On 12 July 2012, journalist Brendan O’Neill wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph that accused campaigners against the coalition government’s welfare reform legislation of reaching a ‘new low’. He argued that drawing attention to the suicides of people whose benefits changes might have figured as a factor in their deaths, was taking political advantage of mentally-ill people. It was reprehensible to score political points by linking these deaths to government policy; furthermore, such suicides could not be construed as evidence of the effect of changes to the benefit system impacting upon vulnerable individuals and, therefore, laid at the Coalition government’s door.
Eighteen months later things look rather different.
On 14 December 2013, the Hague Health Board, Dutch Office of National Statistics and Leiden University published a study of suicide rates amongst the Dutch population. A total of 15,127 people committed suicide in the Netherlands between 2002 and 2011: those who lived on benefits had a much higher rate of suicide than those who did not – it was six times that of the rest of the population.
So concerned was Tyneside MIND with the impact of the Coalition’s welfare reform upon the mentally ill that it commissioned a film, which was released on 27 December 2013. But I’m here for mental health – three stories of the Work Capability Assessment uses actors to tell the stories of individuals who were passed ‘fit for work’ by ATOS (despite the severity of their mental health problems) and demonstrates their significant problems in finding employment.
On 10 January 2013, the Independent reported the findings of a survey of 700 social housing workers in the north-west of England, conducted by the Straightforward consultancy for the Northern Housing Consortium. Between May and October 2013, in just 10 housing associations, 45 per cent of those interviewed had had to deal with a tenant threatening to kill themselves.
The Benefits Legal Group has decided to maintain an ‘In memoriam’ database of those who have committed suicide as a result of the Coalition government’s welfare reforms. We will take the verdict of the Coroner, the reporting of the case and views of the family in attributing these deaths and no other set of criteria. The Benefits Legal Group is only interested in the facts. It expresses no political opinion. It simply offers its sincerest condolences to those who have lost loved ones.