Dear Ian…

So today finally saw the release of figures of those who have died on benefits in recent years. I am, to be honest, struggling to process this entire mess, but here’s my attempt.

Dear Ian,

Not your finest day at the office? I can’t imagine it’s been much fun.

I’d like to have sympathy, but to be honest, I really can’t find any. I can, however, find an awful lot of sympathy for some of your victims. Strong word?

Imagining living with crippling anxiety and depression. You’d like to be able to work, but merely getting out of bed is difficult. You struggle to get out of the house, because every time you do you feel so anxious you think you’re going to die. And in order to try and protect the tiny amount of money you have to live on, you have to face an assessment by someone utterly unqualified in your condition, who reads off a pre determined question sheet which doesn’t even begin to be relevant to your situation.

And suddenly, though you always thought you’d rather die than step outside, the choice becomes a reality. Because you’re found ‘fit for work’, and your benefits stop.

Hyperbole? I wish. Just one of the situations faced by thousands of people under the benefit regime you authored and are, apparently, ‘proud’ of.

Now, I do realise that the statistics are not definitive. I’m not a statistician and I don’t have enough fingers and toes for most sums . I would however posit that if 2000 plus people die after being declared fit for work, something, somewhere, suggests that at least some of them may have been a little less than fit.

Here’s the problem. I’m sure your figures, of less people claiming benefits, do make you proud. But these aren’t figures. They’re people. Mum’s and dads and grandparents and brothers and sisters and partners. People being desperately let down by a system that’s designed to protect them.

I’m sure we do need to budget as a country, but budgeting by killing off the vulnerable feels just a trifle dystopian. It’s quite possible to make your statistics look great but still be completely and utterly wrong. Hitler was pretty proud of the figures he had after the Shoah, but that doesn’t mean that mass murder is ideal.

I’m aware that I’m angry about this, and maybe my comparisons are overblown. But my anger isn’t. How dare we, as a society, reduce people to numbers and figures and statistics? These are people, Mr Duncan Smith, the people your government promised to protect.

It’s too late for some of these people, but maybe it’s not too late for you. I’m begging you. Spend time with people, listen to their stories. Understand their hopes, dreams, and present reality before assuming that you have the only fool proof plan. Begin to see people as people. Because unless you do, I fear for our country.

One very sad citizen.

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