THE BLOG

Our Loved Ones Are Not Statistics

20/07/2015 15:58 BST | Updated 20/07/2016 10:59 BST

Today, 20 July, will be the second anniversary of my brother David Clapson's death. His benefits were stopped after he missed just one meeting at the Job Centre. He was diabetic and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker's allowance he couldn't afford to eat or top up his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. My brother died three weeks after his benefits were stopped. He was 59.

It is very hard when you lose a loved one, and for me losing someone under such avoidable and tragic circumstances means the wounds go even deeper. My brother may be gone, but sadly like so many others that have suffered and died, must never be forgotten. We must honour, treasure and keep dear their memories.

After David's death, I felt something needed to be done to change the government's cruel policies that result in suffering. That's why I started a petition on Change.org calling for an inquiry into benefit sanctions. The word scrounger and skiver is bandied about too casually. David was a private and gentle man who worked 30 years of his life. The percentage of misuse of the benefits system is less than 1% and we are campaigning for the needy not the greedy. Sadly by their very nature the majority of the vulnerable simply do not speak out.

The government states that sanctions are used as a last resort, yet have issued over 3million sanctions, which makes that statement sound hollow. They have sanctioned people with serious medical and mental health conditions without care and thought of the outcome of their actions - my brother was a Type 1 Diabetic and this was known to officials.

Governments are voted in by the people for the people and to look after all whatever their circumstances. The welfare state was brought in to support and help the vulnerable and the needy in our society.

Through my petition we achieved a Select Committee Inquiry, which obtained over 100 written statements. The Committee agreed on 26 recommendations including, an investigation into the deaths of benefit claimants of which the government has yet to respond.

Despite this, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith is trying to stop publication of "death statistics" that would reveal how many people have died within six weeks of their benefits being stopped.

Maggie Zolobajluk started a petition demanding the figures are released because it is in the public interest. As a partner of someone who has a disability, Maggie has been through the benefit appeals and tribunal representation so knows first hand the impact the flawed welfare system has on families.

Last week's budget included £12billion in welfare cuts, which will hit the very people the government claims it wants to support. How much more can they punish the poor, vulnerable and innocent? I worry the changes announced in this week's Budget will hit the poorest, including those in low pay work, and most vulnerable the hardest.

This is not a numbers game, our loved ones are not statistics, and we must never lose sight - or let the government lose sight - of all the suffering.I will not give up fighting until we see real changes achieving real results and there is no more unnecessary suffering and tragic deaths. This is about people, not politics, humility and compassion and doing what's right.