The story of Joy Worrall is both desperately sad and also enraging.
Joy Worrall was an 81-year-old woman who took her own life last November. Due to a DWP “error” (their word) she was stripped of her pension and, having no money and a fierce pride, she decided there was no way out. She was found dead in the Rhes-y-cae quarry in Flintshire.
Details of what led Joy Worrall to this end were revealed last week at the inquest into her death. Joy had come into a small inheritance in 2014. Being an honest woman, she notified the Department for Work and Pensions. In 2017, when her pension was reassessed, the DWP froze her entire pension, instead of pension credits. She was left with no income at all.
She worked her way through her £5,000 savings. When she ended her life, she had just £5 left. The inquest heard she was too proud to tell her family about her circumstances.
She had previously told them that if she had any major health or money worries, she’d “throw herself off the quarry”. And this is what led them to discover her body.
The DWP representative Suzanne Mitchelson said that Mrs Worrall’s two pension payments should have been “de-combined”. She added: “I am sorry that due to an administrative error this did not happen.”
That’s not really good enough, is it? A woman is dead because of a slip-up in a piece of computer inputting.
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I don’t blame the individual people who work on the front line of the DWP, or other key staff at other similar governmental organisations. They are working with systems they have been given and under time pressures for not a lot of money.
The issue is deeper and bigger. The hollowing out of services, the streamlining, the belief in the hallowed ability of software systems has meant that there aren’t enough people. There just aren’t enough people – either at local level to see and meet and build up relationships or further back to pick up flaws.
Joy clearly came from a generation who believed that they must keep such problems to themselves – to not be a burden
And because of the government’s austerity mission, a desire to cut essential payments at the earliest opportunity, slamming hardest those in society who need the payments most, the bleak possibility of more tragedies like Joy Worrall are opened.
The new DWP Secretary Amber Rudd has been keen to push her brand of compassionate conservatism, accepting, for instance, the strictures of Universal Credit playing a part in rise of the foodbanks. Now, she must go further and review the systems her department has put in place. And she must make it clear that the gaping, soulless hole in the safety net that Joy Worrall fell through will be found and fixed.
There is one final part, and that lies with all of us. Joy clearly came from a generation who believed that they must keep such problems to themselves – to not be a burden. Many people will feel the same, and so allow frequently fixable problems to overwhelm and destroy.
But there is always a way. And there is always an ear. And for those out there feeling swamped, don’t. This is Mental Health Awareness Week and one thing we have learned is that reaching out, or being the person reached out to, is a way to allow a positive change to come.
There is always a way.