Trigger warning: I graphically describe Acute Suicidal Mania in this blog post (Acute Suicidal Mania is “one of the most severe medical conditions where one has the elevated mood to kill oneself with depression or delusions”). It’s not easy to discuss these things so publicly, but I want people to know what they did to me, and thousands of others. Please don’t read on if you are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts at the moment.
I have been watching the Tory Party conference this week with interest, and would just like to take this opportunity to thank the Tories from the bottom of my heart.
I’d like to thank you David Cameron, George Osbourne, Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud, Esther Mcvey, and Maria Miller, as 8 years before your party got elected the anxiety based depression I have had since childhood became so bad I had a nervous breakdown and could no longer work. My doctors and the doctor employed by the DWP accepted this and the benefit system supported me.
It’s not an illness I’ve ever recovered from fully so it supported me for a long time. I was able to cope with day to day living and put the thoughts of suicide that haunt me daily to the back of my mind (usually they aren’t “acute” or “manic”, so I don’t start to act it out or seriously make plans, but I often think about it it’s the nature of my illness).
I didn’t just sit there too, I did voluntary work in my community when I could.
I also did singing lessons and am classically trained to grade 4 as a Mezzo Alto. I sang in a choir and our performances raised money to support local causes.
I studied for a degree in psychology, which later helped me understand how flawed and untested the research the new Work Capability Assessment is based on actually is.
I didn’t make any waves, I let the government pretty much do what they wanted and was aloof about politics. I was warned they were doing this new research that was going to change the incapacity benefit system and heartlessly throw everyone to the wolves. This all started While Blair was still PM, the research was funded by the insurance company UNUM provident. A couple of people who used to work for them were also given jobs in the DWP under Labour too. I naively thought:
“no government will ever actually be mad enough to try it, they’d be too scared of the human rights violations.”
I heard Labour were beginning to test this new system on new claimants, and thought:
“It will be ok, when the tests are properly finished the results will expose the flaws and they will change the assessment, so it won’t harm the long term unemployed on incapacity benefit like myself and so many others. They will realise they can’t just throw us to the wolves they have to help us back into the workplace gradually, or just accept lots of us will really just never work full time again”.
I saw you get elected and heard you say “if you are truly ill we will look after you” and I thought it would be ok.
Then I watched in horror David, as your party and the Lib Dems designed a new bill, the “welfare reform bill” I saw how you were going to change the law so the benefit system would no longer protect people. You would be able heartlessly cut the amount of money people received so they couldn’t afford to eat and pay their bills, even if they had children cared for a disabled person, or were themselves disabled.
I joined the Spartacus campaign and we did everything we could to raise awareness of what you were going to do. We nearly got the Welfare Reform Bill stopped too, but you “invoked parliamentary privilege” and over ruled the house of commons, forcing it through.
I thought it would be the mentally ill who suffered most under the new system, as our illnesses are difficult to see. I thought people who had more easily quantifiable physical illness that prevented them from working would be ok. But in horror I watched as they even declared people with terminal illness fit for work. I saw people with severe pain who could often hardly move get told “they could do something” and be told to go on Job Seekers Allowance and look for work.
I supported Disabled People Against Cuts and they supported me, I travelled to London (on Valium the first few times to prevent panic attacks leaving me a gibbering wreck in the middle of the tube station). We blocked roads bringing central London to a standstill several times. The media didn’t report it but people saw us and were largely supportive. I waited in fear for my “assessment”, it was a year before you got to me but it came.
We were fighting against the propaganda the media were starting to drop. Making out the rate of fraud in the disability benefits system was much higher than it was, and that people who were so depressed they couldn’t leave their houses or look after themselves, or people who were in constant pain, would be better off if they got a job.
I don’t use the word “propaganda” lightly either, if you read Mansel Aylward’s research (that the work capability assessment is based on) it is in there, it’s not just about the benefits system itself, it says the government have to change societies attitude to illness and disability so people being on incapacity benefit is no longer “the norm”. You could have done this by encouraging employers to employ the disabled and mentally ill, as with the right support and a more understanding society quite a few us could go back to work at least part time. You could have encouraged the media to show us in a more positive light, as people just like everyone else. You could have spent the money you paid Atos on schemes to help people into work. Instead you launched a vile propaganda campaign, portraying all benefit claimants as lazy and work shy, and suggesting many on disability benefits were faking it.
All those articles where key words like “scrounger”, “shirker”, “skiver”, and the phrase “hard working” were dropped in really were, and are the government’s clumsy attempt at propaganda. It’s very basic psychology, using emotive words to provoke a strong reaction to certain stimulus, politicians do it all the time. Sadly psychology isn’t taught in schools though, you have to go and study it of your own volition, so lots of the public fall for it.
I watched in horror as hate crime against the disabled increased, and the people I was campaigning with grew scared. We were all so scared David, some people got so scared they had to be sectioned or even took their own lives before they even had the assessment. Others took their lives just after they received the letter saying their money was stopping as Atos had found them fit to work. I’m not making this up,many of the suicides are documented, and people who are ill or dying die faster if you put them under inhumane amounts of stress and make them fight for the money they are entitled too.
You stopped counting the dead after two years of this inhuman system being implemented. But we know in the first year 10,600 people died after being declared fit to work, that’s 78 people a week. We haven’t just plucked that figure out of the air either, it was taken from a freedom of information request for the DWP’s own statistics. You refused to release the next years stats using a loophole, and stopped counting the next year,
I nearly killed myself when I got my letter, at the assessment the “nurse” reassured me that I would be ok, but then she only gave me 6 points (you need 15 to receive ESA). She ignored the fact I told her I have suicidal thoughts and wrote I “have no ideas of self harm”. I fell to my knees and wept when I read it.
the sequence of events blurs in my memory as to what happened next exactly, but I found myself climbing the ladder to the roof access in my flat with a pen and the letter. I was going to scrawl “Am I self harming enough for you yet?!” on the back of the letter and jump off the roof with it in my hand.
It was a three storey building and I would have landed on concrete in the middle of Ryde High street in front of all the shoppers and people going to work. But I was crying and shaking so much I couldn’t get the hatch open, I couldn’t see through the tears, it was heavy and awkward, and I was having another nervous breakdown.
The suicidal thoughts were coming thick and fast:
“they don’t care about you Nancy, you’re nothing, you’re collateral damage just another statistic and casualty of life, you’re going to be like this forever, why not die now, do everyone a favour.”
But I still couldn’t get the hatch open.
“Look at you you’re pathetic you can’t even kill yourself right YOU FAILURE you’re such a disappointment to everyone!”
I fell off the ladder and hurt myself, I just lay there on the floor tears streaming down my face, I wanted to sob but no noise came out, I just lay there silently screaming tears still streaming down my face. My stomach painfully contorting with anxiety making me retch and heave, unable to get up as all my muscles were like jelly. I thought of all the others going through this too, I remembered the Spartacus report and how all those experts who contributed (not just activists, real doctors and lawyers and other professionals) warned them this would happen. But they ignored us and heartlessly rolled out this terrifying and untested system anyway.
I knew I didn’t have enough pills to kill me if I took them all, I had survived that before. I looked at my wrists and thought about running a bath, if I mixed the pills with vodka maybe it would work? I had just about enough money left in the bank for a small bottle, if I could just stop crying long enough to go to the shop they’d sell me it and I could come home with it…
Then thankfully out of nowhere I heard another voice, it said:
“Don’t kill yourself Nancy, that’s what they want, if you are dead you can’t campaign any more, you can’t help expose the phony untested research. You can’t tell people what they are doing to thousands of genuinely ill disabled and mentally ill people. The campaign movement will lose another voice and you’ll just be another name on Callum’s list. Think of what it will do to your friends you campaign with when they hear what you’ve done, think of how Paula and Gail Ania and Helen Willow and all the others will weep when they hear, just like you weep every time you hear of another one.”
So I want to thank you David, as it’s then I vowed you wouldn’t get away with this, it may not happen while you are still Prime minister, but one day we will see you and your wretched government of heartless liars in the court of human rights.
That’s why you really want to scrap the human rights act isn’t it David? Because you lot are really starting to sweat now, you know you’re in trouble. The WOW petition got to 100,000 signatures and we had the debate, and even though you’ve desperately tried to cover it up we’ve made the public aware of what you’ve done. Me and Rick also got the Amnesty resolution passed and they condemned your actions. The mental health resistance network got your government taken to the high court over the way the work capability assessment treats mental illness, and the judge agreed with us. People with severe depression and risk of self harm aren’t being refused ESA now like I was, I’ve seen it.
It’s been a slow and often soul destroying fight, and all victories are hard won and slightly hollow now in light of all the misery suffering and death you guys have caused on the streets of your own country. Gradually I can see we are winning though, the hatred of benefit claimants is still strong because of your propaganda. Enough people are seeing through it now to restore my faith in humanity a bit. We’re slowly beating you David.
Again I’d like to thank you David, you turned me from a passive and nervous bystander to the hardened and bolder angry disability rights activist you see now. There are thousands of us all standing shoulder to shoulder, and we won’t let the world forget what you’ve done and are still trying to do. I’m more politically aware than I have ever been and watch everything you do like a hawk, ready to react and expose your lies, when before I’d just have ignored you. You replaced my apathy with anger and the desire to change things, never again will I just sit back and watch what the government does and do nothing if it’s unjust. We’ll fight the closure of the Independent Living Fund too, how could you take so much away from the most severely disabled people in society by closing that too? Shame on you.
We don’t just campaign on disability rights issues either, We’ll continue to campaign to halt evictions because of rent arrears created by your cruel bedroom tax. We’ll continue to do what we can to raise awareness of, and actually help all of those people you’ve left homeless and destitute when they needed YOUR help in their hour of need.
Thanks David, and I hope you and George choke on the caviar at your next Tory Party champagne supper, IDS and Lord Freud have to give you the Heimlich maneuver, and all this is caught on camera and goes viral.