Senior coroner directly links suicide to welfare reforms for the first time


Senior coroner links death of a 60-year-old man to welfare reforms

FOR the first time, a coroner has directly linked the death of a social security claimant to the UK Government’s welfare reforms.

Michael O’Sullivan, a 60-year-old father from north London, committed suicide after his disability social security was removed in September 2013.

The decision to terminate his social security had been challenged by three doctors, who stressed that O’Sullivan had suffered from depression, and was consequently signed off of work by his GP.

This is thought to be the first time that a coroner has unequivocally blamed the Conservative’s welfare reforms for someone’s death.

In August, the DWP was brought into disrepute after releasing the ‘Morality Statistics’ report , which uncovered the figures on social security claimants who had died.

The figures revealed that, between 2011 and 2014, 90 people per month died after being declared ‘fit to work’ after undergoing the government’s work capability assessment.

Despite the overall death rates of social security claimants dropping, the pattern of decline does not follow that of the general population, which dropped at a much faster rate.

Despite the findings, Conservative ministers insist that there is no causal link between the mortality statistics and welfare reforms.

However, it has now emerged that senior coroner Mary Hassell ruled that in the case of O’Sullivan, the anxiety caused by the work capability assessment and its findings were the direct reason for his death.

Hassell wrote to the department for work and pensions (DWP) stating that she foresaw an escalating risk of similar deaths in future, and demanded that preventative action be taken.

At the inquest following O’Sullivan’s death, Hassell stated: “[His] anxiety and depression were long-term problems but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the [DWP] as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that.”

“I found that the trigger for Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide was his recent assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work… In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”

Hassell stated that O’Sullivan was never asked about suicide, despite alerting the authorities to it in a DWP questionnaire when seeking employment and support allowance, for those who are unable to work because of a disability or a long-term illness.

The DWP’s 16-page response to the coroner stated: “With such large numbers of people involved there will inevitably be instances where processes are not conducted in line with stated policy.”

The department further claimed that improvements have been made. A spokesperson was quoted in the Independent stating: “Following reforms to the WCA… people are getting more tailored support to return to work.”

Picture courtesy of Cabinet Office