Figures revealed in an article published by the Disability News Service (DNS) show a ‘staggering’ rise in suicide attempts by ESA claimants between 2007 and 2014.
The figures originally published by the NHS in 2016 show the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants who attempted suicide in 2007, the year before Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were introduced was 21%. By 2014, following four years of austerity and benefit ‘reforms', this had risen to 43%.
An analysis of the figures carried out for DNS by Sally McManus of social research agency NatCen found no conclusive link between WCA and the rise in suicide as attempts. However, she told DNS the ‘rates of attempted suicide have clearly increased amongst people in receipt on disability related benefits.’
Several mental health campaign groups have expressed concern about the link between the stress of undergoing WCA and attempted suicide.
Speaking to DNS Denise McKenna of the Mental Health Resistance Network said the figures were ‘shocking, but they certainly to not come as a surprise’, adding that it was routine for people with mental health conditions to be ‘bullied, harassed and terrified' during the assessment process.
Paula Peters of Disabled People Against Cuts said they showed ‘how harmful the work capability assessment is,’ adding that it ‘ramps up claimant’s feelings of anxiety and depression'.
Dr Jay Watts of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy said the rise in the number of attempted suicides was ‘staggering’ and that it was ‘simply inexcusable' to treat claimants like ‘second class citizens'.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has, to date, refused to recognise ESA claimants as an ‘at risk' group, despite growing evidence of the difficulties they face.
Research conducted by the universities of Oxford and Liverpool and cited in the DNS article shows that for every 10,000 ESA claimants between 2010 and 2013 there were 2700 extra cases of self harm and 7000 prescriptions for antidepressants. Over the same period WCA was cited in 279,000 self reported cases of mental illness.
A spokesperson for the DWP quoted in the DNS article defended work capability assessments, saying ‘significant improvements’ had been made since 2008, including removing the requirement for people with the most serious conditions to be reassessed.
The unique cruelty of WCA is an example of the government’s intransigent belief that work is the solution to every social problem. Following such thinking to its illogical conclusion there is nobody who can’t work; just a lot of awkward people who don’t want to.
Real life is seldom so clear cut, living with a serious health condition isn’t a free pass in the game of responsibility, it is a full -time job from which it is impossible to go home at the end of the day. Claimants deserve to be treated fairly, not presumed to be lying and placed under often intolerable pressure.
Figures like those published by the DNS along with Oxford and Liverpool universities show there is a serious problem with the assessment regime. The failure of a government hidebound by ideology to address it is a social disaster in the making.