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Sickness and suicide

“84% of GPs say they have patients who have presented with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety or depression as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment.  21% of GPs say they have patients who have had suicidal thoughts as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment.”[1]  As Stephen Lloyd, MP, said, Atos is “feared and loathed probably in equal terms.”  Many find the WCA both stressful and upsetting, and Citizens’ Advice Scotland concluded, “It is fair to say that claimants always feel the process is making every condition worse.”[2]

Patients do not only experience suicidal feelings, brought on or exacerbated by the ESA assessment process; they also act on them.  14% of GPs have patients who have self-harmed as a consequence of the distress brought by the ESA assessment, and 6% have patients who have attempted, and in some cases completed, suicide.  This is something that is scaring people so much that they take it out on their body.  It is scaring them so much that sometimes they literally cannot live through it.

As Rethink Mental Illness concluded, WCAs are pushing vulnerable and unwell people “to the edge.”[3]  And sometimes over it.

This is not acceptable.  This is supposed to be a test that assesses people’s ability to work, not one that makes their health worse.  It is supposed to separate the unwell from the very unwell, not drive the unwell into the very unwell category.  Of course when I say unwell, I am talking largely about people who are ill enough to have been out of work for 28 weeks; otherwise they would still have been on Statutory Sick Pay or gone back to work before their SSP ran out.  So it’s not like these are people who are just a bit peaky, to quote Rod Liddle’s definition of ME and Fibromyalgia.

Genuinely sick people are terrified that they won’t get the support they need.  They know they are too ill to work, but also know they are likely to be found fit for work.  Their fears are not based on rumours.  ESA has been in place for four years, so the people living in fear now have been through the system and know what it is like for themselves.  In that time, appeals have led to 38% of initial refusals being overturned, 60% of which were originally assigned 0 points; if a representative such as a CAB volunteer is present, then appeal overturn rates can reach 100%.  Report after report has highlighted the errors, inaccuracies and falsehoods that are leading to very ill people being found fit for work.  Labour has called for a review; the British medical Association has called for the WCA to be scrapped immediately.

These people are not basing their fear on hearsay.  It’s based on fact and personal experience.  These people are scared because they know the system, they know it doesn’t work, and they know their money is being stolen.  They have a right to it legally – appeals are judged according to the law – but their payments are being stopped.

The government and the public need to know this is happening.  They need to know that there are people so ill that, when they are found fit for work, death is a more viable option than an attempt to go on Jobseeker’s Allowance with its attendant interviews.  They need to know that people who weren’t mentally ill are becoming so; people who were mentally ill are becoming suicidal.

“These figures demonstrate how urgent it is that the Government overhauls the test. It is putting a strain on individuals, families and the NHS. The human and economic costs are too great for the Government to continue with it. We urge the Government to halt the system now – it could be the difference between life and death for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”[4]

As Tom Greatrex, MP, said, “There is clearly a problem when an assessment that is designed to help people back into work ends up having the opposite effect.”

[1] Rethink Mental Illness: New GP survey shows Government welfare test is pushing vulnerable people to the brink.

[2] Dryburgh, K. and Lancashire, M., September 2010 The WCA: A response from Citizens’ Advice Scotland. CAS

[3] Rethink Mental Illness

[4] Rethink Mental Illness

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