Unemployment can be fatal for too many - and the UK is worse than most

Wed, 11/02/2015 - 13:34 -- nick

We all know that unemployment is hard on body and soul.

But according to a new study, it actually causes 45,000 suicides worldwide every year.

Doctors' magazine The Lancet has published an article showing that, across 63 countries from 2000 to 2011, worklessness was responsible for more people taking their own lives than economic strife.

The author, Dr Carlos Nordt of Zurich University’s Psychiatric Hospital, pointed to some damaging psychological effects:

“Our findings reveal that the suicide rate increases six months before a rise in unemployment. What is more, our data suggests that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact, as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger in countries where being out of work is uncommon.

“It is possible that an unexpected increase in the unemployment rate may trigger greater fears and insecurity than in countries with higher pre-crisis unemployment levels.”

The UK, which was one of the countries studied, has historically experienced lower joblessness than many others, and the risks here may therefore be higher.

This news comes at a time when Employment Minister Esther McVey is under pressure to publish the findings of the Department for Work and Pensions' enquiries into 49 deaths of claimants for whom having their benefits taken away may have played a part.

To make clear: many other people on welfare have taken their own lives or died in ways that may be related to problems with the system, but the DWP has only admitted the possibility of responsibility for these 49 people.

McVey claims her department has not found any fault with its actions, but the fact that it will not let us in on the secret, as well as the fact that it investigates its own malpractice, means few will be reassured by this assertion.

When the results of some of its actions are viewed from afar, it is impossible to believe they are not culpable.

Stories such as that of David Burge, a 66-year-old retired gardener who had his housing benefit cut, got into arrears because of the incompetence of people who couldn't see him as a vulnerable human being, and finally ended it all when he couldn't untangle himself despite writing to officials to warn them that he was suicidal.

Or David Clapson, the diabetic who was sanctioned and couldn't afford to run the fridge needed to keep his insulin in and died as a result.

The death toll of the workless has many causes - the terrible self-image forced on claimants by media and government, unliveably-low incomes, not enough jobs available in some areas, poor services and sanctions - and the coalition could do much to alleviate most of them.

It doesn't because it has found some short-term electoral success in victimising the unemployed, and wants to ride this into the next election.

The deaths of jobless people are a problem across the world, as The Lancet's study shows.

But the UK has specific problems that mean our unemployed people suffer more than those of most other developed countries.