After a week of welcome distraction provided by the local elections, it's with a heavy heart that I return to the car-crash-horror of sickness and disability benefit reform.
The Guardian today, are running a story claiming that jobcentre staff have been issued with 6-point guidelines on how to deal with suicide threats as the sickness and disability benefit squeeze continues to be rolled out across the country.
A concerned senior jobcentre employee with over 20 years experience sent the internal document to the Guardian with a covering letter explaining that:
"Absolutely nobody has ever seen this guidance before, leading staff to believe it has been put together ahead of the incapacity benefit and disability living allowance cuts"
According to the Guardian:
"Another jobcentre adviser said: "People have been coming off sickness benefits and thrown onto jobseekers allowance. It's problematic because some of the customers are clearly not fit to work, and they are clearly very distressed."
I wrote about the issue of suicide on my blog some time ago. Many campaigners have been worried for some time at the regularity and seriousness of comments made about planned suicide attempts. It is a terribly sensitive area and one that should be dealt with without a trace of scaremongering. However, we read very matter-of-fact, detailed plans from supporters who state that they are considering taking their own lives on a daily basis and our concern has grown by the week.
As I researched the issue, I found that, in fact, the government keep no records at all on how many people from this most vulnerable of groups already commit suicide. Those living in pain or depression, exhaustion or despair clearly face heavier burdens than more able citizens. Any scheme that aims to radically reduce the number of people receiving some kind of state support to this group ought surely to know what risk there is of increasing the chance of suicide?
Studies from America and charity groups seem to indicate that in fact, this group is at least 4 times more likely to commit suicide than healthy or non-disabled people with the figure rising to 8 times more likely if the condition involves symptoms such as severe head pain or mental illness. Remember, this is before the enormous pressure currently being heaped on claimants has even come into effect.
A few weeks ago, a fellow campaigner called me in tears. She'd received yet another email from a supporter detailing very clear plans to take their own life. Not only had the person made their mind up, but they knew exactly what they intended to do. The person stated that they would take her own life in a very public place. Their only hope left was that by doing so it would stop our country from sleep-walking into this misguided disaster. The sender of the email hoped that people would wake up to what was going on and even appealed for others to join them.
To those who say it is insensitive to discuss this, I say : Read my emails for a week or two. Read the comments left on my blog and others. If people are willing to discuss ending their own lives so clearly on public forums, it is our duty to listen and act.
If the article in the Guardian is true, then our government must be perfectly aware that benefit changes are causing such distress that people are thinking of taking their own lives - some are already doing so.
The shame we should all feel must make us act. Now. Before it is too late.
**If anyone needs any support at all over these issues or simply needs to talk things through, please contact http://www.samaritans.org/