16 November 2011
Dear Members of the Lords,
A mother in Tameside, Greater Manchester, whose son, diagnosed with schizophrenia, tragically died of a methadone overdose in February 2011, has asked us to forward her statement to you.
Her son was pushed over the edge by a combination of circumstances, including receiving a letter calling him in for a benefits reassessment. A number of people have committed suicide on getting such letters or after being cut off and made to be jobseekers. The harsh benefit conditions and sanctions threatened by the Welfare Reform Bill will only add to such tragedies.
The Bill would replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the stricter Personal Independence Payment. Maria Miller, the Minister for Disabled People, and some media, have attacked DLA by vilifying people with drink and drug problems compared to “genuine” disabled people. In this way, they justify abolishing DLA altogether, a cut of £2.17 billion which would deprive 700,000 disabled people who are expected to be denied the Personal Independence Payment.
The assertions and comparisons they make do not stand up to scrutiny – amounts are inflated by lumping different categories together. In any case, it is obvious that many people with addiction do need care and support; many have other underlying ill-health and disability – their addiction is only the latest complication. http://fullfact.org/factchecks/hardest_hit_disability_living_allowance_Maria_Miller_blind_care_mobility_and_alcoholic_drug_abuse-2713
We urge you to oppose any cut to benefits for sick and disabled people. These are already killing us and must be stopped.
What a mother who lost her son thinks about the Welfare Reform Bill
During the past three years, so much happened that was truly awful for us.
My son had been granted Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for many years; he was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being sectioned in Cheadle Royal Hospital in 1982, resulting in a six-month stay there.
Subsequently for three years, he lived in a shared rehabilitation house run especially for young people with mental dis-ease with themselves.
He got on well there, so much so, that he was able to move to his own self-contained-flat. No longer with a schizophrenic label, he was able to get employment that he enjoyed, various kinds. He eventually lost his last job in a local factory and after experiencing a truly difficult time, no money and then being harassed by group of young lads coming into his flat and beating him up, he chose to go into Tameside psychiatric hospital.
Back with the mental health label, his next move was to another independent flat in a small seven-flat complex. He got on with everyone there for almost 15 years, though having to have three-weekly visits from a community psychiatric nurse and depo injections. He was quite happy until the neighbour in the upstairs flat kicked his door in. He came to live with us for a month.
The next period of independent living was again in a shared small housing group, with his own ground floor flat and support from a “not for profit” charitable organisation called Creative Support. This was where he came into contact with a truly destructive group of brothers. Once they had got him in their grasp there was no way they would let him go. Eventually he told me that he was addicted to heroin.
He told the police, and though they praised him for reporting, they did not stop these men from humiliating him, stealing his ID, date of birth, NI number, in fact everything in order to get enough details to impersonate him and to be able to change his collection post office point and of course cash his giro. The benefit agency allowed this to happen twice.
To get away from his tormentors, another move to another town, this time, a social housing high-rise flat, but with no easy access to familiar faces. This time I thought he would be OK, more room to show his pictures and memorabilia. This time, however, after so much hassle getting back his benefit, he became depressed and fearful when he heard that he would lose his DLA and Income Support. Creative Support was there as non-judgmental support, but if he was to lose that through the new round of welfare cuts, it would make him even more isolated: it would mean losing this essential home visit service. All these hoops for him to jump through made his life too fearful for him to contemplate.
One of his last phone calls to me was that he had received two letters: one warning him about too much noise (however this was his neighbour’s dog barking); the other that he needed to have a benefit assessment. On the telephone he asked me, begged me to go and see him. But all too late, he died between Friday 11th -17th February 2011 of an overdose of methadone. He had been on this for over a year -- there had been no other kind of rehabilitation therapy.
As his Mum, I miss him terribly. I believe that he took his own life through fear that he was not able to survive all the changes of managing his rent, reassessment for disability benefits, and without the support in the community, he felt despair.
At his inquest, from the toxicology report, other than his prescribed medication, there was no other drug in his body but an overdose of methadone. My daughter, his sister, said she thought that he didn’t want to cause us any more worry.
For people with schizophrenia life is already very hard, with discrimination and the pitfalls of feeling different, to overcome! The depo medication which may help to minimise the hallucinations also causes side-effects: dry mouth, loss of libido, and shaking limbs, even lock-jaw if the drug procyclidine is not taken daily. He once told me that heroin made him feel normal but he gave it up to gain a semblance of doing the right thing.
Such a sensitive, thoughtful man he was, he died through the government major changes to the welfare system proposing to send us all back to a Victorian Britain where the poor or sick are never deserving or entitled!