Hard Times

‘Manifestly Inadequate’: austerity and cuts are punishing and devastating

By Philippa Willitts

After being found ‘fit for work’, Miss DE committed suicide. Her benefits were cut, despite her long-term depression. Without consulting her doctors, ATOS decided she should lose her Incapacity Benefit and the drop in income made her fear she would lose her home.

On Hogmanay last year, she killed herself.

Normally it is unwise to speculate on the cause of somebody’s suicide but, in this case, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC) carried out a detailed investigation and found that, despite years of stress-related depression, she had never before displayed suicidal behaviours. She was doing voluntary work, getting married, and undergoing treatment. The MWC concluded that: “There wasn’t anything else which we could identify that would lead us to believe that there was any other factor in her life that resulted in her decision to end her life.”

Almost two months earlier, in Bristol, Jacqueline Harris also killed herself after ‘failing’ her Work Capability Assessment (WCA) during which she was said to have been only asked one question. Her benefits were stopped and her limited mobility, severe pain and visual impairment prevented her from being able to seek work.

Without a full enquiry or inquest verdict it is inappropriate to suggest that Harris’s suicide was down to this single factor, but the connection between WCAs and a deterioration in mental health is undeniable:

  • 13% of psychiatrists report that at least one of their patients had attempted suicide as a result of the assessment process
  • 85% had patients who had been so distressed they needed more frequent appointments
  • 65% had patients needing stronger medication
  • 35% have had patients admitted to hospital

Disability benefits are complicated, and people can receive up to six different awards, sometimes for relatively small amounts, due to the way the system is set up. Furthermore, certain benefits entitle their recipients to other help, such as motability cars and public transport passes, so losing a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claim will not only cause a drop in income, but also create an inability to travel, go to the shops, or attend medical appointments.

Because of the incredibly complex way that cuts are affecting disabled people, more than 100,000 people signed the WOW petition, calling for the government to carry out a Cumulative Impact Assessment of the impact of the cuts on disabled people. This would look at not just how the bedroom tax, DLA cuts, and introduction of ESA are affecting people separately, but would instead study the impact of combination of cuts, all happening simultaneously.

The government refused.

Even taken individually, the cuts are having a devastating impact. Disability is really expensive. Specialist equipment, needing taxis due to inaccessible public transport, employing support workers, and needing specially designed clothes are just a few factors that need to be taken into account. All in all, disabled people are being set upon from every angle, and the lack of a Cumulative Impact Assessment means that the unfairness of the attacks cannot be fully exposed.

The Independent Living Fund has also been abolished, a move that Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have described as, “a regression of disabled people’s rights”. Those using the ILF are the severely disabled, and the fund was designed to help people live independently in their own homes. This is a right that is taken for granted by many non-disabled people who are not at risk of being confined to a group home or care facility, potentially as a young adult, subject to others’ rules and regulations, infantilised and segregated.

Two-thirds of people being hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ are disabled; the Disabled Students’ Allowance has now been targeted; up to 15% of disabled people affected by cuts have relied on a food bank; and the European Committee of Social Rights has stated that benefit levels in the UK today are “manifestly inadequate”. And even the economic benefits to the country are questionable: the potential savings of £145 million, as a result of the change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments, is eclipsed by the potential £456 million that will be lost when disabled people who lose their DLA award have to stop working as a result. Plus, the extra hospitalisations, medication and psychiatrist appointments described above will cost the state far more than the associated benefit cuts will save.

Almost all of these cuts can have very expensive, as well as personally devastating, consequences, clearly demonstrating that they are an ideological rather than a true cost-cutting measure. The government’s focus on attacking those least able to fight back is cowardly and cruel and, combined with the viciousness of the cuts affecting women, disabled women in particular are under extreme pressure.

A Cumulative Impact Assessment is absolutely necessary to measure and quantify exactly what is happening, and the EHRC have now stepped in. To really fight back, we have to understand the precise situation we are in, so we can fight to support the most vulnerable in our society.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

Photo: Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty

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4 thoughts on “‘Manifestly Inadequate’: austerity and cuts are punishing and devastating

  1. Roy

    Given the higher percentage of Low Paid workers who are women, one cut that can be made is to remove all VAT on sanitary products. These products are essential and should never have been taxed in the first place. It will put money into the pockets of many of the Low paid. VAT is a form of tax that affects low paid people the most as its not a tax on income but expenditure. For lower paid people what they pay money for general is more essential items and less luxuray goods. Wealthier people can afford luxury goods and to have money left over.

  2. Camilla hall

    I was recently visited at my home by an ATOS doctor for a DLA assessment. I have received high level mobility and care payments due to my multiple sclerosis – the ‘assessment’ I was subjected to was mostly irrelevant (performing subtraction calculations out loud) but always humiliating (passing small objects between thumb and little finger of each hand). I am not at all surprised that it has led some to suicide – it was a truly awful experience, and I wished I could have reminded the ‘assessing’ doctor , in his cashmere jumper and expensive brogues, of his hypocratic oath.

    1. Jane Clarke

      Thanks for the article. I had my bus pass taken away. I used it to go just two stops and back to the shops/bank etc and it gave me freedom. It costs the same flat rate for two stops as it does for 1/2 hour journey. I own half the house I live in, so I am not allowed any benefits and am living on thin air. I can no longer afford the bus, a hair cut or to volunteer half a day a week at a local charity shop. I would love a job, any job, but there are no training programmes – no help to get back into work. Therapy has helped, I try to be positive most of the time, but I can fully understand how people top it all. I am not stupid, yet I feel of no value to society.
      It seems that since the disabled Olympics, instead of liberating us. It has made people think that we are superhuman.


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