The Conservative government’s ongoing overhaul of the welfare system is discriminating against some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Michael O’Sullivan suffered from depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. Nonetheless, a government disability assessor, employed by Atos, decided that he was fit for work. The 60-year-old Londoner was taken off employment support and put on jobseeker’s allowance. Six months later, O’Sullivan hanged himself.
The Conservative government’s ongoing overhaul of the welfare system is discriminating against some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Over the last few months, there has been a lot of interest in the effects of the government’s fit-for-work test, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), on the health of benefits claimants. Some are calling for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who run the scheme, to release data on its impact.
In a report to the DWP, a coroner said that O’Sullivan’s suicide was probably triggered by the fit for work assessment. Some people say that his suicide is a tragic but isolated event. Our research, which will be published in a report early next year, suggests that although tragic, it’s certainly not an isolated case.
We interviewed 28 benefits claimants with mental health problems about their experiences of undergoing the WCA and how it has affected their lives and well-being. We also interviewed three mental health advocacy workers who have been closely involved in supporting and representing people subject to the WCA. Our findings suggest that the assessment and its outcomes place unnecessary stress on those whose mental health is already fragile, and that this can result in a downward spiral of deteriorating mental health and desperation.