Samaritans recently published their review of the evidence, with recommendations for action.  Public Health England highlighted the issue in guidance for Local Suicide Prevention Planning.   At our last learning event an open space group shared their concerns and suggested an open letter be written.  See below for links (highlighted in blue)  

Dying from Inequality is Samaritans’ recent report into socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour. Produced in conjunction with leading academics, it sets out how low income and unmanageable debt, unemployment, poor housing, and other socioeconomic factors contribute to high suicide rates in the most disadvantaged communities.

The report makes a number of recommendations for action, and calls on government, businesses, industry and sector leaders to work together so that fewer people die by suicide.

“While the economic situation and policy approaches vary across the nations in which Samaritans operates, the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and increased risk of suicide is evident in all these nations. It is therefore essential that we understand why this link exists. We all need to address this inequality issue which is resulting in the tragic loss of lives.   

People who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or who live in areas of socioeconomic deprivation have an increased risk of suicidal behaviour. There is a range of research, presented in this report, that seeks to understand the reasons behind this. Features of socioeconomic disadvantage include low income, unmanageable debt, poor housing conditions, lack of educational qualifications, unemployment and living in a socioeconomically deprived area.” 

Local Suicide Prevention Planning – a Practice Resource from Public Health England includes evidence of the risks for people who are vulnerable due to economic circumstances

  • “People in the lowest socio economic group and living in the most deprived geographical areas are ten times more at risk of suicide than those in the in the most affluent group living in the most affluent areas
  • Suicide is the cause of an extra 1,466 deaths for men and 262 excess deaths for women in the most deprived quintile compared to the least deprived quintile of England”

The South West Zero Suicide Collaborative Learning Event in February 2017 included a breakout group to discuss the issues raised by austerity – after which one member of the group drafted a statement which others may wish to use or adapt in their local areas.  

Austerity and its impact

An open letter

The Zero Suicide Collaborative South-West met on 20th/21st February 2017 to share, discuss and take forward ideas and strategies for reducing suicide. We heard of some wonderful initiatives by individuals and organisations doing what they can to prevent and save troubled people from suicide. But whatever the strength of our commitment and endeavours we cannot prevent suicide alone, for how people feel about their lives, and what they do with them, is directly and profoundly influenced by their social and environmental context.

This letter is written to express concern at some of the UK’s economic and social policies and how these are played out in practice, where government agencies interact with the public.   There is stark and disturbing evidence that austerity, both in terms of direct reductions in services and benefits, and in terms of how people are treated, in job centres and by councils, is leading people to attempt and carry out suicide.

There is concern at figures such as these:

Nearly half of all people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had attempted suicide. (Government report Mental Health and Wellbeing in England.)

Over a two year period 2,400 people died after their claim for ESA was terminated because they were declared ‘fit to work’ by Dept for Work and Pensions. (DWP’s own statistics cited by Patrick Butler, Guardian 27.8.15)

Half of food bank users are there as a direct result of benefit sanctions & delays (Trussell Trust, cited in the Guardian 17.02.17))

Benefit sanctions are applied in ways the most vulnerable don’t even understand. (DWP) People have been sanctioned when they’ve actually been in hospital, when they’ve had a hospital appointment; when they’ve attended a funeral.

The Housing Benefits system – the bedroom tax along with overpayments through housing authorities’ own mistakes, resulting in subsequent suspension of HB - is giving rise to eviction and homelessness. (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.)

There are stories of tragedy:

A quiet man, who’d been a food bank user, took his life after his benefits were sanctioned for the second time. His crime? He attended a hospital appointment. (Jack Monroe, Guardian. 22.10.16)

A woman took her own life after her benefits were sanctioned. (as above.)

A man without any income lost his home as a consequence of sanctions: first because he used a job-seeking website that wasn’t DWP’s own; consequent depression caused him to miss an interview.

In this climate where even very sick people are denied ESA, where people are sanctioned for trivial or mystifying mistakes or omissions, where people are left with no income for weeks, where people lose their homes and where a quarter of our children live in poverty,  in such a climate there will be people so despairing as to seek to end their lives.

I therefore call on those with the power, in Parliament and in government departments, to provide humanely for those in need, to consider the person and the family before financial targets, to ensure that everyone has enough money to provide themselves and their dependants with food, clothes and shelter, the basic means for living a meaningful life.

Thank you.