Posts Tagged ‘‘A Malignant Sadness’’

The Continuing Scandal of the DWP Asking the Depressed Why They Haven’t Committed Suicide

March 18, 2017

Mike this week put up a piece reporting and commenting on the admission by Maximus that they do indeed ask depressed people questions about suicide as part of the Work Capability Assessment. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/11/dwp-contractor-admits-routinely-asking-sickness-benefit-claimants-dangerous-questions-about-suicide/There are several questions. The first questions simply ask them if they have had thoughts about suicide, and the frequency and severity of these thoughts. These are, in my view, reasonable questions. Or rather, it would be if it were part of a genuine medical examination as part of a real programme to make that person well again. Depression isn’t a case of being ‘a bit down’. It is, as the British medical scientist, writer and Humanist, Lewis Wolpert described it in the title of his book, ‘A Malignant Sadness’. Clearly, if someone does have thoughts about suicide, they are extremely unwell and desperately need help.

The other questions, however, is unwarranted and frankly dangerous. The depressed person is then asked

“And what is it that stops you from acting on the thoughts that you have?

“Can you think of any reason that you’re not doing that? Is it friends or family support?”

Now it should be clear to anyone with the most meagre level of intelligence that asking people, who are already mentally fragile and have admitted they think of doing themselves injury or actually killing themselves, why they haven’t done so is extremely dangerous. My guess is that the way it is phrased in particular makes the question seriously unethical, as it seems to assume that the depressed person is not seriously troubled by these thoughts unless he or she has tried to act them out.

I don’t know, but I can imagine that if a social scientist or medical professional doing research amongst the clinically depressed asked the question, they could be hauled up before their relevant bodies overseeing professional standards for ethics violations or misconduct. As part of their training, social scientists are told not to phrase questions in the form of ‘You’re not…are you?’ And the Hippocratic Oath, a form of which doctors were required to take until recently, contained the provision ‘And I shall do no harm.’ These questions seem close enough to the first question, at least in spirit, to make them also unethical, while violating that provision of the ancient doctor’s Oath in that they could seem to some to be suggesting that they should.

The Work Capability Test itself is a scientific travesty. It is based on spurious and scientifically invalid research supposedly linking recovery to illness to mental attitude. The whole wretched test was introduced by Blair and his coteries on the recommendation of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, in a conference in the first years of this century. It is based on the attitude, shared by the Blairites and the Tories, that nearly everyone claiming invalidity or sickness benefit is a malingerer, despite the fact that such fraud only counts for 0.7 per cent of such claims.

The question also shows the immense double standards about health that persists between us and our rulers. It’s assumed that asking a severely ill person why they haven’t harmed themselves or committed suicide is acceptable. But heaven help anyone, who asked the same question of a captain of industry or leading politician why they haven’t tried to commit suicide, and you can imagine the feeding frenzy from an outraged press.

For example, the Blairite contender for the Labour leadership and flagrant liar, Angela Eagle, was asked by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics about Tony Blair and whether the vile warmonger should face trial for leading Britain into an illegal war. Tellingly, she said no, as ‘Tony’s been through the wringer’. Thus showing that she cared more for the Dear Leader’s anguish than for the real horror he has inflicted on hundreds of thousands, of not millions of innocent people, who have been killed, tortured and forced out of their homes through the carnage he and that other malignant creature, George Dubya Bush, have created through their war. I don’t know what Neil’s response was, but can you imagine the outrage that would have resulted if Neil had said, ‘Well, he can’t be going through too much trouble, ’cause he’s still walking’.

Or if one of the other interviewers asked the same question of one of the Tories, like Theresa May, David Cameron, or the people directly responsible for the question: Ian Duncan Smith and Damian Green. There would have been fury directed at the ‘left-wing’ BBC. How dare they suggest that a minister of the realm isn’t doing his job if he hasn’t committed suicide for his failures! Or even the suggestion that they have failed in their job, which the Tories have, spectacularly.

But if it is acceptable to ask a gravely disturbed person why they haven’t acted out their desires to harm themselves, then by the same standard it should be acceptable to ask the same questions of anyone, including and particularly the ministers that have formulated that question.

Now I am not suggesting that Blair, May, Cameron, aIDS or Damian Green should be asked these questions, or otherwise be told to kill themselves, for precisely the same reason I don’t think anyone should be asked these questions. I am merely trying to point out the double standards involved here.

Now I imagine that if they were asked about this question, Damian Green or his predecessor, the Gentleman Ranker (and a right ranker he truly was) would say, in their inimitably patronising manner, that they are only trying to gauge the severity of the illness. This is rubbish. The whole test is structured so that the government can find some pretext to deny paying the ill person disability benefit on the grounds that they’re still somehow fit for work.

And Mike and many other bloggers and disability activists also see something much more sinister here. Many tens of thousands of people have committed suicide, or died in poverty and misery after being thrown off benefit, although the DWP continues to deny it. See Stilloaks website and the blog, ATOS Miracles, for further coverage of this and the biographies and individual cases of some of the victims. For Mike and people like Jeff Davies, one of the long term commenters on my blog this is evidence of a covert, secret genocide of the disabled. The government wants them dead, because that way they don’t have to pay out to support them. They can continue lowering the taxes of their rich donors.

This is how it’s beginning to look to very many of us, whether we’re disabled or fit. The presenters of the Channel 4 comedy review show, The Last Leg, even said so themselves. There should be mass outrage about these questions and the test itself. That there isn’t is a major disgrace in itself.

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Unemployment and Health in the 1980s

March 15, 2016

Earlier this morning I put up a piece urging people to look at an article on Mike’s blog, over at Vox Political, in which he discusses composing and sending in a form letter from claimants with depression. This, he argues, would make the connection between benefit sanctions and increased rates of depression and anxiety irrefutable. Despite numerous protests and warning from disability and mental health groups, and the medical profession, Ian Duncan Smith still refuses to accept that his wretched welfare reforms are pushing people into suicide and depression. As I said, he has no arguments against this. When pressed, he simply blusters about his beliefs, or goes into a huge rant about how no-one else is doing anything to solve the problem of long-term unemployment. He did this when he appeared on an edition of Question Time with Owen Jones, when the author of the classic book on the demonization of the working class took the bald brute to task for his callous and destructive policies. A foam-flecked angry rant followed.

Psychologists have presented statistics showing that over a quarter of a million benefit claimants have been pushed into depression and anxiety because of the DWP’s sanctions regime. 590 have died in poverty, of neglect, starvation and horrifically by their own hand. This on its own should be sufficient proof that IDS’ policies aren’t working. But it isn’t. Hence the need, so Mike argues, for the form letter.

In support of Mike’s argument, I quoted a piece from Eric Hopkins’ social history, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes 1918-1990. He notes that in the depression of the 1930s, two unemployed men committed suicide every day. Later in the book he discusses the depression of the 1980s. He states that ‘How far real depression was suffered is impossible to quantify, and would depend on individual circumstances’. He also states that

(U)nemployment in itself does not appear to have contributed much to sickness rates. The Economist Intelligence Unit 1972 survey found that the unemployed were no more likely than the employed to visit the doctor, though slightly more on average were liable to have a long-standing illness; and there were higher rates of chronic sickness among manual workers who (as we have seen) were more subject to unemployment than skilled workers. (P. 20).

However, the Economist Intelligence Unit published some statistics in 1982 that shows that people’s self-respect and mental health were being damaged by unemployment.

About a fifth of those interviewed (19 per cent) confessed to being miserable or unhappy since losing their jobs; 17 per cent to being restless and bad-tempered, 15 per cent to being less patient and tolerant, and 13 per cent to being easily upset or snappy. Interviewees often mentioned becoming more aggressive, emotional and ashamed. As for material disadvantage, 13 per cent said they had been affected very badly, and 24 per cent that they were affected ‘fairly badly’; 32 per cent said they had not been affected at all (presumably they had been on low wages). Answers on this topic varies according to length of unemployment; of the long-term unemployed, 20 per cent said they had been badly affected, and 30 per cent affected ‘fairly badly’. (P. 218).

My guess is that if IDS is basing his denials on anything other than simple belief, it’s the statistics from the 1980s, as these would seem to confirm his own prejudices that no-one was being harmed by unemployment. Like most of the Tories, he believes that the unemployed are simply idle and workshy, and need to have a good dose of poverty in order to force them to get a job or work harder.

The problem for using the stats from the 1980s in this way is that conditions are now rather different. Those statistics come from a time when there were either no, or a much less rigorous system of benefit sanctions. The conditions unemployment benefit could be received was being cut. For example, I can remember that one of the conditions Maggie scrapped was unemployment provision for those going on holiday. However, it wasn’t quite like the absolute denial of income there is now, although there were certainly justifiable fears at the time that this would be the final result. And undoubtedly, many people were suffering genuine poverty.

The Gentleman Ranker is also basing his claim on discredited arguments about the existence of a dependency culture, largely coming from the American Republicans. When I found a booklet published by his moronic Social Justice Centre a few months in a second hand book shop, many of the arguments seemed to be based on experience in America. The blurb on the back declared that when benefits had been cut in America, welfare dependence had fallen in some cases by 40 per cent. That’s entirely possible, of course. It doesn’t, however, tell you whether those people then got a job, or if they just starved to death or subsisted on scraps from friends and relatives. And IDS can’t tell you either. All he does is rant about how it’s ‘what he believes’. Well, Smith can also believe that the Earth is flat, and Maggie was a titan of political insight and acumen, but that doesn’t make them true either.

The overwhelming evidence is that benefit sanctions are pushing the unemployed and disabled into anxiety and the ‘malignant sadness’, as the scientist Lewis Wolpert described depression in the title of his book on it. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the statistics from the Economist Intelligence Unit on the way unemployment was affecting people’s minds and moods. But the evidence of statistics and medical professionals is, apparently, not enough to sway the mind of Ian Duncan Smith. This says all you need to know about the rationality of this government, and Smith’s own glaring unfitness for office.