suicides between 2010 and 2013 were associated with the WCA’s introduction.

So were 279 cases of mental ill health and 725,000 more ­prescriptions for antidepressants.

The Tories also slashed employment support allowance (ESA) from £103 to £73 last year.

A number of Freedom of Information requests have showed that over 50,000 people died soon after being removed from ESA. This means they were judged to be fit for work within a year.

Even some people with terminal illnesses are deemed “fit to work”.

The Tories have further drastically changed the test for the mobility component of disability benefits. This has meant that over 50,000 people have lost their mobility vehicles—including mobility cars, scooters and specialist wheelchairs.

Vicki, a disability advocate, explained to Socialist Worker what this means.

“If you are not found to have the highest mobility needs then your wheelchair is taken,” she said. “That means you are bedbound—that’s the reality.”

The Tories’ attacks on benefits are pushing people into poverty, causing distress and desperation that can have fatal consequences.

Don’t buy government spin about benefit savings’

The Tories have long sought to push through “welfare reforms” aimed at slashing support from those who need it.

The government scrapped Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replaced it with the stricter Personal Independence Payment (Pip) from 2013.

It claimed the move would make “savings” while making sure money would go to those who most needed it.

The reality is a world apart from the Tory spin.

The change affected some 640,000 people—of those reassessed for Pip from DLA, 27 percent were denied the Pip benefits.

Additional changes to Pip, which came into force last month, have cut £3.7 billion from disability benefits.

Some 160,000 people were denied disability benefits because of these changes which target those with mental health issues and “invisible disabilities”.


Sanctions for benefit claimants have become stricter.

People have been denied their benefits because they were ill, were five minutes late for an appointment, or because they were at a job interview.

Since 2010, eight million benefit sanctions have been imposed, hitting some three million people.

These are just some of the benefit changes the Tories have pushed through.

A 2016 National Audit Office report exposed the Tory lies about “savings”. Outsourcing assessments is costing more in corporate administrative fees than the reforms will ever save in reduced benefit payments.

As Labour’s the shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said, “These flawed Tory assessments only create further waste and expense.”

The Tories’ want to paint those on benefits as “scroungers”, rather than victims of austerity.

But their assault on benefits is also meant to send a warning to those in work not to complain and risk joining those in welfare hell.

Horror stories from Tory hellish benefits regime

‘The Welsh government introduced the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) for two years and then had a consultation.

All disabled people voted for it, but they completely ignored the consultation.

When I saw my social worker two years ago, she said that without WILG my hours of care would be more than halved.

I’m just left in fear.’

Nathan, claimant in Wales

‘I work as a disability advocate and have an impairment myself.

It’s wrong that people are so desperate they have to ring up crying because of the cuts.

Meanwhile MPs went and gave themselves a massive pay rise when they’re cutting money to us.’

Vicki, disability rights advocate

‘I waited six months to get assessed for my current wheelchair.

My condition worsened and I asked for a referral last June but didn’t see someone until January.

They brought this wheelchair round. Three weeks ago they said because I wasn’t using it indoors, I don’t qualify.’

Jamie, disabled claimant

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