Suicides linked to changes in incapacity benefit
By Liz Lockhart
A campaigning group, which includes the charity Mind, have written to the Guardian to say that changes in the wok capability assessment (WCA) have and are causing ‘huge’ distress and had resulted in suicides.
The campaign group who signed this letter include Mind chief executive Paul Farmer, Rethink boss Paul Jenkins, Centre for Mental Health joint chief executive Professor Bob Grove, Dr Jed Boardman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, chief executive Bill Walden-Jones of Welsh charity Hafal and Scottish Association for mental Health chief executive Billy Watson.
As Uncovered is only too well aware, through letters sent to us from readers, the government changes to the benefits system are already causing devastation to people with mental health problems and this is backed up by the campaigners.
All 2.6 million people currently on incapacity benefit and the more recent employment support allowance (ESA) are to be reassessed by the government. This, the government says, is to encourage people back to work and to cut the welfare bill.
The WCA decides whether applicants are eligible to the highest rate of ESA or are considered fit for work. If considered fit for work the applicant will be put on jobseeker’s allowance. If entitled to the highest rate of ESA you could, none the less, be paced into a ‘work-related activity group’ where you could be expected to take steps to prepare for work in the medium to long term.
Because of their concerns about the process, the group of organisations wrote ‘We’ve found that the prospect of IB (incapacity benefit) reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress, and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to the benefits.’
‘We are hugely worried that the benefits system is heading in a direction which will put people with mental health problems under even more pressure and scrutiny, at a time when they are already being hit in other areas such as cuts to services.’
They went on to say ‘There needs to be a shift towards a more sympathetic and supportive system that genuinely takes into account the additional challenges people with mental health problems face and can make a real objective assessment of their needs rather than pacing them into a situation where their wellbeing is put at risk.’
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had accepted al the recommendations of an independent review of WCA by Prof Malcolm Harrington which was completed in November. He concluded that the test was not working and needed to make it ‘fairer and more effective’.
According to the BBC website a DWP spokeswoman said ‘We have already put in place Prof Harrington’s recommendation to create a network of ‘mental health intellectual and cognitive champions’ in each Atos medical Examination Centre to spread best practice and build understanding of these conditions. In consultation with charities such as Mind, Prof Harrington is now looking at the way mental health is assessed in the WCA and we look forward to receiving his recommendations later this year.’
The DWP also said that they were working closely with mental health campaigners to address their concerns and that all claimants had a right to appeal if they were unhappy with the outcome of the test.
One agoraphobic reader of Uncovered Magazine waited for 12 months for her appeal to be decided and was then turned down for the old Disability Living Allowance. Let us hope that these warnings are truly being heeded.