Theresa May questioned over link between suicide and benefits assesments

Theresa May told to scrap 'appalling' fit-to-work assessments as nearly 50% of female claimants attempted suicide

May urged to 'eradicate policies and circumstances that lead to people to believe that suicide is their only option'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 10 October 2018 14:09

Theresa May has been told to scrap "appalling" fit-to-work assessments after MPs raised a report in The Independent showing nearly one in two women trying to claim benefits had attempted suicide.

SNP's Ian Blackford grilled the prime minister on "the impact of her government’s own social security policies" on people's mental health after she made a public commitment to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths.

He pointed to a report by The Independent, which said that attempted suicides among out-of-work disability benefit claimants have more than doubled since the introduction of fit-to-work assessments in 2008.

Mr Blackford used the weekly prime minister's questions clash to challenge Ms May to agree to "eradicate policies and circumstances that lead to people to believe that suicide is their only option".

He told MPs: “I’m glad the prime minister agrees with me because, as reported by The Independent, nearly one in every two women taking part in the UK government’s work capability assessment say they have attempted suicide after or during the process.

“A series of secret internal enquiries into these reveal that Conservative ministers were repeatedly warned of the policies shortcomings.

“Will the prime minister commit today to ensuring that her new minister of suicide looks at the impact of her government’s own social security policies and at long last scrap the appalling work capability assessment?”

Ms May defended the assessments, which she said were regularly reviewed by the Department for Work and Pensions.

She said: “These were assessments that were introduced by a previous government [Labour in 2008].

“It is important that we get these assessments right. I think it is right that we are encouraging people into the workplace and wanting to ensure that those people are in the workplace - who are able to be in the workplace - are given the support to enable them to do that.

"That is what we want to do, I think it is right that we maintain assessments."

The row came after Ms May appointed Jackie Doyle-Price as the first ever minister for suicide prevention as part of a £1.8 million push to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.

However research, published by the Disability News Service last year, raised questions over the impact of welfare reforms on the mental health of claimants.

Analysis of NHS data from surveys taken in 2007 and 2014 found that nearly half of people surveyed on out-of-work disability benefits said in 2014 that they had attempted to take their own lives.

Results from the 2007 survey – taken a year before the work capability assessment (WCA) test began – show 21 per cent of incapacity benefit claimants had attempted suicide.

The same survey in 2014 found that 43 per cent of ESA claimants – and as high as 47 per cent of female claimants – had attempted suicide in their lifetimes, compared with 7 per cent of the general population.

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