Recent news of an agoraphobic blind man who hung himself after he was ruled ‘fit to work’ and his benefits cut has highlighted the need for the Government to balance their efforts to change the benefits system with the very real need of those who rely on benefits to survive, says Anxiety UK, the nation’s leading anxiety disorders charity.
“We were shocked to hear the news of Tim Salter, an agoraphobic blind man who was so desperate after his benefits were cut, he killed himself,” says Nicky Lidbetter. “Whilst many understand that the benefits system needs to change, it is appalling to hear that this man was left penniless and to fend for himself after his mental health needs were clearly not understood in his Atos fitness to work test.
“Society has made efforts in recent years to understand that mental health is as important as physical health but this case tragically demonstrates just how far we still have to go – despite 1 in 4 people experiencing some kind of mental health problem in the course of year.”
According to Anxiety UK, most people with mental health issues do work, despite the perception to the contrary. In fact, recent surveys of Anxiety UK members have found that a majority of members, many of which have lived with anxiety for many years, do indeed work. What people with long standing or severe mental health issues, such as agoraphobia, need is the support to get into and stay in work.
The Government needs to ensure that the firms they contract to carry out fitness to work tests understand the needs of those with mental health difficulties and ensure the right support is in place to help them find work, say Anxiety UK.
This case is another unfortunate example of how mental ill health does not receive the same recognition as physical health by the Government. In 2013, Anxiety UK were made aware of Government plans to amend the way Blue Badges were awarded to those with a disability, with conditions such as agoraphobia not likely to be considered as applicable. Feedback from members affected by agoraphobia that had previously been in receipt of the Blue Badge, allowing them to park closer to entrances and thereby continue to lead normal lives, revealed that they were no longer able to be in receipt of the benefit under the new scheme, leading many to experience an increase in anxiety as a result.
“While austerity measures continue to be put in place, we are urging the government to better understand the mental health needs of some of the most vulnerable people who rely on benefits to survive,” explains Nicky Lidbetter.
More information about Anxiety UK and the support it provides to thousands of anxiety sufferers every year can be found here.