Mental health charity Mind has called for a review of the government’s “flawed” Work Capability Assessment (WCA), after a man with severe mental health issues took his own life after being found “fit to work” by a DWP doctor.
Claimants for the out-of-work disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have to take the WCA to determine whether or not they are eligible for support.
Michael O’Sullivan had severe mental health problems – including anxiety, clinical depression and agoraphobia. He underwent two WCAs and his Income Support was stopped.
Mr O’Sullivan was receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) at the time of his death and in the six months leading up to his death.
Eligibility for Jobseeker’s Allowance involves being able to show a proactive search for work, including recording jobs applied for and interviews attended.
Applicants who fail to secure a job are referred to the Work Programme, which requires regular attendance. Benefits can be cut or a claim suspended if claimants are deemed to have failed to comply with their obligations as a JSA claimant.
A coroner has ruled that an assessment by a doctor working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was “the trigger” for Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide.
Chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, said:
“We were deeply saddened to hear about the death of Michael O’Sullivan – and our thoughts are with his loved ones at this difficult time.
“Unfortunately, we fear that this is not an isolated case. We have heard from many people who have contemplated – and even attempted suicide – in large part due to the stress and uncertainty associated with changes to their benefits.
“The flawed assessment process often results in people getting an outcome which isn’t right for them. In addition, the punitive approach – which often involves threats and sanctions being imposed on people who are often already vulnerable due to their mental health and other disabilities – can create further anxiety. In some cases, there can be disastrous consequences.
“The Department for Work and Pensions needs to consider the impact that their actions are having on some of the most unwell and impoverished in society – as well as the huge financial implications for the NHS and crisis services.
“We need to see more tailored support to help people back into appropriate paid employment when they are ready – and regular clear, transparent and non-threatening communication about changes to benefits.
"We have long been calling for an assessment which recognises the impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work – and assessors who have expertise in mental health involved in the process used to decide whether or not someone is eligible for benefits.”
Duncan Lewis Mental Health Solicitors
Duncan Lewis is the UK’s largest provider of Legal Aid mental health services and can advise mental health patients on a wide range of issues – including access to NHS mental health services and detention under the Mental Health Act.
Duncan Lewis mental health solicitors regularly visit NHS hospitals and police stations to advise on mental health law – and are available nationwide at short notice for hospital and police station appointments.
In some cases, Duncan Lewis mental health solicitors may be able to advise the nearest relative or carer of a mental health patient on a range of issues, including initiating treatment reviews where appropriate.
For expert legal advice on mental health law, call the Duncan Lewis Mental Health Solicitors Helpline on 0203 114 1124.