‘Fitness for work test and sanctions helped kill my brother’


The sister of a disabled man who died just three months after being found fit for work and then having his benefits sanctioned says the government’s discredited work capability assessment (WCA) system was partly responsible for her brother’s death.

Luke Alexander Loy, who had schizophrenia and lived in Birmingham, was just 42 when he died in May this year.

He had been claiming incapacity benefit (IB) for more than 20 years, but was found fit for work following a WCA, despite his doctor explaining that he was not currently well enough to work.

He was apparently sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for failing to attend meetings at Jobcentre Plus and not actively looking for work, and fell further and further into debt.

After his father discovered what had happened, he helped his son to appeal and eventually – just before he died – DWP reinstated his benefits.

But his family believe that by then the damage to his health and wellbeing had been done.

On 29 May, after his family had become concerned about his welfare when he failed to respond to their calls, police officers broke into his house and found him dead on his bedroom floor. A subsequent inquest reached an open verdict.

The case has emerged less than a month after Disability News Service revealed how a coroner had written to DWP to demand changes to the WCA system, after concluding that the decision to find a London man, Michael O’Sullivan, fit for work was the trigger for his suicide.

But they are only the latest in a series of shocking cases which have exposed the harm caused by the WCA, the eligibility test for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance.

Loy’s sister, Natalie Jeffers (pictured), joined disabled activists from Disabled People Against Cuts in a protest outside the Conservative party conference this week in an effort to “raise awareness of the human costs of these policies” and to hold work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith “accountable” for his actions.

She told fellow protesters: “He died as a result of Tory cuts. Shame on the Tory party for what they are doing to innocent people who need the support of the state.”

She told DNS later that her brother had become withdrawn and scared as a result of being found fit for work and then being sanctioned.

Until he lost his IB, she said, he had been in a “very good rhythm”, taking five walks a day, working on art projects at home as therapy, and shopping for his elderly neighbour.

Jeffers said: “My brother was loved by the community. He was fine and doing really well.

“He had his own rhythm, but it was completely disrupted by being found fit for work and then sanctioned, because it made him feel worthless and insecure.”

She said: “My family have paid taxes for generations and my brother’s situation could have happened to any family.

“To make the public think that all people seeking benefits are ‘scroungers’ is a misrepresentation of the hard-working-class families that, through no fault of their own, may need additional financial support from the state from time to time.

“It is a beautiful core value of British society that these systems were set up to assist those needing help when times get tough.”

Loy had been a carer for his mother until three years ago, when she died from cancer, and he was subsequently hit with the bedroom tax because he had been living alone in a two-bedroom council house after her death.

Jeffers said: “All these things started to change his personality and energy. He died in debt. He owed the government money, he owed the council money.”

She believes that the government’s decision to plunge her brother suddenly into the jobs market, without offering support as he transitioned from one system to another, was “a really destructive way of dealing with someone who was mentally ill”.

She said: “We can’t prove the cause of my brother’s death, but we know that the only seismic shift in his life that shocked his stability and impacted a decline in his mental health was this WCA decision. We believe this was a contributing factor.”

Jeffers believes that the impact of being found fit for work was worsened by the lack of government support to cope with the bureaucracy around its welfare-to-work regime and the fallout people face from losing vital benefits and being sanctioned.

She said: “There needs to be a government strategy to create a supportive culture for people like my brother, which is shared by local authorities and primary care providers.”

She said her brother’s health was further worsened by the “vitriol” targeted at disabled people by politicians and the media, frequently accusing them of being partly responsible for the country’s economic problems.

And Jeffers said she was appalled by the “vicious” and “despicable” conference speech given this week by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, which she said appeared to be aimed at tarring disabled people as “scroungers”.

She pointed to his call for disabled people to “work your way out of poverty”, something her brother was not able to do, as a “deeply irresponsible simplification of such a complex issue”.

Despite the daily briefings ministers must receive on the impact of their reforms, she said, they still appear to fail to understand the “nuance” of how disabled people in poverty live on a day-to-day basis.

She said: “Rather than admitting that the government have got these policy changes to the benefits system wrong, the Conservative rhetoric is getting even more vicious and divisive.

“Instead of creating compassion, they are creating a culture of fear and pointing the finger of blame at the most vulnerable people in our society. Shame on them”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our sympathies are with [the family], but it is wrong to suggest a link between a benefit decision and someone’s death.

“The work capability assessment is designed to look at what someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.

“It is important that people supply sufficient evidence – including medical evidence – when making a claim, as it could affect their benefit entitlement.”

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  • Yet another senseless death due to these people in power. RIP Luke Alexander Loy. Your story has touched my heart, I’m going through something similar. It wears you down when you’re ill and not only are you trying to manage your injury and chronic pain, mobility issues, you’re having to fight those who are supposed to be protecting us. Shame on you, present Tory government.

  • Arv

    As someone that has been suffering from severe depression for a number of years, has problems leaving my flat and frequently feel that I’d be better off dead I’m worried sick of what I would do if I’m declared to be fit for work. Luckily the last two people doing my WCA have been very understanding of my condition and have helped me out.

    The last one submitted me for an extra benefit (can’t remember what it’s called now) which I’m now receiving on top of my ESA and I haven’t had to have another WCA for a couple of years so she understood how difficult it was for me to make it there. And the one before that told me at the end that I had nothing to worry about as he was declaring me unfit for work.

    I’ve found that there are two different types of people working for local councils and working on behalf of local councils, and they’re both extremes: One type will go out of their way to help you if they possibly can. The other will go out of their way to be as difficult as possible.

  • Pete Hopeful

    RIP all the victims of the current NAZty party and their henchmen. Europe has not known such persecution of the sick, disabled and vulnerable since the nazis and they had to face a war crimes tribunal for crimes against humanity. CaMOROn and his allies should be made to face the same for robbing the poor to feed their rich chums who have never known austerity in their little private bubbles they live in. Shame on them.
    Time for a class action against government!

    Anyone going through the same persecution should also get in touch with their local CAB who have proved priceless in many cases. The system is rotten and it will fail you just have to hang in there until the appeal goes through where most of you will win, many without even having to face the panel. So dont panic and try to find financial help to see you through this neccesary evil. And please DO NOT be afraid or too proud to ask for help meanwhile. There are many of us who would help. God Bless you all.

    The Serenity Prayer

    God grant me the serenity
    To accept the things I cannot change;
    Courage to change the things I can;
    And wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    As it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    If I surrender to His Will;
    So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
    And supremely happy with Him
    Forever and ever in the next.

  • Dinosaur

    The failure of Duncan Smith to see the error of his thinking is what makes more disabled people very scared. I have been disabled since i was 44 years old & am so glad that at nearly 71 I will not be around much longer to see just how far this disgusting man will push the disabled community.
    He has no sympathy all he sees are votes for the next election by appearing to push ‘scroungers’ into work. All he is doing is killing them off, literally, to get his figures down.
    Please Mr Cameron can you do something about this man & his policies before anyone else is driven to suicide by him?

  • Muttlee

    The DWP are being quite dishonest if they truly think there is no link between what thay are doing and disabled people killing themselves after WCA’s.

    They should also know that WCA decisions are based on a tickbox system at the WCA interview and that the interviewer refuses to take letters of information provided by surgeons and GP’s about the interviewee being unable to work. I know this from personal experience. I myself was passed 100% fit for work despite being in the middle of cataract treatments for my eyes which had left me unable to work, mainly becaue I could not read,drive or walk anywhere safely. I indeed did take letters from the eye specialist and my GP to the WCA, saying I was unable to work until the treatment was completed, but I was told ‘We don’t look at those’. Sickness benefit was immediately suspended.

  • stu

    “It is important that people supply sufficient evidence – including medical evidence – when making a claim” i was told in 1992 no more sicknotes ever,yet ive just had 2years of this,and after refusing what i was told were life threatening tables for a year,i suddenly got points,and although i have my money back since,it took me another 3 months to want to take the tablets again”thyroxine 150mg a day”and now i still feel id rather be dead,and more than ever cannot face my problems,yes i have seen a shrink,but madly they never give any advise only listen so that only helps let off steam when i need someone to tell me what to do about my feelings,
    during my protest not taking thyroxine,had side effects like only going to the loo once a week,having to epspet i may not wake up again going to sleep with the heart pains and odd rythems,,when i didant die and saw it on the net i desided i would set myself on fire in a goverment building or my docters in protest,i live with no central heating or double glazingwindows freeze on the inside in winter i swaer” im 6feet in shoes and only stone so feel that cold ,,so id die hot anyday,,anyway i tell my docters i still want to die oddly as i cannot face things,and they say nothing well they will be serprised if i set myself on fire in there surgary wont they,

    • Hi Stu, there’s always a way back. Remember how important your voice is, and how important it is that you keep making your voice heard. The best thing you can do to annoy the people who brought in these policies is to survive and keep criticising them for what they are doing. Let me know if you would like me to point you in the direction of any groups or organisations that might be able to offer you support.
      With all my best wishes,

      • stu

        Hi John thanks,but doctors and the psychologist ive seen do not support anyone,they only listen,and i can tell next doors cat with the same effect,since it seems they were not listening anyway when nothing is ever “done” from it,no advise is ever given,,its all just listening,which can help get it off your chest,but that only helps when your 10% not right.
        no the truth is coming back to me,my plan i got to after my tablets wouldant work,, this is probably the only way things in uk will change m8–
        campain that lots of us kill ourselves by setting our self on fire in goverment places ,,it is it seems the way its done in other countries ..think about it,if it was clearly done in protest something would be done
        if i didant drive a desil car or changed doctors , i think id of done it already although my new doctors seem as un-understanding as the last lot,its hard to feel they should be any diferent as they do not know me,although telling one i still felt like suicide when problems come up,even though its not about benifits anymore,he looked at me like he was confused and didant understand at all.
        so a one way talk with doctors,,no thanks ,,bring jesus back at last ,yes that would help loads,,make it fare world that isant cold and damp yes that would help. help me sleep and not wake up again,,please,,,
        help me set it up so i can go out in a blaze of glory with enough media watching,,yer,,,help me start a campain that lots of people do it ..yer
        doctors have tested me and say i dont have a mental illness,im told its psychological “since i was ok before my benifits were stopped,,now i have them back,is it still psychological ,,i dont know,but getting the benifits i was fighting for made me 10x more awaer of my problems and pains,and it seems i have to ignore all of it to carry on and i cannot like i used to–eg- this is my 26th year in a house with no central heating or double glazing and 95% humidity inside,and since im buying it,its not so easy to move is it..
        anyway talk is cheap,it goes on and on and nothing changes,people are a pain and wont leave me alone. and winter is coming,,but the good news readers is,,i think if people do set fire to themselves it will change everything,and untill then it will not… stu

        • Hi Stu
          I disagree. Your solution will change nothing and won’t help anyone. How about you try this link: http://www.rethink.org/about-us/our-mental-health-advice/crisis-contacts

          You might try your local Mind office as well, as it sounds as though you need an advocate to support you. This could help. And if you really think you’re going to hurt yourself, go to your local A&E. And I know this may sound obvious, but have you tried talking to family and/or friends? That might just help, too.
          Hope you don’t mind me making these suggestions.
          Best wishes,

  • Stu2k616

    Killers, well as good as. Thats my view on the tories. Strong words I know and not particularly constructive but I’ve been assessed by Atos in 2012 regarding my mental health problems by a physiotherapist. In the end I was given zero points and lost £200 a month in ESA.

    However in my appeal, which I had to wait 20 months for, the decision was over turned
    and I was awarded 36 points by the appeal tribunal.

    Please keep fighting and please keep asking for help.

    Best wishes to anyone taking on the cruelty of this government.