The disabled author of an acclaimed new investigation into the impact of austerity on disabled people has backed calls for an independent inquiry into links between the government’s policies and the deaths of benefit claimants.
Frances Ryan (pictured) said there was an “urgent” need for an inquiry to investigate the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its links to the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
She has become the latest high-profile figure to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into such deaths, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or senior civil servants to be passed to police.
The petition also calls for a recognition that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to change its policies and practices urgently to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.
Ryan’s new book, Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People**, argues that those in power have turned on disabled people, who have become objects of “suspicion, demonization and contempt” since 2010.
Ryan told Disability News Service: “In Crippled, I look at multiple cases of people who have died after having their benefits removed.
“Some were found ‘fit for work’ but due to the inaccuracy of the assessment system, were so ill they died shortly after.
“Some were starved, frozen, or had lethal health conditions triggered because they had no money for food, electric, or heating.
“Others like Jodey were left in desperate states and sadly took their own lives.”
She added: “Coroners have repeatedly pointed to ‘fit-for-work’ tests as a contributory factor in a number of disabled people’s deaths.
“Suicide is deeply complex and it’s vital to report on these cases responsibly, but it isn’t hard to see how people are becoming vulnerable.
“Remove social security from a disabled person too disabled or ill to work and it’s like pushing someone off a cliff and feigning surprise when they hit the beach.”
Her book brings together much of the research that has exposed the impact of austerity on disabled people in the last decade, but it also hears the stories of individuals whose lives have been blighted by cuts to their support.
It is, she says, “a rallying cry against the shrinking of the welfare state and the hardship the austerity agenda is causing disabled people”.
Her book has been praised by high-profile figures such as film director Ken Loach, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has said: “This devastating book should shake our political system to its foundations.”
Ryan concludes in the book that disabled people “have been routinely driven into destitution, pushed from the workplace and stripped of the right to live in their own homes”, while the benefit system is in chaos, with disabled people “forced through a system defined by hostility and humiliation”.
And she says society has now reached the point at which “a cocktail of austerity and long-standing prejudice towards disabled people is leading to the sort of large-scale negligence that at its extremes is tantamount to abuse”.
*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
**Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People, by Frances Ryan, is published by Verso Books