Hundreds of suicides and thousands of prescriptions for anti-depressants are directly linked to the government’s “fit -for-work” assessments, a study by Oxford and Liverpool universities showed yesterday.
In total, it showed that the Tories’ work capability assessment policy could be associated with 590 suicides, 279,000 mental ill-health cases and 725,000 prescriptions for anti-depressants across England between 2010 and 2013.
“This policy may have had serious adverse consequences for mental health in England, which could outweigh any benefits that arise from moving people off disability benefits,” the team of experts concluded.
Disabled man Michael O’Sullivan killed himself in September 2013 six months after his benefits were stopped when he was found to be fit for work in a work capability assessment.
The north London father was moved from employment support to jobseeker’s allowance despite having testimonials from three doctors stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia and was unable to work.
In a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), inner north London coroner Mary Hassell concluded that the “trigger” for Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide was his work capability assessment.
The new research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, said that the assessments may have taken a “serious” toll on mental health.
Researchers analysed disability assessments carried out in 149 local authorities in England between 2004 and 2013 and looked at local trends such as suicide rates among 18 to 64-year-olds.
Between 2010 and 2013, more than a million people claiming disability benefit were reassessed using the WCA.
People who were reassessed were more likely to live in deprived areas.
The results showed that in those areas with higher rates of reassessment, there was a corresponding rise in suicides, mental health issues and anti-depressant prescribing.
The charities Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness have gathered 20,000 signatures on a petition calling on the DWP to reform its fit-for-work assessments.
“This fundamentally flawed system is also costing the public huge amounts of money, because a high proportion of decisions are overturned at appeal,” they said.