Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Benefit Sanctions Have Driven Brits to Suicide

[...] Sam Clement, 42, also reached the point of wanting to take his own life after his benefits were cut. Fortunately, he survived. “It might make no sense to you, but I was sanctioned for attending a self-employment training course with my housing association,” he explains. “Although my advisor told me this was fine, when I got back another advisor said it wasn’t an approved training course so she’d have to sanction me, and that was that. My money stopped coming through.”

Clement went into the Job Centre every day to find out what was going on. It took a month and a half for them to tell him he would be sanctioned for a month in December of 2013, meaning all money was cut off. “The situation rapidly deteriorated. I only had five pounds, so I very quickly ran out of food,” he recalls. “And after two or three days of not eating, I got diarrhoea, but by that time I’d run out of toilet roll. I was too stressed and hungry to sleep, and if I did sleep I made a mess.”

Unable to afford electricity or heating, Clement’s Christmas was cold and dark. “I remember sitting in the living room on Christmas day, watching families walking around happily out the window, while I sat hoping for darkness to come so I could go to bed,” he says.

Like most of us, Clement didn’t know what a benefit sanction actually was until he was on the receiving end of one. “I had no idea they could just take your money away like that,” he says. “It shocked me how quickly I fell to pieces. The whole thing destroyed my mental health.”

When his sanction period finally came to an end, Clement returned to the Job Centre. “When I arrived back, my advisor told me that I needed to learn a ‘work ethic’, and that if I didn’t attend an unpaid work programme I would be sanctioned again. Obviously I became extremely anxious.” He pauses as his voice catches in his throat. “As soon as I got home I swallowed every pill I had in the house and tried to overdose. I wasn’t in a good place. I ended up in A&E having my stomach pumped. It was the worst day I’ve ever had.”

After a turbulent seven months of waiting, the doctor finally put Clement in touch with a therapist. Since then he has undergone individual and group therapy, as well as CBT. Nevertheless, the repercussions of his sanction continue to haunt him.

“Before the sanction, my mental health was fine. I certainly wouldn’t have called myself anxious,” he says. “But I am now. I haven’t wanted to leave my flat in 15 months. Home is my safety blanket. I can be perfectly OK inside, but if I walk to the Job Centre my hands start shaking. In the back of my head, my mind is screaming at me to go home.”

Since his sanction, Clement has developed insomnia, as well as a whole raft of stress-induced health problems. “My legs have swollen due to psoriasis and I’ve put on three stone. It’s all down to the anxiety. You can’t plan for a sanction, and it’s always at the back of my mind,” he says…