There has been a lot of articles written about welfare reforms and most of it is quite negative, especially in terms of its impact on people with impairments. There is an endless supply of articles conveying shock and anger at how people with impairments did not receive the benefits that the reader is asked to assume they were obviously entitled to. I feel that rather than showing support, these articles reveal the deep-rooted prejudices that exist regarding people with impairments’ place in society.
One angle of the opposition to the welfare reforms that I have been uneasy with has been the direct link to the welfare reforms and the deaths of ‘claimants’, which has been persistently highlighted by journalist John Pring and other activists. When they are in full swing, the accusations have been that the DWP and its government ministers have been guilty of deliberately murdering claimants, a form of democide. When you get past the political posturing, their point is that the stress of the benefit assessment process can be a contributing factor to someone’s decision to commit suicide.
They may be surprised by the fact that I agree with them, but this can only ever be seen as one of many contributing factors. From unfortunate experience, I know suicide is a very complex issue, and that to investigate the reasons behind someone’s suicide, especially regarding allocating blame, you will need a full multi-agency investigation. This would include the roles of their GP, other health services, their bank, other financial services, their housing provider, their family and friends, and so on. Each agency, as well as family and friends, could have contributed to their decision and therefore it is unfair to simply blame the DWP because it is politically easy.
If these activists want the DWP to take responsibility for their contribution to so-called ‘benefits deaths’, then they also need to do the same. Many activists have gone far beyond highlighting the failings of the welfare reforms to deliberate politically motivated scaremongering, to cause harm they now blame the government for. Many activists are happy to take credit for making many aspects of the welfare reforms ‘toxic’, causing the public to assume all assessments are wrong (if found not in favour of the claimant) regardless of the evidence.
For a virgin claimant who is fed a diet of hostile left-wing propaganda and scaremongering, they are going to expect the worse before they even started. This can cause them to go one of two ways. The first is they will approach the system with a chip on their shoulder causing the assessment staff to respond in kind, making the whole process less pleasant for everyone. The second is the unproven claims of total systematic breakdown causes them a lot of unnecessary distress and upset, resulting in them considering suicide. Therefore, is it not time that the spotlight was placed on the role of activists in ‘benefit deaths’ that includes the role of opposition political parties? This is the real scandal!
The saddest part of all this is that in trying to put all the blame on the government for ‘benefit deaths’, these activists are not looking at how as leaders of people with impairments they have a responsibility to support other people with impairments who are experiencing emotional distress to avoid suicide as the answer. The blame game can only lead to a hollow victory if it is not improving the mechanisms of suicide prevention.