May 122011

We are publishing this letter exceptionally in conjunction with this week’s protest against the poverty pimps to show an example of the impact of benefit cuts and assessments such as those of Atos could have on disabled people and their families – the added anxiety, stress and anguish . We have been given permission to publish this anonymously.

Dear Eleanor Lisney,

RE: Disabled people against cuts.

I am writing in support of your campaign against government cuts to disability.

After reading the article in the Guardian 9th May “Job centre staff get guide on handling suicide threats” I really felt I needed to get in touch and tell you about the experiences we have had with the Job Centre.

My family has a history of mental health problems, I have a sister who suffers from psychosis and bipolar and I have spent the last ten years trying to help her. Until recently no one in our family was aware that another sister had also developed this awful condition.

My younger sister’s illness developed quickly and over the year she had gone from being a bright 32 year old professional to a withdrawn and paranoid, scared person. She had moved house during this time and had also lost her job. During this time we could not find out where she lived. When she did contact by email asking for help, we were shocked to find that she had no electricity in her flat, and had been surviving on Weetabix and water for 6 months because she had been refused benefits.

It was very obvious from her condition that she was very ill and hadn’t eaten for many weeks.  We later learnt that her self-imposed seclusion was because she had felt that everyone was conspiring to have a committed to a mental institute. We learnt that she had attended the job centre on a number of occasions asking for help and had also asked her doctor for a sick note but was refused. In her desperation she became frantic, the doctor then phoned the police and said she would commit her under the mental health act.  She was held for a night in a prison cell because of an argument over a sick note. The doctor was fully aware that she was mentally ill but had refused to provide a sick note to her! But instead was using the law to section her under the mental health act, why?  My sister is generally a very shy and sensitive person and because of this experience she became extremely paranoid, it was so severe she never went out after this.

During all this time, no one from the family was told about her condition and when we found her she was severely paranoid and very scared to open her door to us. She phoned the police to say that she didn’t want us to visit her and the police sent us away with a caution. This was heart breaking for us since we could see she needed urgent help. Nothing can describe the feeling of being told that by law you are not allowed to help someone if they did not wish it.  Even though, I am sure the police were fully aware of her record and could see that she was very vulnerable because her flat was mouldy and flooded and she had a burst pipe that she couldn’t afford to fix and she was painfully thin.

I believe that the doctor in charge of her care was negligent because she did not provide her with a sick note, even though she thought her sick enough to be committed to a prison cell under the mental health act. If the doctor had looked into the family medical records they would have seen that we have a history of mental illness in the family. Additionally, the doctor did not contact anyone in her family or help her with her condition by providing her with a sick note. Her illness was being exasperated by the fact that she had no food and electricity at home and that she was being dealt with very insensitively by the job centre. It is very sad that up until her death, my sister felt hounded and traumatized by the fact that she was imprisoned. She was afraid that it would happen again, so she hid her illness very well from others and very rarely ventured outside her home. She only attended the job centre when she was over her mania, which was cyclical and without a sick note no-one at the job centre would believe she was ill enough not to work.

With a little more time we managed to get her to see another doctor, she was prescribed anti psychotic drugs but she still had no income and was going to lose her home. My sister is very independent and strong willed. She was up until her illness a very successful programmer and had always earned her own way through life. The loss of her job brought on by her illness was not something she would admit too easily, and the shock of being imprisoned was something she never got over.

In September 2010 we received a phone call from the foreign office in Portugal telling us that our little sister had committed suicide. She had boarded a flight the day before for Oporto with the intention of ending her life. She tried to take an overdose and then jumped from the hotel balcony. She was alone when she died and no one from the family had been able to reach her.

I have always thought that the UK system of welfare was a lifeline that the neediest were able to access easily. But with our experience we found that the cold and bureaucratic way that people are now being dealt with is really too cruel especially for those suffering from mental breakdown.  Knowing whether someone has a mental condition cannot be easily judged from a job centre application form or within a few days of a claim.  The immediate stance taken by the job centre is that anyone applying for welfare through sickness is obviously lying. Mental illness takes months to diagnose, this is not taken into account by the job centre.

After her funeral, we were left to tidy her affairs and give her belongings to charity (as per her wishes written in a suicide note).  It was very heart breaking that the very same day of learning of her death; she had a letter arrive claiming that her appeal for benefits had been accepted. It is sad no see how far the UK government want to push people in order to cut costs. The compassion has left the welfare system and we are left with a very harsh ‘conservative’ system.

Thank you for highlighting the case of many people who are going to be side lined because of the new government measures.

I would hate for anyone else to have to go through what we have been put through over the last few months.


[suffusion-the-author display='description']

  27 Responses to “Cuts Kill: the story of a sister driven to suicide”

  1. Can anyone tell me the name of this sister?

    I am creating an animated tribute to commemorate those we have lost to the cruelty of the benefits system, including those who were harassed to the point of suicide or those who were declared fit for work despite being very ill.

    I don’t mean to cause upset, I just want everyone remember by name not by number,


  2. My heart goes out to your whole family dealing with this tragic event and I pray that your sister is never forgotten by the people in this country as we must all remember what this callous system is doing to the weakest in our communities the DWP is now like Hitlers SS with their ATOS henchmen.And as for that Doctor I feel he should be struck off as he has no compassion for the sick what has happened to our Country when the SICK DISABLED are hounded by their own Governments where is their HUMANITY May your sister now R.I.P. away from this cruel uncaring system may god take care of her.

  3. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail.

    I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  4. I’m so deeply sorry about your sister, I weep for her and you.
    The personal IS the political

  5. Hi, just read this and feel so sorry for people in such despair that only option is to end their life. I do not know how the statistics can be made more personal as I am not sure where to get this info and if families want this info made public. This Gov see poorer people as a number, a burden and are heartless to their plight. We need to expose their hypocricy as they claim to care. Can we do personalized list for 2011.

  6. This is a terrible tragedy which should never have happened in a civilised society. Society depends on people helping each other and the system which was put in place to prevent such tragedies is being seriously undermined by the government who are putting corporate greed before services. They would rather spend money on inflating the profits of private companies, e.g., Atos, whilst causing hardship and suffering to people whose circumstances are beyond their own control. The DWP has become extremely ruthless.
    Anyone who facilitates suffering to others is truly evil. These people who do (or support) the governments dirty work, and in doing so demonstrate a complete lack of empathy, are clearly not humane.

    At least the poor young woman will not suffer anymore. R.I.P. She really has gone to a far better place.

  7. Cry me a river.

    • Heartless cold people like you are ruining this country. Unfortunately, it is people like you that do well in this system and make the rules.

  8. I used to think so too, not easily but not as horrifically…was thinking of how my first medical in 2009 was completely different to the one in June last year. The first medical on ESA was actually fair and not an assessor being ignorant and facing the computer, he was human, spoke to me as a human and had a form to fill in which I was given a copy of (I think sent automatically afterwards cant remember now), no lies, no ignoring pain and trembling, no false statements…I was shocked when it was so obviously just abuse in June 10, didn’t take long to get a whole lot worse…I won my tribunal 7 weeks ago. I am waiting to be reinstated (which along side tribunals is getting to take longer as time goes on and more people win costly tribunals) and then the process starts again and I suspect I will be another 9-12 months waiting for the tribunal to prove I need the help I will have taken away again…by then it may take as long to be reinstated, unless enough of us have died or committed suicide under all the stress…

  9. Normal Brit – what? Seriously….what?

    The reason the doctor did not give a sick note is because last year GPs were told to cut down on sick notes (the “fit note”) in order to cut costs of people signed off for work. In short it is a cost-cutting measure to apparently keep people working.

    The changes are NOT still “just being debated”; changes are happening now long before it has even gone to Parliament. My council has already cut care plans, and accepts no new care plans unless your situation is “critical” i.e., you’d die if you weren’t put into care immediately. People with night care are being given incontinence pads (even if they’re not incontinent) as their evening care is being cut. My son’s transportation to school was to be cut and it was only with the intervention of my MP and the school itself that he escaped the cuts.

    The family wrote the letter and asked it to be published – I doubt that’s “exploitation”; it’s just trying to make oneself be heard.

    • Just a quick note of clarification, the sister wrote a letter to Eleanor and DPAC asked for permission for the letter to be published anonymously, which was kindly granted. The family did not asked for the letter to be published.

  10. The cuts are not about to happen, they’re not being debated, they’re not at all merely conditional on what happens…

    They are actually HAPPENING. Right now, day by day, bit by bit.

    The charity that helped me get benefits has been so hardly hit by the cuts in Scotland, they now no longer offer help to anyone in claiming benefits. That service one of many completely obliterated off the map.

    The private services that have been holding the strain on the NHS at bay for years are having their funding cut, bit by bit by bit, and government-funded Social Care is also being hit hard by cuts – people who have been cared for by the government for years are having their care either cut back on or terminated.

    The system right now is bad. The system right now is painful. The system right now denied me benefits for a *year* while they bickered over if I really needed it (despite the team of professionals telling them I did!) and I went further under the poverty line and my hard-working parents faced more and more debt trying to help me.

    Do you honestly think cutting BILLIONS out of the system is going to help this one little bit? They’ve recently sent out guidelines around JobCentres detailing what to do if someone threatens to commit suicide – does that not tell EXACTLY how bad things are getting and how bad they are expected to get?

    Disabled people are not just facing the loss of a couple of pounds a week. They are HAVING the services that keep them independent cut as the government squabble about how much or how little they will have to fund these services themselves.

    Clicking your tongue at how a family are opening up their pain to us all to point out to us all why this is a bad idea is not helpful at all. What if she’d been able to access one of the services helping people every day claim benefits, services now being cut away? What if she’d been able to access an advocacy service that would have spoken up about her plight to the doctors? What if she’d been able to access a free, non-NHS counselling service that would have filled the gap between applying for therapy and actually getting it? What if she’d been able to get a Carer in once a day to make sure she’d eaten something proper and make sure her medication had been taken? THESE are the services already full to bursting that are ACTUALLY HAVING, here and now, the money they have to provide these services whittled away.

    Why do you feel the need to turn pain to guilt? Who are you to say this story isn’t important?

  11. Apologies for the typos in my previous message. “It must have taken a lot for the family letter to write in.” I meant, “It must have taken a lot for the family member to write in.”


  12. This is an appalling story – it must have taken a lot for the family letter to write in. There will be many more cases like this, I fear as we are starting to see.

    Actually, Normal Brit, you are quite wrong if you believe it has nothing to do with cuts and that they haven’t happened yet – they have.
    NHS trusts across the country have announced stark cuts to front line staff and I know of many, many mental health services which have been closed due to the expense because of these cuts. We are already seeing stories like this and many of us have our own personal stories to tell from DLA, IB, ESA and mental health services.

    Benefit refusals are happening now more than ever, disabled people have become demonised and there is simply very little help and support for the most vulnerable like this poor woman.

    The job centre has a lot to answer for, but no one is putting the funding or the money in to train the staff in dealing with such situations – indeed, as the writer says, they assume anyone sick is lying and therefore have their JSA refused.

    It’s a disgusting and very frightening state of affairs and this is something that is going to get worse and worse and worse.

    This is why organisations like DPAC are fighting, this is why disabled people are fighting, this is why people are up in arms.
    Please don’t accuse DPAC of exploiting this girl’s death – they are not. It is so important people are made aware of these stories, because if we don’t, people won’t know what is going on, people NEED to know.

    What would happen if we stopped talking about these stories in the open? What would happen if we stopped debating things that matter? I shudder to think.

  13. @Normal Brit,

    Sadly you are representative of many Brits who feel they are “normal” and know everything. You are totally wrong. Benefit changes have already started. ESA (instead of Incapacity Benefit) was introduced in 2008 for new claimants. The extension of the corrupt new medical test from ATOS was rolled out to existing claimants from the end of March 2011.

    How dare you add to the distress of this family by claiming that you know better than they, when you clearly do not.

    The debate in Parliament is about the Welfare Reform Bill which is about abolishing DLA – a completely different benefit. Please find out what you are talking about before you spout your ignorance, gleaned from the distorted media, at people who are really suffering under the changes to ESA. The regulations making this assessment for work test even harsher than it already was came into law on 28.3.11.

    If such things are not down to the new system, then ask yourself why has the DWP just had to issue guidelines to Jobcentre and DWP phone staff on how to deal with suicidal claimants?

    Are you such a committed Tory press reader that you think a family would exploit something like this for political reasons. Others have already died, either from suicide or from their illnessess after being found “fit for work”.

    You should use your time to challenge why the government is paying a corrupt company half a billion pounds to perform computerised assessments on sick and disabled people, ignoring medical evidence, and then expecting the taxpayer to pay the cost of Tribunals to put the decision right. The back log of appeals is already running at one year in many places, BEFORE the roll out of retesting existing claimants. If you want to complain about negligent doctors, then check out ATOS, they are employing thousands and paying a nice government bonus to everyone they refuse ESA.

    Stories like this will become increasingly common until “normal brits” like you stop being brainwashed and wake up to what is really happening to the sick and disabled of this country.

    Over 5000 disabled people took to the streets on Wednsday 11th May under the “Hardest Hit” Campaign and “marched” on Parliament. Do you think the biggest disabled protest in history was not because people are terrified?

    It is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are a fool than open it and prove that you are.

  14. This is a very tragic story and my heart goes out to the family.

    But I do not see what it has to do with government cuts. The system clearly failed this poor girl and she was badly let down. But a negligent doctor is not about cuts. And changes to the welfare and benefits system have not yet taken place – they are still being debated in parliament. Everything that happened to this poor girl happened under the existing system.

    Please do not exploit this poor girl’s death for political reasons.

    • You smug Git, if you are a “Normal Brit” I’m ashamed to call myself British, didn’t you read the letter, how the poor woman was treated by the job center and this is not uncommon with regard to mental illness, I myself once ended up homeless in a similar situation and under the new system it WILL get WORSE.

      My condolences go out to the family and anger to those that allowed this, this letter has made me cry and I am not ashamed of that.

      • After Atos, don’t take note of those types of comments. Some of them are probably employed to sit all day and contradict the truth of what’s going on.

      • I agree with you. This story made me cry. I can so relate to it. I have lupus fibromyalgia and CRPS. Plus asthma hypothyroid Psoriosis and depression. I can barely walk and am in constant pain. My 2 young children have to care for me. I try to be as independent as possible but sometimes I just cannot. ATOS came out to me and the Dr told blatant lies. He said my children are not carers – because one was on the pc because my mum was here to help me so he was having timeout plus the fact my kids are actually registered carers. He said I walked unaided yet I walked with a crutch and nearly fell as was in lots of pain. And my youngest helped. He said because I scratched my head I had no problems in my upper part of my body and the best bit is because I was intelligent then I couldn’t possibly be ill. I wrote saying I didn’t know I wassitting a GCSE and does it mean I have to be thick to be sick? Oh he also said I was very polite and said nxt to this no depression. Ohthe lupus has causes White spots on my brain causing me to forget where I am or who i am and he said because I’m polite and intelligent there is no injury yet I’ve got MRI scans showing it!!! So it is happening now and it’s getting heart goes out to the family.

      • Actually, the changes were taking place while the government were discussing them.

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