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If I weren't writing about the deaths of real people, with real lives and loves and hearts, this entire thing could almost be taken as comical. A woman in a coma was found fit-to-work by Work Capability Assessment contractor Seetec. It's the sort of thing the most twisted imaginations in the world couldn't dream up — but it happened.
Sheila Holt of Rochdale, Greater Manchester, suffered from Bipolar Disorder and had not been employed for 27 years when Seetec wrote to her informing her she must attend an eight-day job-seeking course. Sheila's father, Ken, says that each day the course took its toll on Sheila until she "cracked," suffering a manic episode resulting in hospitalisation. Why would a woman who had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder attend a stressful and taxing course, knowing what it may do to her mental health, you may ask... and you're right to. But Sheila had been threatened with cuts to her benefits if she did not attend the course, and needed the money to live.
Just before Christmas, Sheila was pushed into what's known as the "Work Programme," a sequence of courses, interviews, and advisory sessions aimed at helping those capable of working to get jobs, despite the fact she had not been mentally well enough for a job for 27 years. On the 17th of December that year, Sheila was sectioned under the Mental Health Act as she was struggling to cope with the pressures of the Work Programme. During her time in the hospital, Sheila suffered a heart attack that resulted in her falling into a coma. Able only to open her eyes, Sheila was informed by a letter dated the 30th of January the following year that it was time to enter the second stage of her "intensive job focused activity" — so basically they expected the woman in a coma to hop up and attend the Jobcentre for training and workshopping of her employability skills. I'll say it again because it bears repeating: the most colourful imaginations on Earth could not fathom a concept so ridiculous — but the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) and Seetec seemed to think it was a perfectly logical request.
In March 2015, after clinging to life with a brain injury sustained during her heart attack, Sheila sadly passed away. She was 48 years old and her family believes had DWP and its independent contractors respected her medical conditions as valid reasons for being unable to work that she would not have been hospitalised and suffered the heart attack.
Sheila's family is sadly not alone in having lost a loved one because of DWP threats and irrational logic.
Elaine Lowe, 53, attempted suicide after being told her Incapacity Benefit would be stopped. She recovered in hospital but died two days later of "natural causes," the coroner concluded. In her home was an unopened letter disregarding the previous decision to end her benefits, stating she would retain the benefit after all. While the coroner determined it was her COPD that killed her, we may never know if the mixture of drugs she took days earlier to end her life weakened her and made it easier for the COPD to take her life.
Mark Wood, 44, starved to death after his sickness and housing benefits were cut, leaving him with £40 a week to live on. He weighed 5st 8lbs — 35kg — which for reference, is what my now-deceased Border Collie weighed at one point. His doctor concluded his BMI (Body Mass Index) was "incompatible with life." This was an easily avoidable death, the responsibility of which rests squarely on the DWP's shoulders.
David Clapson, 59, served his country as a soldier, followed by entering the blue-collar workforce as an employee for BT. He left the position to become a full-time carer for his sick mother and following her passing applied for Jobseekers Allowance to keep him going while he looked for employment. Having his £71.70 per week Jobseekers Allowance axed for missing one appointment and being deemed to "not take the search for work seriously," he was unable to keep paying for electricity to keep his fridge working. Mr. Clapson was diabetic, and insulin must be refrigerated for use — meaning he was a diabetic unable to treat himself. He died of diabetic ketoacidosis, a result of lack of insulin. He had £3.44 in his bank account, six tea bags, a tin of soup, and a can of out-of-date sardines in his kitchen. The coroner found his stomach was completely empty at the time of his passing. The man deemed not to take his search for work seriously died next to a pile of CV's.
Unfortunately, the list of people who died lacking funds and food, or took their own lives in a desperate attempt to escape the hell imposed on them by DWP is a long one. There are many more names I could include in this article (and you can find them here), but now I'd like to shift the focus to the reasons behind these completely avoidable deaths.
The "Welfare Reform" designed to end the "something for nothing" culture despised so deeply by the Conservative party is the cause of these deaths. I will not mince words nor skirt around a sensitive topic. There are people who are accountable for these deaths. The politicians who decided to call people like David Clapson "scroungers" are to blame. The DWP workers who sign and seal letters pulling away financial support from people like Mark Wood are to blame. The Atos and Seetec assessors deeming people like Sheila Holt fit to work are to blame.
My title does exactly what it says on the tin, to use a phrase my nan was fond of. The Conservative government and the people doing it's bidding have become the most prolific serial killers in Britain, and yet no one seems to notice it.
The families of the people who lost their lives (whether directly or indirectly) notice it, but not the people who are removed from the situation: not the people in stable jobs, not the people who have never set foot in a Jobcentre, not the people who lack basic human empathy when they make these life-ending decisions. I could not, in good conscience, sentence a person to die of starvation because they do not meet certain criteria.
David Cameron (former British Prime Minister) used to talk about fixing "Broken Britain" with these heinous methods of Welfare Reform, but if Britain was broken before these rules and regulations came into place, then it is now completely destroyed.
We have stopped seeing these people as people and begun to view them as abstract concepts that can be shuffled around to fit the Conservative manifesto. They are not chess pieces to be used in your pitiful attempt to make your political mark, Theresa May. They are human beings that you are responsible for the death of. Every day that passes in which you do not rectify the errors made by the Conservative party, you are complicit in these deaths.
If you are reading this and you have ever sent a letter out or made a call that takes away the only financial support a disabled or unemployed person has, then I hope you feel the guilt of all of these deaths for the rest of your life. I hope the thought that your actions may have caused a suicide or death plagues you wherever you go, invading your daily life until you are unable to look in the mirror. It is what you deserve and if you do not feel the weight of this on your shoulders every single day, you are a monster. I will never apologise for wishing mental torment on you when you could have changed a "no" to a "yes" and saved a life.