Last week saw two further examples of the DWP’s continuing policy of denial over benefit-related suicide. The government has decide that the DWP does not need to be part of a cross-government suicide reduction plan and a minister has described the suggestion of a link between benefits and suicide as ‘shameful’ and ‘unsubstantiated’
Disability News Service has highlighted the fact that the DWP have not been included in a cross-government plan to reduce suicides.
This means that, bizarrely, the government considers that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport all have more of a role to play in preventing suicide than the DWP has.
As DNS points out:
“This is despite years of research that have shown clear links between the government’s social security reforms and suicides and have demonstrated that ESA claimants are at particularly high risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
“Three years ago, public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, across England as a whole, the process of reassessing people on incapacity benefit for the new ESA between 2010 and 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides.
“The following year, NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with about seven per cent of non-ESA claimants.
“Only three months ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the government’s “chaotic” universal credit benefit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.”
Meanwhile, minister for disabled people Sarah Newton told MPs last week that it was ‘shameful’ to claim there was any link between benefits and suicide.
Newton was responding to a request from SNP MP Deidre Brock to apologise to ‘the families of those who have taken their own lives as a result of the government’s benefit policies’
To supportive jeers and laughter from Tory MPs, Newton responded that she regretted that:
“ . . . the honourable lady has made such appalling and unsubstantiated claims about people committing suicide as a result. You know we in this house, all of us, have a duty to be very mindful of the language we use and the evidence that we use for making such assertions. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in society and it is shameful when members in this house deliberately misuse data . . . The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity survey does not show any causal link between being on benefits and suicidal thoughts or behaviour. The survey findings indicate certain associations but they do not indicate causality.”
The lack of hard evidence of a causal link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer was an something that the tobacco industry used to ensure millions of people died unnecessarily from using its products.
Their argument was simply that although smokers were statistically more likely to die of lung cancer, no-one had proved the mechanism by which smoking caused lung cancer and therefore there might be another entirely unrelated cause.
In exactly the same shameful way, government ministers now argue that while there may is a statistical link between being on benefits and suicide, no one has categorically proved that it is the way people are treated as benefits claimants that causes them to harm themselves.
It is an ugly and dishonourable misuse of statistics to say that because you cannot absolutely prove the mechanism that links two things then you should remain silent and do nothing.
It is not one that is trotted out by the government in relation to, for example, concerns about young people’s use of social media being linked to self-harm.
But there is political capital to be made by ministers attacking Facebook, whereas there is none to be made from admitting that their own policies are wrecking people’s lives
You can read more on the DNS website