graffiti 'Tory cuts kill' sprayed on door of Iain Duncan Smith's office in Chingford and Woodford Green, November 2019. Photo: Twitter

The decimator of the welfare system and the architect of Universal Credit who has caused so much death and misery should not be honoured, argues Mona Kamal

There is no honour in this country’s honours system, we know this. From Philip Green to Robert Mugabe, from Fred Goodwin to Nicolae Ceausescua, it appears to be a process by which the most destructive and immoral individuals of our time are lauded by the establishment. Whilst it is therefore entirely fitting that Iain Duncan Smith is the newest name joining this list of reprobates, it is nevertheless an insult to all those who suffered needless distress, impoverishment and humiliation as a direct result of his attacks on our welfare system.

During his time as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith was responsible for some of the cruellest and most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen. Under his stewardship of the DWP, the UK became the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into human rights abuses against disabled people – an investigation which later confirmed that our government had been guilty of “grave and systemic violations of the rights of disabled people”. 

The suffering and impoverishment which are a direct result of welfare changes (removal of the Independent Living Fund and Disability Living Allowance for example) are now undeniable and many of us working in mental health have witnessed the psychological impact of this. The callous and humiliating Work Capability Assessments in particular, where people with chronic disability are required to continuously prove they are deserving of their entitlements or else be stripped of them, have caused needless psychological distress.

I personally have worked with service users experiencing relapses of their chronic illnesses after the humiliation and anxiety of being put through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and I know the frustration and powerlessness when my own recommendations to the Job Centre staff are ignored and vulnerable patients are forced into work prematurely.

As an NHS psychiatrist, I have sat in A&E departments with people diagnosed with chronic mental illness who have been driven to panic attacks and suicidal ideation as a result of the anxiety caused by these tests and over the prospect of losing the welfare payments they rely on. This has only intensified with the chaos and uncertainty of Universal Credit a system known to be causing hardship to millions and for which Iain Duncan Smith is again wholly culpable. 

The first example of the WCA process being blamed directly for a completed suicide came in a coroner’s report in 2015 after Michael O’Sullivan, a 60-year-old man, had his Employment Support Allowance discontinued despite providing reports from three doctors stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia and was therefore unable to work. He killed himself at his home on 24 September 2013.

The following year, army veteran David Clapson died after his benefits had been stopped as a result of missing one meeting at the Job Centre. Without his jobseeker’s allowance, he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he stored his insulin working – he died 3 weeks after developing diabetic ketoacidosis. 

There are now hundreds of suicides that have been linked to the Work Capability Assessments implemented by Iain Duncan Smith. A study carried out by psychiatrists at a mental health trust in South London, found that between 2010-2013 alone in England, the WCA was associated with 590 suicides, 725,000 additional prescriptions for antidepressants and 279,000 additional cases of self-reported psychiatric problems.

For any civilised society, such consequences would outweigh any potential benefit to the public purse, but the fact that such welfare reforms have ostensibly been enacted to ‘‘balance the books’’ whilst hand-outs are given to the very wealthiest in the form of tax breaks, makes it clear that this has all been a very deliberate ideological choice and not one borne out of necessity.

Over the past decade of austerity very little has demonstrated the callousness and incompetence of this Tory government than their treatment of those with disabilities and chronic mental illness. There is no place for these cruel dehumanising measures in any civilised compassionate society, and the fact that Iain Duncan Smith, the individual who is the architect of such misery is to receive the honour of a knighthood is a grave insult to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable individuals across this country who are suffering due to his policies and to those who have tragically lost loved ones as a result. 

The legacy of Iain Duncan Smith is one of incompetence, hypocrisy and above all cruelty to the most vulnerable in our society. The fact he is to be rewarded for this is a travesty of natural justice which reveals the rottenness at the core of our establishment.