A man whose father took his own life has called on the prime minister to consider the impact of benefit cuts in any new suicide prevention measures.
Dale Ballentine, from Sydenham, London, wrote an open letter, addressed to Theresa May, in response to the announcement of a new minister for suicide prevention appointed earlier this week.
Dale’s father, Jimmy, was one of the almost 4500 people in England who lost their life to suicide in 2017, with three out of every four being men.
In the letter, Dale wrote: “My Dad had been a coal miner in County Durham since he was a 15 year old boy, and died at just 60 years old. He had been struggling with depression and anxiety, worsened by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who hounded him incessantly for money they thought he owed them.
“The way he was treated in the time leading up to his death was appalling, with no consideration made for his mental health, which had got so bad that he was no longer able to hold down a job.”
In the letter Dale welcomed the introduction of a minister for suicide prevention, alongside an additional £1.8m for the Samaritans 24-hour confidential phone line, but said the new minister’s first job should be to tell DWP to scrap the ‘managed migration’ on to Universal Credit.
This process would “leave thousands of people with mental health problems without support and struggling to survive”, he wrote.
The government plans to move millions of people from disability benefit, ESA, on to Universal Credit in 2019, including around one million people with mental health problems.
Mental health charity, Mind, raised concerns earlier this year that this could cause huge distress and leave many financially stranded as they struggle to reapply for the new benefit.
Dale said he wanted to share his Dad’s story and write to the prime minister about it to prevent it happening to another family.
He said: “The Government seem to make decisions purely to suit their needs and numbers, taking out the human factor in decisions.
“The decision makers need reminding that they’re gambling with real lives and that mental health issues are complex and very real.”
No 10 was approached for comment but said the letter needed to go through due process and would be responded to in time.
Dale’s letter, written with the support of Mind, where Dale now works as a volunteer, can be read in full here.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues raised in this article and need support, the Samaritans can be contacted free on 116 123 (UK) or visit their website at https://www.samaritans.org