The journalist who uncovered that the suicide of a mentally ill man was linked to the government’s fitness for work tests, has been blacklisted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over his investigations.
In a recent landmark ruling, a coroner concluded that a man with severe mental illness killed himself as a direct result of being found “fit to work” by the Government’s outsourced disability assessors.
Michael O’Sullivan, a 60-year-old from north London, hanged himself after his disability benefits were removed.
Now, John Pring, the editor of Disability News Service (DNS), who uncovered the link between the disabled man’s tragic death and the government’s austerity cuts, says that the DWP is no longer responding to his questions.
Set up in April 2009, DNS examines sensitive issues that impact disabled people’s lives, such as discrimination, independent living, benefits, poverty and human rights.
Pring had spent months gathering evidence to prove a coroner had blamed British man Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide on the government’s work capability assessments.
O’Sullivan, who suffered from chronic anxiety and depression, took his own life in 2013 after being judged “fit for work” by the DWP.
At the time of his death, he had been taking anti-depressants, was engaging in talk therapy and was also allegedly liaising with an employment support officer.
Coronor Mary Hassell, who presided over the case, wrote in a report submitted to the DWP that the “trigger” for his death was the assessment that he was fit to work.
“The anxiety and depression were long-term problems, but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the DWP as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that,” her verdict stated.
The DWP later responded to the coroner’s concerns in a document marked “OFFICIAL – SENSITIVE,” conceding O’Sullivan’s case should have been dealt with differently.
Pring has reported widely on problems with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit scheme. He also uncovered a secret DWP investigation of more than 60 deaths of benefit claimants since 2012. The full findings of this investigation, including 30 recommendations for reforms, are yet to be made public.
The DWP’s press office is now refusing to with communicate with DNS, saying it will not respond to it as a legitimate news organization. Its refusal to communicate with the outlet is thought to have been triggered by articles published by DNS that omitted government comments. While Pring says the comments were left out because press officers missed deadlines, the DWP argues that DNS should publish corrections retrospectively.
Disability rights group Black Triangle said multiple disability groups rely on DNS, and by severing communication with Pring, the DWP is severing communication with millions of disabled people across the country. The group maintains the government’s re-classification of sick and disabled individuals as “fit for work” is a vicious attack on their human rights.