The government have persistently denied that there is a “causal link” between their welfare “reforms” (a Conservative euphemism for savage cuts) and an increase in suicides, premature deaths, psychological distress and severe hardship. However, a number of researchers and many campaigners have demonstrated a clear correlation that the government have so far refused to investigate further. Correlation quite often implies a causal relationship, and as such, requires further research.
Each case that has been presented to the government as evidence that their policies are causing severe harm has been dismissed as “anecdotal”.
Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform said: “It is not enough to just stop introducing new policies to attack the rights and lives of disabled people and the poorest in society. These policies have been in place for six years and many are designed to increase poverty year on year. The Government should apologise for the harm it has caused since 2010, calculate the full impact of cuts that targeted the most disadvantaged and begin a full programme of reparations.”
This is the third harrowing article I have written this week about the devastating impact of the Conservatives’ punitive welfare policies on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I wish with all my heart that this is the last such article.
There will continue to be a need of witnesses like myself and other campaigners until the political denial stops.
Last month, an inquest in Ipswich heard how Peter, a disabled man, struggling to cope with mental health problems, committed suicide by setting himself on fire because of fear that he would lose his lifeline support, following his compulsory re-assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The government introduced the controversial PIP to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in order to save costs and to “target those most in need” in 2013.
Peter Sherwood set fire to himself in front of horrified onlookers in Lowestoft town centre on September 4, 2015. The retired builder died in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit, on September 8, 2015, following the horrific incident in Lowestoft town centre four days before.
Peter had received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, informing him that his DLA was ending and that he needed to reapply for PIP.
He suffered with a recurrent depressive disorder and psychosis. Peter had attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions previously. He also had a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which caused involuntary movements to his mouth and is a known side-effect of anti-psychotic medications.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Lucinda Stapleton, care coordinator from the Waveney Recovery Team, said this had affected Peter’s self-confidence as he was worried people were laughing and staring at him when he left the house.
In a statement read during the hearing, Mr Sherwood’s niece, Sarah Wilby, said: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.
“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.
“He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.
“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”
Ms Wilby said she was shocked at the drastic way her uncle took his own life.
She added: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”
During the inquest Ms Wilby said that Peter was claiming Disability Living Allowance but not long before his death he received a letter informing him he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payment, which she believes contributed to his low mood at that time.
She said: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.
“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”
Paul Anderson, a community support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said Peter had claimed that the Government was trying to take money off him.
The Coroner, Peter Dean, read statements from witnesses, who described seeing Peter spraying something on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can.
The inquest heard passer-by William Groves asked Peter if he was a street artist, to which he replied “no, I’m a suicide artist”.
Peter then poured liquid over his head and set himself on fire using a lighter.
Members of the public tried to douse the flames by first throwing their jackets onto Peter, and then using a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop.
Police at the scene reported that Peter had muttered the word “humanity” to them a couple of times following the incident.
On September 4, 2015, Peter was visited at home by the community mental health team and he had expressed plans to end his life.
An urgent appointment was made for Peter to see a psychiatrist the following week, but it was tragically too late.
Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has since updated its criteria of when patients should be referred to the 24-hour crisis team, following its routine investigation into Peter’s death.
The medical cause of death was given as 75% non-survivable full thickness burns, and mental health concerns.
The coroner’s conclusion was suicide.
If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123.
People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.
This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income.
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