Luke Loy had a life, until his benefits started falling away

The DWP placed sanctions on a schizophrenic man when he fell into difficulties. It was an aggressive and destructive way to treat someone so vulnerable

Luke lived with his mother in their two-bed council house in Birmingham and had built a stable rhythm: carving wood sculptures as art therapy in their front room, going for walks five times a day, and shopping for his elderly neighbours.

But when his mother died of cancer, Luke found his housing benefit cut: the bedroom tax meant that from 2013 his late mother’s bedroom was classed as “spare”. A year later, another piece of support was pulled from him: Luke had been receiving incapacity benefit for over 20 years, but after a work capability assessment (WCA) in late 2014, he was declared “fit for work”.

What came next for Luke is a now familiar spiral: pushed off sickness benefits and unable to cope with the requirements of the jobcentre, he had his jobseeker’s allowance taken away. His housing benefit and council tax support were also cut. His debts started to mount and he began to struggle to feed himself. Three months later – on 29 May 2015 – when Luke failed to respond to his family’s calls, police officers broke into his house and found him dead on his bedroom floor. An inquest returned an open verdict.

I spoke to Luke’s sister, Natalie Jeffers, last month; not long after the latest Department of Work and Pensions figures showed benefit sanctions against people with mental health problems have risen by 600% over the past four years.

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