The economic depression could be to blame for over 1,000 suicides in England, according to the British Medical Journal. With predictions the recession- which has lasted four years already – could drag on for another decade and include an unprecedented triple dip how many more lives will end prematurely before the UK recovers?
It is heartbreaking to read about the casualties of the Coalition Government’s blind faith in ‘Plan A’, when an increasing number of economists – and even the International Monetary Fund – are warning that curbing public spending may actually be making the deficit larger, not smaller. Economists Victoria Chick and Ann Pettifor found that when public expenditure went down public debt actually went up. They noted: “The evidence runs exactly counter to conventional thinking. Fiscal consolidations have not improved the public finances.”
Their conclusions challenge the very basis of the austerity consensus, swallowed by all three major parties, that we need to cut deep into the public sector to pave the way for a recovery. A consensus that is seemingly unmoved by increasing evidence that we should instead be spending our way out of recession.
The housewives’ purse theory, first popularised by Margaret Thatcher, that as a country we must live within our means, does not so simply apply to national economics and has certainly never applied to the venture capitalists who bankroll the Conservatives, but is rather an easily-sold pretext for a good old Reaganomic restructuring of the economy that drives wages down, makes labour fearful and desperate, and increases profits for big business.
As workers are laid off the Samaritans have reported a doubling of calls related to the financial crisis. The BMJ report highlights the tragic consequences of this strategy; the suicides of 846 men and 155 women between 2008 and 2010 due to the recession / depression. The authors calculated the number of excess suicides attributable to the financial crisis by looking at the total number which were over and above historical trends.Unsurprisingly the UK regions experiencing the greatest rises in unemployment have seen the largest increase in suicides. You can read the full report here.
The Chick and Pettifor report, called The Economic Consequences of Mr Osborne, mean that those 1,000 lives have been lost as a result of a strategy that is clearly failing to achieve it’s aims while the Chancellor sticks firmly to the line that there is no Plan B. On current trends number of suicides throughout 2011 and 2012 may also be approaching four figures. It is also worth considering that the ‘norm’, which the BMJ have used as their baseline almost certainly includes other victims of the economy as each recession leaves a legacy of damaged long-term unemployed and mentally ill people who kill themselves during the good years.
All the evidence points to the fact that suicides rocket during a recession, and the current slump which began in 2008 is much closer to a depression than any other since the 1930’s. I am grateful to my Liberal Left colleague Ed Randall for producing the graph (above right), which shows that Britain’s ‘recovery’ has been slower than any other and while not quite as deep as the 30’s is much longer lasting. If new predictions by the economists are to be believed the UK is only a third of the way through a 15 year slump unless something changes.
Plenty of time for more tragic stories like that of Helen and Mark Mullins, driven to a suicide pact in November 2011 by grinding poverty and an uncaring Department for Work and Pensions. Surviving on £57.50 per week they were forced to make a 12-mile round trip on foot to get vegetables from a soup kitchen in Coventry. With no money to heat their home and dreading another cold and hungry winter they called it a day and were found lying side by side in their home.
It is a situation made worse by fitness to work assessments carried out by ATOS. There have been a number of cases of people who had received incapacity benefits who had died, of natural and unnatural causes, after being deemed fit to work or by severe anxiety caused by an impending assessment.
The charity Mind revealed that between April and October 2011 that almost half the people (37,100) who appealed against being judged fit for work had those decisions overturned. Sonia Poulton, in the Daily Mail in March this year wrote:
And that’s only the financial cost. What about the human cost of it? Where already vulnerable people are systematically broken down. Some never to recover.
Stephen Hill, 53, needed heart bypass surgery but was told he was fit to work and would be withdrawn from Incapacity Benefit in November 2011. This despite him winning a previous appeal against an assessment.
One month later, Boxing Day to be precise, and Stephen was dead from a heart attack.
His brother Anthony said: “The worry put so much pressure on him.”
It is certain to get worse, for despite the ATOS assessments being repeatedly proven to be wrong, ministers are preparing to restrict legal aid for those seeking to overturn unjust decisions.
So what we have is a system that is recognised as faulty, and we intend to remove the legal means by which to challenge its numerous errors. This comes in addition to the intended removal of benefits during the period of the appeal.
The message from Cameron and Clegg’s Coalition to disabled and sick people is clear. Accept what we say, or we will make life a (barely) living hell. And for some people that has proven too dire a prospect to contemplate.
What Cameron and Clegg should also dwell on is the increasing number of studies that cast serious doubt on the very foundations of their economic plan which has dictated that billions need to be saved from welfare and has led to these terrible ATOS assessments.
Larry Elliott, economics editor for The Guardian, wrote recently that Britain could be about to lose its’ triple-A credit rating if the economy slides into a triple-dip recession, as is likely. This undermines a central plank of Osborne’s ‘Plan A’ and means that unless the Government change course they will cut even deeper into the public sector to keep on track with lowering the deficit, leading to higher unemployment and prolonging the slump even further.
It’s a vicious spiral, and is most vicious for those at the sharp end who are clearly not in it together with the Chancellor. People like Vicky Harrison, 21, who killed herself in April 2010 after being rejected for 200 jobs despite 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs.
People like Paul Reekie, one of Scotland’s best known poets, who was driven to suicide in May after his housing and incapacity benefits were stopped. People like Christelle Pardo and her five-month unborn baby who leapt to her death from a Hackney tower block. Her Job Seekers Allowance and housing benefit was withdrawn because she was considered unable to work due to her pregnancy and her claim for income support was turned down because she had not been in continuous employment in the UK for the previous five years.
Not just a tragic waste of life, but also utterly unnecessary. The IMF World Economic Outlook published in October suggested that far from continuing with austerity, Britain’s economy could be stimulated with new public spending. Indeed they estimated that for every £1 invested by Government, £2 would be generated for the economy.
Conversely, for every pound cut from the public services the economy suffers doubly. In other words, the Plan A of fiscal retrenchment is self-defeating in an already depressed economy, as Ed Randall argues.
While companies like Starbucks are allowed to avoid their taxes and millionaires pour their wealth into offshore companies ordinary people are caught between a rock and a hard place and many cannot bear living anymore.
A handful make the local news but most don’t. For every Richard Sanderson, a dad-of-four from Wimbledon who stabbed himself in the heart after a housing benefit cut, there are many more like him. Some benefit claimants make a splash, like the man who set himself alight in a Birmingham jobcentre, but most suffer silently, and a few die quietly and anonymously.
The forgotten victims of the Government’s misguided war on the deficit. A war that is going nowhere fast as many thousands sink into despair and hopelessness, and some regrettably take the ultimate way out.
Welfare kills, job losses kill. And ministers who refuse to heed the calls for a change in economic strategy bear much responsibility for this shockingly large loss of life which is continuing on an almost daily basis. It rarely makes the headlines but is one of the greatest scandals of modern times.
The scandal of the 1,000 – perhaps 2,000 by now – victims of the economic depression, and the scandal of the economic strategy that is actually taking us backwards.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway