For the first time, a coroner has concluded that a man with severe mental illness committed suicide as a direct result of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) declaring him fit to work.
Michael O’Sullivan, a 60 year old father form North London, hanged himself after his disability benefits were removed despite the opinion of three doctors and his GP who indicated that he was not fit to work due to his recurrent depression.
It is believed to be the first time that a coroner has directly blamed a death on welfare reforms. Mr O’Sullivan, who had a long history of debilitating mental illness, including fear of being outdoors, died in 2013 but the case has only now come to light after it was revealed by the Disability News Service.
Figures released last month by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that nearly 90 people died every month between 2011 and 2014 after they had been declared fit for employment after undergoing a work capability assessment (WCA).
Government ministers have so far insisted that the statistics provided indicate no link to the governments welfare reforms. However, the coroner ruled that the WCA and the anxiety caused by this were the direct cause of Michael O’Sullivan’s death.
Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner north London, wrote to the DWP warning that she believed there was a risk of similar deaths in future and demanding preventative action.
In a formal finding following Mr O’Sullivan’s inquest in January last year, Ms Hassell said: “[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.”
In September 2014, leaked documents showed that Iain Duncan Smith was looking at “how to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim benefits.” Certainly we are now witnessing the results of the welfare reforms implemented by Duncan Smith and the Conservative party.