Church-goer commited suicide after Atos benefits cut

Updated: 

Conservative Party Conference 2013

More worry about French company Atos and its benefit assessment handling - specifically the Work Capability Assessment. It follows the suicide of a woman with a history of depression who Atos failed to give any points after an Employment and Support Allowance assessment. Consequently the woman's incapacity benefit was slashed from £94.25 to £67.50 a week.

Terrified of not being able to pay her mortgage, Ms "DE" took her life on New Year's Eve, 2011.


Little discussion

Ms DE, in her early 50s, had already been signed off work for depression by doctors. But the DWP cut her benefits without further discussion with those caring for her. Ms DE had a teenage son, was engaged and planned to get married in 2012.

"She had been receiving care and support from her GP and her psychiatrist for over 20 years," says Mental Welfare for Scotland. "Her doctors had never been worried during this time about her taking own life.'

The Scottish mental health organisation found the DWP's decision "contained insufficient information about her mental health. The work capability assessment needs to be more sensitive to mental health issues."

Voluntary work

Ms DE had previously re-mortgaged her property and was thought to be worried about money. She had been active in her community, doing voluntary work. She went to church and bible study groups.

The Mental Welfare for Scotland report is clearly concerned about the difference between how a doctor evaluates a patient, and how the State, or DWP, does. "It was reiterated...that the Atos practitioner was not assessing Ms DE's depression, but how the depression affected her."

"We found it difficult," continued the report, "to understand how an assessment of function could be made without considering these symptoms."

Not alone

Ms DE appears not to be alone. The Scottish mental health organisation thinks 96% of psychiatrists it has questioned have experienced at least one patient who was significantly distressed after similar assessments.

Responding, the DWP says the Mental Welfare for Scotland report "is narrowly focused using a single case from 2011 to make conclusions about the Work Capability Assessment process without taking into account the significant improvements we have made - and continue to make - for people with mental health conditions."

Atos quits

It goes on: "We worked with the Mental Welfare Commission throughout their review and formally responded to their recommendations with a commitment to further improve our processes where required."

However Atos Healthcare is now quitting its "fit-for-work" tests, in just-announced news. Teresa Pearce, Labour member of the Commons work and pensions committee told HuffPostUK that "the Atos contract has been a total failure for claimants and for the taxpayer, but there will be little to celebrate in their exit unless lessons are learnt."

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