This article first appeared on the 12th February 2012 on digital voice : Speaking Out: disability politics and policy
In 2010 Jennifer Alex Spencer wrote: “When you read this, I’ll be dead..I wish that no human/animal should ever go through life as I did, or endure so much deliberate cruelty to be placed on them..’ The last written words of Jennifer (Alex) Spencer a retired teacher denied direct payments for personal assistance by her local authority.
The letter was found in her apartment addressed to the local newspaper. Following a stroke which left her blind in one eye and a wheelchair user Ms Spencer had her direct payments stopped by her local authority, even though her circumstances had not changed.
The catalogue of deaths and suicides continues to grow for disabled people under the regime of Atos, of cuts and the punitive welfare measures in the UK. Digital voice says the regime of terror will sadly see many more disabled people take their own lives, rather than live under the regime of fear imposed by this government.
In the 1940s the Nazis declared disabled people as ‘life unworthy of life’ this is the decision that many disabled are now taking for themselves, with threats of suicide pacts and stories of not wanting to continue living.
The true figures of those declared ‘fit for work ‘ by atos who have died within months of this declaration, the number who commit suicide before going for Atos testing and the number of those who feel they have no option but to end their own lives cannot be arrived at in sum.
There are too many quiet incidents slipping through the net of media, too many who have few people around them to raise the issue. In the twelfth wealthiest country in the world (World Health Organisation), this outcome is not only unnecessary, but should be deeply disturbing and totally unacceptable.
As well as Atos constantly retesting individuals there are a catalogue of cuts which will directly hit disabled people, and a list of those that will indirectly hit disabled people.
The cuts to disabled people are not a new phenomena. New Labour began the assault as early as 1992 with changes to Incapacity benefit and the ‘personal capability test’ later replaced by the ‘work capability test’.
Yet, it is this coalition government that has visited the worst excesses of terror on disabled people, on the poor and on those that the welfare state was set up to support through its plan of welfare reform-read welfare decimation.
Like the Nazis before them, the coalition drove public opinion through media suggesting that disabled people were often ‘faking it’ – turn the public against a group traditionally thought to need extra support and you’re half way towards taking everything from them, turn the public against a group of people and you can continue to gain support in stigmatising and punishing them for their very existence.
They become the undeserving poor.
The call for all, including disabled people to work is an ideological push to remove welfare, to institute workfare (where the individual works for nothing, pushing wages down and expanding profits for companies).
It is an ideological fraud- there is rising unemployment.
There is always rising unemployment under the Tories- another way to drive wages down, make those in work become more pliable, and increase profits.
In Thatcher’s time it was the unemployed who were stigmatised, it was the unemployed who suffered media attacks, and anyone who stood up for their rights: the miners, the printers, the teachers-some of the strongest unions of their day were squashed and many of the jobs eradicated.
Now we have people who without design of their situation are having everything taken from them, until some decide that they will take what they own: their lives.
In 2010 Jennifer Spencer wrote ‘When you read this, I’ll be dead..I wish that no human/animal should ever go through life as I did, or endure so much deliberate cruelty to be placed on them..’ In 2012 those words have been echoed by many who have had their basic human rights taken from them.
A gentleman, whose relatives did not want him named, who was dismayed to find his benefit claim rejected, he had appealed against the decision, and won at tribunal. But shortly after that decision, he was called in for another assessment, and for a second time scored zero points and was told he did not qualify for the benefit.
He began appealing against the decision again, but a few days before another tribunal date was set, he hanged himself.
There are at least three other cases where people have hung themselves after winning an Atos appeal and being recalled for reassessment.
Paul Willcoxson 33
A MAN who was worried about benefit cuts killed himself while he was searching for a job on the south coast, an inquest heard. Paul Willcoxson, 33, was found hanging in Pignals Enclosure, near Hollands Wood campsite, Lyndhurst, by walkers on April 14.
The 33-year-old from Corby, Northants, was in the area searching for a summer job when he killed himself.
A suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about Government cuts, Southampton Coroner’s Court heard. Deputy Southampton coroner Gordon Denson recorded a verdict of suicide.
Paul Reekie 48
Paul Reekie, who, along with Irvine Welsh, was part of a wave of young Scottish authors who rose to international prominence in the 1990s, killed himself in his Edinburgh home last month.
Friends of the acclaimed Scottish writer have accused the new government’s crackdown on welfare benefits of being a factor in his suicide.
The Leith-based writer and poet, who was 48, left no suicide note but friends say letters informing him that his welfare benefits were to be halted were found close to his body. One was notifying him that his incapacity benefit had been stopped, the other that his housing benefit had been stopped.
Elaine Christian 57
A WOMAN found dead in a drain had been worried about attending a medical appointment to assess disability benefits, an inquest heard.
The body of Elaine Christian, 57, was found in Holderness Drain by a mother returning from a school run. A post mortem revealed she had died from drowning, despite having more than ten self-inflicted cuts on her wrists.
The inquest in Hull was told Mrs Christian had been worrying about a meeting she was due to have to discuss her entitlement to disability benefits.
Her spiraling health problems meant she had to give up her job at Cooplands bakery in Greenwich Avenue, where she was described as a cheerful, hardworking and trusted staff member. Her husband Robert’s model shop business in Holderness Road, east Hull, had recently collapsed, plunging the couple into financial difficulties. As a result, the couple was being forced to sell Mrs Christian’s childhood home in Staveley Road, Bilton Grange. He discovered a suicide note, empty packets of painkillers and pools of blood.
David Grooves 56
A father-of-two was killed by the stress of facing the Government’s tough new medical test for benefit claimants, say his grieving family.
David Groves, 56, died of a massive heart attack the night before his medical as he scoured the internet for ways to raise cash in case he lost his entitlement. He had claimed incapacity benefit for three years after doctors ordered him to stop working following a heart attack and several strokes.
His widow Sandra, 57, said being lumped in with “dole scroungers” and the fear of financial hardship had a devastating effect. David – who worked for 40 years as a miner and telecoms engineer – had already gone through a stressful eight-month appeal process to keep his £91-a-week benefits.
When Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith ordered a crackdown on “spongers” he was ordered to undergo a medical test with French private health giant Atos. Sandra, of Staveley, Derbyshire, said: “When the Government said they were going to get all these benefit cheats and Dave was called in for a medical, he felt like he was back to square one. It built up and he was in a terrible state by the day he died.
“It was the stress that killed him, I’m sure. He had already had to sell our caravan and he was on the computer looking online to sell our car as well.”
His son Paul, 38, added: “He could hardly walk any distance without needing help from his angina spray….I don’t know why they could not ask the consultants who had told him his heart was too weak to have an elbow operation he needed. They would have made it clear how ill he was.”
A couple took a 10 mile trip on foot every week to the soup kitchen for vegetables. They took the vegetables back to their one room to cook broth on a gas ring which they had to make last the whole week. They kept the produce outside because they did not have a fridge. They did this for one year. The couple were found dead on 10th November 2011 in a suspected suicide pact
Other examples include:
Attempted suicide by ex-school caretaker who had brain tumor and was unable to sleep, had weakness down one side of his body and was having fits. His GP deemed him unfit to work but the 15 minute Atos medical declared him fit for work, leading to his income being cut by over £60 per week.
An epileptic man in Manchester whose tax credits were stopped and he was left reliant on food hand outs from his local church to feed his family
There are also increasing examples of disabled people and those with long term health problems going for days without food or heat because they do have any money while in this process. In a wealthy country no individual should be put in this position.
What one disabled woman said about the cuts:
“I could go on and on, about the misery it would cause, to remove DLA. It would lead to a slow death painful death. Worth adding here, I have spoken to many in my situation, who are discussing mass suicide, rather than suffer more health miseries, for which there are no cures! They are not depressed, but just pragmatic about the fate that awaits all of us.”
The question is: how many more?