It’s taken several organisations and individuals making F.O.I requests and a change.org petition to get the information, but the DWP has finally issued the mortality statistics for those claiming EAS, IB and SDA. About 4,000 of those deaths occurred after work capability assessments said the claimants were fit for work.
As yet, because the DWP won’t release the information, we don’t know how many were suicides or died of starvation, lack of medication, exposure etc, caused by sanctions to benefits.
In the world’s sixth largest economy people are dying from starvation or lack of medical treatment, from suicide due to unnecessary pressure, from cold. This is cruel and unnecessary!
Inside a DWP contact center
Did I ever talk about the job that triggered my latest depression? I can’t remember, I know I planned to.
From early November 2014 to late January 2015 I worked, through an agency, at a DWP contact center, answering the ESA enquiry line. Training lasted two and a half weeks, with little to no training on using the actual computer programmes, an hour’s training (if that) on what we should do if a claimant is suicidal (“you’re not counselors, just get them to answer the questions”), and not enough information about common questions for me to feel confident that I could help claimants.
Halfway through my third week I was put on the phones. My first caller was suicidal. The person had been left by their partner, was homeless and had no idea how to deal with their benefits claims because their ex had always dealt with it all. They were severely mentally ill and very confused. It was the first, but not last, time I had a claimant tell me they were going to kill themselves because they couldn’t handle all the pressure from the DWP.
I spent an hour talking to them, until the friend they were temporarily staying with came back and they calmed down. It was a distressing experience. I could have walked out there and then, but had I done so the Jobcenter would have refused me JSA. I had to have a break after, I needed a drink and to have a cry. But I only got five minutes before the pressure to get back on the phones was applied.
The next day I didn’t want to go to work, but I had no choice.
In the two and a half months I worked on the phones I received calls from incredibly distressed people trying to understand the paperwork they’d been sent, from support workers for homeless people that needed help but I wasn’t allowed to talk to the support workers, and some unpleasant abuse. I heard stories of the shameful treatment by claimants at their WCAs, and at ‘training providers’. I heard other employees joking about claimants, and rubbishing some medical conditions, especially mental health conditions. Apparently, depression isn’t a real illness.
My insomnia, depression and anxiety got worse week by week, until I missed a total of eight days work. At the DWP eight sick days in a year is reason to sack an employee. They knew I have depression and anxiety, and that I was having long-term treatment for it, but refused to make any reasonable changes, such as decreasing my working hours, so I wasn’t so overwhelmed.
One morning in January this year, I woke up feeling miserable, but forced myself out of bed knowing that any more time off and I’d lose my temporary contract. On the bus to work I realised I was overstimulated and that my mental state was getting worse. As I got to work I broke down and cried. I asked my team leader for a day off because of my condition. She went to speak to a higher up manager, who cornered me in the break room and took advantage of my compromised mental state to bully me into resigning.
After taking advice I retracted my resignation, asked for an investigation by my agency, and an apology from the contact center management. It has been seven months and I have received nothing of the kind. The agency that employed me refuses to return my calls or give me the results of the investigation. I went to my MP, who objected to my complaint that the contact center management broken the law with regards to disabled employees, and has done nothing to help.
I was suicidal, depressed and frightened to write about it in case people I knew who still worked there were made to suffer. If it wasn’t for my sisters taking control of my life for a couple of months so I could recover a little I’d be one of the statistics in today’s publication.
The DWP treats the sick and disabled shamefully, whether as claimant or as employee. Ian Duncan Smith and the entire department need investigating.
I made the mistake of reading the comments on a few Facebook posts about the DWP publication today (Another Angry Voice, The Green Party of England and Wales etc). Most commenters were appalled by the death toll and demanded police action. Some recounted there own experiences, which was distressing just to read about, I shudder to think what living the experience was like.
And of course the ignorant idiots who claimed that people were not sick or disabled but lazy scroungers, there were comments along the lines of “died from the shock of having to do a day’s work”, “if you can move your fingers to type get a receptionists job” etc, (my spelling and grammar is better than the originals, but you get the gist). These comments were clearly from people lucky enough never to have been ill, lucky enough never to have been injured. How lovely for them, to have lived such charmed lives.
My mental state
The last few weeks haven’t been too bad, I’ve been getting very anxious – to the point of happily never leaving the house again – but that seems to have sloped off somewhere for a break today. Depression has taken its place. I was fine until I read about the DWP death statistics, then I wanted to cry, because it’s so awful. And now I’m just depressed. I’m going to try some of my coping mechanisms to try to drag myself out of it.
WCA next week
It’s only been six and a half months but I’m finally getting my Work Capability Assessment next week. I was supposed to have it earlier this month but they cancelled, much to my distress,(I wrote about it being cancelled when I arrived at the assessment center here), so I’m hoping they don’t cancel again. I’m wondering if the practitioner doing my assessment is a mental health specialist, because GP’s, I’ve found, are not great in that department. Trying to explain to a non-specialist that I’m depressed to the point of suicidal ideation, and so anxious that I can’t leave the house, and that it is cyclical – so some days are better than others – and that a bus journey is overstimulating, let alone a full time job. I hate going to the doctor’s surgery because of the waiting room, how am I supposed to work with people all day?
Specialist mental health professionals at least have an idea of the likely effects of a condition and treatment, non-specialists do not, in my experience. I wonder how many of those assessed as fit for work were assessed by people who don’t know anything, or very little, about the claimant’s condition? It’s very worrying that the Minister in charge of the DWP thinks people with mental health conditions will automatically get better if they work (as opposed to the truth that, sometimes, work makes it worse). It’s an opinion held be GP’s too, in my experience; several have pushed me to return to full-time work, even when I was suicidal. No, at that point in time, working was not an option, and working more than a few hours a fortnight is still not an option. If you don’t understand a condition you should not be making pronouncements about those who live with the condition.
I feel better now for getting that off my chest; I’m going to have dinner and work on my novel.