Falling through the Gap

Like others, I read with a deep sense of sadness about the deaths by suicide of Mark and Helen Mullins, a couple in Coventry who were struggling against the insurmountable barriers set up by a social services and social security system that seemed to be weighted against them – existing between them only on £57.50 per week due to a set of circumstances that laid to waste the idea of a welfare state that supports those who need support to the extent that they were driven to despair.

However, the overwhelming sadness I felt was not accompanied by surprise that I’ve seen others express. I am shocked that this situation can come to pass in the UK today. Shocked but not surprised. I can see how it happened.

I’ve worked with a few people over the years who have learning disabilities but have not been ‘diagnosed’ as such and it has been easy for people like this to ‘slip through the net’ – especially if there are others around to provide support – like Mr Mullins or more often in the cases I’ve been involved with – parents.

It is very very difficult to be ‘diagnosed’ with a learning disability as an adult. I don’t know the particular details about Helen Mullins though.  Generally, it is something that is picked up on as a child and services are triggered subsequently. Services that are in place to support people with learning disabilities are focused on people who have higher needs so someone that has a higher functional ability may not be ‘picked up’ by the specialist services even if the job centre then make a decision that she is not able to work.

General adult services would not make an assumption of need unless it were presented to them according to FACS criteria and while it is clear to see the cumulation  of circumstances affecting Mark and Helen, I can see how they would not need the increasingly high ‘Fair Access to Care Services’ criteria applied in Coventry which only meets ‘substantial’ and critical’ care needs.

As far as safeguarding processes go, if Helen was not known to social services through either of these paths – being known to a learning disabilties team or being known to an adult team on the basis of meeting the FACS criteria, there would be no procedures to apply. Safeguarding often needs someone to have carried out the abuse and in this case, it seems almost to be a case of institutional abuse by a system rather than by an individual.

And that leaves us with mental health services. It’s hard to know if there were any underlying mental illnesses. There is reference to Helen’s ‘mental health problems’ in the initial piece in the Coventry Telegraph but it may be that again, criteria are above the needs that were evidenced by Helen.

Helen had a child removed from her and so this begs the question of better liaison between children services and adult services in providing support for families on an ongoing basis  but the unpleasant and unfortunate truth is that higher criteria will and do exclude some people who need support.

As far as the benefits go, I don’t fully understand why Helen was not able to work and why this information wasn’t coordinated between a job centre, a GP and a specialist service. I suspect that the learning disability may have been acknowledged medically but below the level that would allow support from a specialist team however I’m very confused as to why if Jobseekers Allowance was denied, Employment and Support Allowance wasn’t granted.

Ultimately, it is tragic. This should not happen. There may be many issues we don’t know about but this is not a society that I want to live in. We must protect and support the right to welfare without stigma and we must be aware of the  chipping away of social services support from all angles.

This is the tragic and human face of cuts.

Rest in Peace Helen and Mark.  We must find the gaps in the system and fill them in and we must push the government again and again not to pull the support away from people who rely on it.

5 thoughts on “Falling through the Gap

  1. Reading this post made me weep with anger, pity and frustration.
    As i have discovered to my detriment, there are many anomilies in the social welfare system. I receive Incapacity Benefit at the higher, long term rate, and Disability Living Allowance at the lowest rate for Care. But because i live with my mother in her house, I can’t apply for Housing Benefit. Because I get the lowest rate for care in DLA, Mum can’t apply for Carer’s Allowance. And even if my DLA is increased, because Mum earns just over £100.00 a week, she won’t qualify for CA anyway. Mum is a pensioner. She has a £565.00 mortgage, and although i give her my DLA and pay a couple of small essential bills each month, and contribute to food shopping etc, she receives no financial help for my living costs at all. And this is mainly because she “owns” her house.
    We have raised this issue with our MP, and he is investigating it. But in the meantime, my carer pensioner Mother struggles on emotionally and financially, unsupported by anyone other than family and friends. Because of this “gap” in social policy, we could lose our home, and the little equity she has in the house would barely be enough to buy a single bedroomed flat where we live.
    Oh, and i should add that if i move out and request social housing for myself, i will have made myself “intentionally homeless” and will be ineligible for housing or housing benefit, regardless of my mental ill health. We were told by a local council official that the only way i could qualify for housing costs without question is if my Mum forceably evicts me. This told to the mother of a suicidally depressed daughter that needs to be told to shower, eat, sleep, dress, take medication… Madness.
    So while i knash my teeth in anger over your post, i am not surprised by it. All the while knowing that many are worse off than me and that Mum and i are not in a totally desperate state. Yet.


  2. This is desperate stuff – there needs to be some central collation of suicide stats which are directly related to cuts and welfare. I think the “isolated” cases such as this will be completely ignored by MP’s but surely there has to be a certain point at which it can’t be ignored? Or maybe they can..I know people who have made it very clear in what circumstances they will take themselves out and they would make it clear in a note as to why.
    Imagine if the threshold for medical treatment was ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ in say diabetic care? So what, we would only treat someone with diabetes if they were in a coma then? Or needing a foot amputated? The learning/physical disability and mental health equivalent of this is happening.

  3. I don’t think ‘joining up’ agencies can hurt – it always seems to come up in serious case reviews. I think there has to be a service or something for people like the Mullins and I think there needs to be more referrals from DWP. We have a system where the gas and electricity companies make automatic referrals if they are worried about someone not being able to pay bills who may be vulnerable – something like that from the DWP would be good.

  4. Pingback: People with Mental Health Problems – Sick, Stupid, Scroungers or Stigmatised, Smart, Super-heros? | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

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