Sick and disabled people in Britain who are losing hope that they will receive justice from the Department for Work and Pensions’ ‘work capability assessment’ regime can take heart from the Greek example.
The allegation is that the assessment system for people claiming sickness and disability benefits is hugely biased, depriving claimants of the wherewithal – not just to stay above the poverty line, but to continue surviving.
The loss of benefits inflicted by the draconian regime increases emotional and physical stress until it becomes too much to bear, and claimants have suffered downturns in their physical and mental health, leading to their deaths – either due to the condition that a refusal from the DWP means they don’t have, or suicide.
This is all-too-familiar to educational psychologist Olga Yeritsidou. She tried to take the Greek government to the International Criminal Court back in April. The attempt was turned down by the court, but she is now working on a wealth of information, in order to win an appeal.
“The suicide rate has skyrocketed. And a lot of our young people are obliged to migrate to other countries, with only the elderly staying here. But they too are dying because they don’t have medication.”
The interviewer challenged her by saying genocide involves intent, so she would have to prove that the Greek government knew the consequences of austerity and intended them, but her daughter Tanya responded: “You must show that not only did they know of the consequences but they were willing to have the consequences… We can prove they knew the extent, they knew the severity and not only were they completely fine with it, but they actively opposed all other solutions.”
This should seem familiar to you.
We live in a nation where more sick and disabled people die every six weeks, due to complications arising from the loss of benefits, than have died on active service in Afghanistan since the Army moved into that country in 2002. Government figures show an average of 73 deaths per week – many due to suicide.
Greek authority figures said it was simplistic to blame deaths there on austerity, rather than seeing them as the result of decades of economic mismanagement. In the UK, we don’t have that problem. Our economy has not been mismanaged (the debt was created because the government bailed out the banks, to stop them from collapsing; it is the banks that were badly managed) and I hope I have started to show (in my series of articles about the economy) that austerity – cutting public spending including welfare benefits – is not the only, or even a desirable, way to climb out of this nation’s debt hole.
But we know from the government’s own figures that it is aware of more than 10,000 deaths of people who used to be on Incapacity Benefit, during or following their participation in the work capability assessment programme, run by Atos on behalf of the Coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.
And we know that Iain Duncan Smith has resisted – vigorously – all attempts to persuade him that his programme of cuts – essentially a pogrom against the disabled – should be modified, making these deaths less likely. Indeed, he explicitly refused to be moved from his post in last October’s cabinet reshuffle, in order to continue overseeing his plan.