Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Austerity kills

Today, Mark and Helen Mullins were found dead in their home in Bedworth. Police say the deaths are unexplained, though it is rumoured that they had taken their lives in a suicide pact. At the heart of this lies the poverty they had been forced to endure as a result of cuts to welfare and the unthinking cruelty of the benefits system.

As Mark himself explained to an interviewer before they died;
The job centre decided Helen couldn’t sign on as she was incapable of employment, as she has no literacy and numeracy skills. However the incapacity people wouldn’t recognise her disabilities until she has been properly diagnosed, which led to month after month of seeing specialists, we’re in a catch 22 situation.

We’re living hand to mouth.
The couple, unable to get either employment or welfare, were forced to live in a single room of their house and to walk a 12 mile round trip to a Salvation Army food bank once a week.

If ever you needed proof of the unfathomable misery and poverty that can still exist in one of the richest countries in the world, this is it. Far from the tabloid myth of welfare scroungers living it large on state handouts, what we have is an ex-soldier and his disabled wife having to live off donated food and eventually finding it so tough that they took their own lives.

This news comes less than a month after ministers suggested that continued payments of incapacity benefits to those judged fit to work are nothing more than an "incentive to appeal." Here we see the reality of that perverse notion, with a couple robbed of that paltry £94.20 a week (PDF) not motivated to do better but actually giving up the struggle for survival. That may be the incentive that the government needs to get rid of useless eaters, but for those of us with a human conscience it is a horrific tragedy.

Mark and Helen's death stand as testament to just how rotten our welfare system is. With 60,000 people in Britain using food banks it hints at a much greater groundswell of suffering. We cannot set our limits at minor concessions, or the cuts being delayed or spread out over a longer period. Cuts are killing people and we must fight to stop them.