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Weeks before his death on the 26th of July 2017, Mark Barber – a severely disabled man whose injuries were inflicted by a gang with a machete after he had heroically stepped in to save an elderly man they were attacking – was asked to undergo a disability allowance reassessment by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It appears likely, though it is unverified, that Mark was due to receive the Personal Independence Payment, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance at the Tories’ behest in 2012. The reassessment saw Mark’s allowance guillotined.
By all accounts, Mark was a hero. But now, in the dim dusk of his tragic death, pictures of Post-it Notes scattered about the man’s house bring into stark relief the image of someone brought to the edge of desperation, and shine a burning light on the devastating, barbarous callousness of Tory austerity.
PIP saw the receipts of thousands of vulnerable people – who relied on a disability allowance to emulate some form of independence – shrunk. Indeed, the amount of people claiming PIP appears to have shrunk by 500,000 from the amount of people who were claiming the benefit it replaced, Disability Support Allowance.
So much so that 1.6 million disability benefit claims are going to be reviewed at a staggering – and somewhat ironic – cost of £3.7bn. So unjust are the government’s policies that 65% of appeals by disability allowance claimants against their rejections were successful.
That dearth of justice is seen nowhere more clearly than in the fervent, anxious scrawlings of Mark Barber.
Mr Barber received his debilitating injuries after intervening to defend an elderly man who was being beaten up. For his actions, Mark himself was beaten to crippling disablement with a machete. On top of that, Mark’s girlfriend was in a car accident in which their child died – she was hospitalised for 2 years. The torrid affair saw the end of their relationship.
Whilst the causes of any suicide are clearly complex, the coroner who dealt with Mr Barber’s death officially recorded that he had been “under stress due to reassessment for disability benefits” before returning the verdict of suicide.
And the Post-it Notes scattered throughout his house – one of which contained a desperate plea for help, whilst many others were found which outlined in horrific detail the desperate struggle of Mr Barber’s everyday life – show that the result of the £20 cut to his disability benefits may well have been the final straw:
“I am officially begging you please help me!” Post-it notes reveal anguish of 49-year-old gardener and disabled man Mark Barber, who killed himself after learning his disability benefit would be cut by £20 a week https://t.co/kQDTy7TH6T pic.twitter.com/IaxG0slX8E
— I was a JSA claimant (@imajsaclaimant) September 2, 2018
The insight into Mark’s tragedy follows on from the plight and eventual passing of Mr Joseph MacMillan, who died with just £8.00 to his name 15 days before his PIP assessment appeal.
His PIP was cut because he could climb stairs and make a cup of tea. Yet, he died. Presumably because, in addition to cancer, Mr MacMillan was blighted by diabetes, pancreatitis, a heart condition, anxiety and depression.
On his death, the man was so pallid and so gaunt that he was said to have looked like a concentration camp victim.
“He was like a concentration camp victim… just skin & bones." Cancer-suffering Joseph MacMillian dies with just £8 after DWP stopped his disability benefit https://t.co/Gexdc5EznD
He died just 15 days before his appeal against having his personal independence payment cut. pic.twitter.com/eeqGwm7uKc
— I was a JSA claimant (@imajsaclaimant) September 3, 2018
Just today, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank released a report. It contained proposals for augmenting the national economy to fit with the current climate.
With the average earning decile for the highest earners in this country being 6.8 times that of the lowest decile of earners, the report outlined proposals much in line with Labour’s manifesto – to reduce inequality and provide security.
The economy has changed – as the report states – and it has morphed into a slathering beast that collects up the fewest and piles wealth upon wealth onto their palms, while trampling and trampling those beneath its feet.
In the face of such a beast, this country needs a government that will ensure that there is financial protection for the most vulnerable in society, and that will guarantee the security of its citizens, or else names like MacMillan and Barber will be forever on British societies’ conscience.