Gov't Asks Struggling Woman Why She Hasn't 'Killed Herself' Yet

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During an interview to obtain government benefits, a woman struggling with mental health issues was asked why she hadn't "killed herself" yet.

A young woman from Sheffield, a city in the English county of South Yorkshire, says she has suffered “institutional abuse” at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Alice Kirby, 25, was being assessed for personal independence payments (PIP) when her mental health problems were brought up — in the most insensitive way possible, according to Metro.

“During my PIP assessment I was asked why I hadn’t killed myself yet,” Kirby said. Adding that, unfortunately, “[t]his is standard, assessors regularly ask this question.”

Taking her frustrations to Twitter, Kirby said called the entire experience "humiliating.”

Despite having been questioned in such a callous way, Kirby added that in her final assessment, the “completely unnecessary” questions were “barely mentioned,” and they ended up having no impact on her final award. While DWP says that staff members who carry out PIP assessments receive proper training, Kirby argues that this type of insensitive and potentially harmful type of questioning is borderline irresponsible.

And while DWP also states that now there are more people suffering from mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of help than “previous disability living allowance (DLA) equivalents” thanks to their PIP assessments, Kirby says that they have actually cut the help she receives.

According to Metro, staff members tasked with questioning candidates for the final assessment are employees from third-party companies, such as Capita and Atos, who aren't provided with a list of specific questions. Nevertheless, the DWP sustains that all sensitive questions are asked appropriately.

When Atos, the company responsible for Kirby's assessment, was asked to comment, a spokesman said that the service they provide is “professional and compassionate.” When referring to the suicide question Kirby says she was asked, he answered: “The specific question is inappropriate and if asked would not meet the high standards and training in place which enable the sensitive and appropriate handling of assessments by our professional assessors for those with mental health conditions.”

To Kirby, the problem isn't Atos itself but the government agency's attitude.

“The DWP have an agenda, they have targets to meet,” she said, “and if my assessor had a target to cut someone down that week then she was going to meet that, despite my symptoms.”

As she waits on an answer from a reconsideration request, she said she believes she may have to go to court to get the agency's decision overruled.

The use of such insensitive questions in a PIP assessment is entirely counterproductive. Isn't the point to help people like Kirby access the tools they need to become healthy, happy, and independent? 

Banner and thumbnail image: Flickr user Mykhailo Dorokhov 

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