The case of a 50-year old man who took his own life after his disability benefits were axed has been described by a coroner’s inquest as “truly tragic”.
Stephen Smith from Leiston, East Suffolk, took his own life in January of this year after a battle to get his benefits reinstated caused his anxiety problems to worsen.
Mr Smith was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make a claim for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), after changes to the benefits system last year meant his Disability Living Allowance was about to end.
Following an assessment for PIP, Mr Smith was told that he would no longer be eligible for disability benefits, despite of his mental health issues.
Mr Smith and partner Lucy Stewart saw their income slashed by £137.55 a week, which had a devastating impact on their personal finances and Stephen’s mental health.
After the DWP failed to make a follow-up call to explain the decision, Mr Smith sent a formal letter with help from experts at the Disability Advice Centre asking for the decision to be reconsidered. The DWP said follow-up calls no longer take place.
However, the East Anglian Daily Times reports that bungling DWP officials mistakenly closed the appeal before the reconsideration process could be completed.
An inquest into his death was held in Ipswich on Thursday, where Miss Stewart’s father David said Stephen’s suicide was triggered by the loss in benefits and its subsequent impact on his mental health.
Assistant Coroner Nigel Parsley also heard how Stephen has begun receiving treatment for anxiety after the death of his mother in 2000.
David told the inquest that Stephen’s mental health problems had been under relative control until his benefits were slashed.
He added that Stephen “could not understand there were savings he could make”.
“Things were very distressing”, he said.
Nigel Parsely ruled that Mr Stephen Smith has taken his own life, adding: “I do find it a truly tragic case. Lucy was a real positive factor in his life and that kept him on an even keel for a considerable part of the time.
“But I cannot ignore the fact that he suffered from mental illness and had admitted suicidal thoughts.”
A review of Mr Smith’s claim for PIP after his death found no reason to change the original decision.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, please contact the Samaritans for help and support.
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