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Fit for work ruling ‘caused suicide’

Coroner directly blames assessment regime for death

A MAN with severe depression hanged himself as a direct cause of being deemed “fit for work” by a medically unqualified government assessor, a coroner has ruled.

The Disability News Service (DNS) unearthed the coroner’s report, saying yesterday that it appeared to be the first case in which a coroner explicitly linked Department for Work and Pensions sanctions to a death.

Michael O’Sullivan — 60, from north London — committed suicide in September 2013 after his employment support allowance (ESA) was stopped despite evidence from three doctors.

His GP declared that he was unable to work while a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist both confirmed that he was suffering from chronic depression, anxiety and agoraphobia.

But the assessor did not request the doctors’ supporting documents before making the decision after 90-minute assessment, the coroner said.

The “trigger” for Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide was “his recent assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work,” senior coroner Mary Hassell wrote in January last year.

She warned the DWP in the report: “There is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”

Disabled People Against Cuts cofounder Debbie Jolly told the Star: “Once again we have evidence that the work capability assessment system that is literally killing people.

“The government can no longer say there is no causality, now that we know there is.”

The loss of Mr O’Sullivan’s life, and those of others, were caused by a government “intent on reducing welfare at any price,” Ms Jolly continued.

She added: “We owe a debt of gratitude to John Pring of the DNS for exposing the coroner’s report on this tragic and avoidable death.”

More than 50,000 people on ESA died within a year of undergoing assessments between May 2010 and February 2014, the Star reported last month.

ESA is then often downgraded to the lower rate of jobseeker’s allowance if an assessor decides a claimant is capable of working.

The DWP had claimed that it does not hold any information on the reasons for death, so “no causal effect” with changes in claimants’ benefits and mortality can be assumed from statistics.

But shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith said the circumstances of Mr O’Sullivan’s death were “rotten” and the assessment process urgently needed to change.

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