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Fit for work tests linked to increased suicide rates

17 November 2015

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The “fit for work” tests to assess people’s eligibility for disability benefit has been linked to 590 extra suicides and more than 700,000 antidepressent prescriptions, according to a new study.

Published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the analysis – of one million people who were given Work Capability Assessments (WCA tests) tested in Liverpool – suggests that the policy has “serious consequences” on mental health in England.

The assessments were linked to 590 additional suicides, 725,000 antidepressant prescriptions and 279,000 cases of self-reported mental health problems between 2010-13, the researchers from University of Liverpool stated, adding that they have ruled out the impact of deprivation, economic trends and long-term trends in mental health but can only suggest correlation, not causation.

Benjamin Barr, from the public health department at Liverpool University, who is the report’s principle author, said: “The pattern of increase in mental health problems closely matches the increase in assessment of the work capability assessment.”

The test can involve a questionnaire about how your illness affects your work, a medical assessment, an evidence letter, and regular work-focused interviews in order to keep getting the benefit money.

The statistics are equivalent to a 5% rise in total suicides, 11% increase of self-referred mental health problems, and 0.5% more antidepressant prescriptions.

The study reads: “Although the explicit aim of welfare reform in the UK is to reduce ‘dependency’ it is likely that targeting the people living in the most vulnerable conditions with policies that are harmful to health will further marginalise already excluded groups, reducing rather than increasing their independence.”

However, a Department of Work and Pensions spokesman told The Guardian: “This report is wholly misleading, and the authors themselves caution that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect,” adding that there is “no evidence that the people with mental health problems highlighted in the report even underwent a work capability assessment.”

Mental health charity Mind has called for the WCA tests to be reformed, while campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts urged that the assessments are scrapped by government.