A man has told MPs he was left suicidal after being forced to recount his baby’s death during an “interrogation” that led to the slashing of his disability benefit.
The man, known only by his first name John, told a joint sitting of two Westminster committees that he came away from the two-hour assessment feeling “mangled”.
John, from the Belfast area, was recounting his experience of having his mental and physical health reassessed as part of the process of moving from the old Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payment.
Private sector company Capita carry out the reassessments on behalf of the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland.
John claimed his assessor was “cold as ice” as he described the exercise to members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Work and Pensions Committee at a sitting in Stormont. The two committees are carrying out an inquiry in the welfare system in Northern Ireland.
He said he has suffered from mental health problems for 37 years since the death of his son, also called John, only five days after he was born.
John, who said he was prescribed medication for anxiety after the assessment, said the outcome will see his benefits potentially cut by £500 a month from next March.
“I had to relive every single thing from the day and hour my child was born until he died, his name was John, and I had to go through the funeral arrangement that I done,” he said.
“I was left that I had to walk out of that door after two hours with no support whatsoever.
“I was being assessed but I felt I was being interrogated.”
He added: “I don’t want to see anybody else go through with I went through.
“I know what it done to me and it very nearly ended up where I was back in hospital again and I contemplated taking my own life.”
SNP MP Chris Stephens was scathing in regard to Capita.
“I will be calling them ‘Crapita’ for the purposes of this discussion,” he said.
Another benefit claimant, George from Carrickfergus, spoke about his fears of losing his Housing Executive home if the “bedroom tax” starts to operate in the absence of Stormont mitigation payments next March.
“I have lived in a house for 30 years, brought up a family – four children – they have grown up and left and my wife’s gone now and I am in the house on my own and it’s a house full of memories and when the bedroom tax comes in I will be put out, just put of my home,” he said.
“It will be a big challenge at my age, I am 60 years old and to be moved out of what was my life, what is my life, and to be put where someone else wants me to live.”
George, who would face being penalised for two of the three bedrooms in his house, questioned whether there would be a suitable one bedroom apartment for him to live in in Carrick.
“Are they talking about moving me not only out of my home but out of my town where I was born, my mother was born, her mother was born?,” he asked.
“I have four children and they come and stay with me and if they move me to a one bedroom apartment anywhere I can’t have my children come to stay with me, where would I put them? So I am losing my family, not just my home.
“It isn’t just a house to me, it’s a home and it has been for 30 years and all the memories that go with it. It’s very insensitive.”
DUP MP Ian Paisley noted that only 18% of the Housing Executive stock in Northern Ireland was one bedroom accommodation.
“There isn’t enough houses to go round in your circumstances,” he told George.
“You are looking down the barrel of a gun – that is just terrible.”
Capita has been approached for comment.