The welfare reforms has had a lot of criticism, but the harshest has been the accusation that the work capacity assessment has resulted in some people committing suicide. Activists and the media have highlighted a number of cases they believe shows the government is responsible and want the government to be made accountable for them.
My first reaction is wariness of the implications of these accusations. Suicide is a complex and sensitive issue where at the end of the day, even with a suicide note, no one else really knows what was in someone’s head when they took the action when they take the decision to end their lives. Receiving a letter to inform them their benefit has stopped, for reasons that may or may not be correct, may indeed have been the final straw, but there is likely to be many other factors that has caused someone to reach that point.
Politicising suicides is a dangerous game and one that I am very uncomfortable with. If we accept the government is ‘to blame’ for these death to the point that criminal proceedings for corporate manslaughter could be brought, what does this mean for other reasons of suicide? It could be that if anyone sends any person any form of communication material, email or letter, that becomes the last straw in causing them committing suicide, the sender could find themselves in prison! This would bring a new meaning to Dear John letters.
Activists have called for a public inquiry into the so-called benefit suicides, and I would welcome this myself, but not for the same reasons. I believe any inquiry would acknowledge that there are many factors involved in these deaths, and I would like to give evidence that the media has had a big part to play in pushing people towards a situation of hopelessness and despair, and towards suicide.
I am not suggesting in this instance the media has deliberately and knowingly pushed anyone on disability benefits to commit suicide. I am however suggesting they have created a contextual backdrop where the public’s and therefore claimants’ understanding of how the benefit assessment system works as been corrupted with deliberately misleading information for political reasons, particularly in the ability to receive a fair assessment.
Many activists now pride themselves on making the benefit assessment system toxic and unworkable, and the media has played a big part in this. There has been almost daily articles for a number of years on how people with impairments have been wrongly or unfairly found fit for work, whether that is correct or not, based on a culture of pity towards people with impairments. This bias reporting, that has not been balanced with positive cases, can only fill claimants with dread, causing them to experience unnecessary anxiety and so providing the foundations for suicidal desires.
So when people’s only defence to Labour’s appalling bigoted policies towards people with impairments is the uninformed quip that the government kills people with impairments, my response is that it is more likely to be the fault of the media. Not only that, but the media’s actions have so far been unchallenged by activists, other political parties, charities and organisations made up of people with impairments, making it a conspiracy as they all have something politically to gain from these suicides they blame the government for.
If you are going to use suicide as a political weapon, it is important to understand it is a dangerous and potentially immoral exercise. In blaming the government for so-called benefit suicides, activists and the media may have unwittingly revealed the blame actually lies with them.