Frances Ryan, The Guardian:
If the government would care for an insight into what its “safety net” has become, it could do worse than looking at the case of Nick Gaskin.
Gaskin, who has primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), cannot walk, feed himself or talk but, last month, received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) informing him he should attend an interview about “the possibility” of getting a job.
People who have such severe disabilities they are unable to work are – by definition of being put in the support group of employment and support allowance (ESA) – not required to attend mandatory meetings. As Gaskin can only communicate through blinking, it was his wife, Tracy, who called the jobcentre in Loughborough to explain this. The DWP now says it will apologise over the “misunderstanding”. But not before Tracy was told that if her husband did not attend the interview his benefits would be stopped. [Had the crisis occurred earlier, in the midst of Tracy’s cancer therapy, it’s likely Nick Gaskin would have lost his benefits, endangering both him and Tracy.]
Currently, Iain Duncan Smith is embroiled in a row over burying figures that show how many people have died within six weeks of their benefits being stopped…. It gives an insight into Duncan Smith’s thinking that when confronted on the issue in the House of Commons, it was the campaign to disclose the statistics – rather than the deaths themselves – that he called “disgraceful”.
I have written about some of the people who fell past the edge. Malcolm Burge, the retired gardener who had his housing benefit cut by 50% and drove to Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and set his car on fire. David Clapson, the diabetic jobseeker who had his benefits sanctioned and was found with no food in his stomach and CVs next to his body.
Here, helpless people shoved off of the SSI or Food Stamp/SNAP rolls die silently, invisible to our media. At least in the U.K., one newspaper mentions them.
Sure, there are cheaters on the rolls here. Partly that’s because the benefits that they provide are nopt enough to actually live on, so people supplement them with money made from hustling or by claiming more than they are entitled to. But, sure, there are some real out-and-out fraudsters. So… how many helpless people are we willing to kill in order to punish the undeserving?
The answer is that we don’t know and, with our current media, never will.