Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/766/16715
Cuts kill: Con-Dem benefit 'reforms', mental health and suicide
Sue Powell and Sharan Hendry, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
Steven Bottrill, whose disabled mum Stephanie killed herself because of the bedroom tax, said: "Hopefully now someone will listen. Someone will realise what has gone on and change things."
Studies by charities, as well as the NHS and the DWP, have shown that suicides and suicidal thoughts have increased among disabled people due to benefit cuts and the Atos Work Capability Assessment. Yet when we visited Eton-educated local Tory MP Richard Graham, he dismissed this problem. Sharan, desperately worried about Atos, benefits and bedroom tax, sought answers, even some reassurance.
Graham began a little speech: "the problem is that for far too long, too many people in this country had expected something for nothing... the government is helping people get off benefits". This former merchant banker not only arrived 20 minutes late but was totally unprepared and incapable of answering a single question. Great work ethic!
Enthusiastically proclaiming "work can be fun", he extolled the virtues of "helping people like Mary... she's 80% blind but we have some marvellous people here who found her work in a supermarket".
According to charities for the blind, not a single blind or visually-impaired person has found sustained employment through the Work Programme. Sharan asked if Mary had done unpaid work experience? That must have been "fun". Hadn't Graham heard that the government's cuts were driving disabled people to suicide? His scathing response: "I'm not prepared to discuss generalisations."
Sharan had wanted concrete advice and answers; she got none. Graham gave a lesson in class politics instead. Previously "not political", she's since joined the union Unite Community and the Socialist Party.
Capitalism always blames its victims. Now, more than ever, claiming benefits is portrayed as scrounging rather than being a right. This adds psychological despair to the harsh reality of scraping by on a pittance. Threatened and attempted suicides, as well as actual deaths, have doubled among 24-35 year old men in the UK since 2008.
Last year there were deaths among sick and disabled people who had been subjected to the profit-driven bullying of Atos.
Our MP was not alone in cynically using the 2012 Paralympics to back the Con-Dems' case. If only someone had told Helen and Mark Mullins how to capitalise on the sporting achievement of their daily 12-mile trek to a Coventry soup kitchen.
Helen had mental health issues, Mark was her carer. They had all their financial assistance cut. Mark explained in a TV interview: "They have no problems suspending benefits. They just put a tick in a box and alter your life." Weeks later - December 2011 - their lives ended in a suicide pact, but it was the cuts that killed them.
Figures published in the Lancet showed UK suicides jumping 8% in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Suicide rates have risen nearly everywhere except Sweden and Finland. In Algeria, Portugal, Greece, Tunisia and Italy suicide is a growing problem, with deaths three times higher among men than women.
Few of these deaths make headline news but the government has the evidence. Richard Colwill, from mental health charity Sane, said: "No one should be surprised that factors such as unemployment and job insecurity can push people who may be already vulnerable to take their own lives. Life events like redundancy, bankruptcy and the relationship breakdowns that often follow can cause bouts of mental illness."
Claimants slashing their wrists in jobcentres or setting themselves on fire is not deemed as newsworthy by the right-wing media as sensational headlines about benefits fraud. But government figures state only 0.5% of Disability Living Allowance claims are fraudulent.
Before the crisis, Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe: 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. Suicides have since doubled and attempted suicides have also increased. Debts, joblessness, job insecurity are the key reasons given, but it is also the sense that the future holds nothing better.
In the US, suicide rates rose dramatically in high unemployment areas. Macomb County, Michigan, with 13.7% unemployment, reported almost 40% more suicides compared to before the recession. Researchers at University of Chicago found that mass layoffs in America caused an immediate rise in suicides, followed by a bigger spike six months later when unemployment insurance ran out.
In Ireland, suicide rates increased by 25%, while in Japan, a 2008 study found one in five members of the population admitted contemplating suicide as the recession began to bite.
Many people are finding themselves in a place where nothing seems certain anymore, as if the world around them has gone mad. Economic crisis is turning into a mental health crisis. The absence of a generalised struggle is a contributing factor that reinforces the idea that 'there is no alternative'.
This despair is a product of capitalism - a system that is sick and rotten to the core. It must be replaced, by socialism, through mass struggle, to give people a purpose and sense of worth that this society cannot.
The number of US deaths from suicide surpassed the number of deaths from car crashes in 2009
Over five million Americans lost access to health care due to losing their jobs in the recession. 750,000 have turned to binge drinking, while the number of anti-depressant prescriptions have soared
Suicides and bad health have increased far more in countries that have slashed health and welfare budgets
A University of Cambridge study found that for every 1% increase in unemployment, there is a 0.8% increase in suicides by under-65s
In The Socialist 22 May 2013:
Fight the bedroom tax
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
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Socialist Party workplace news