Austerity Kills: Shocking Deaths That Need Never Have Happened

austerity kills

Ideological austerity is making Britain a crueller place.  In order to justify cutting social safety nets and civil liberties, the government must create a culture that makes such actions acceptable.   This culture turns poor people into scroungers, elderly and disabled people into burdens and protesters into domestic extremists.  Today, we look at three lives which ended too soon, and too cruelly, as a result.

The Man Who Received a Death Sentence for Stealing a Gingerbread Man

 james Best

James Best (pictured above) died aged just 37, as a prisoner of maximum security Wandsworth Prison, after stealing a gingerbread man biscuit from an already looted bakery during the London Riots of 2011.

James had been in and out of foster care throughout his life.  He suffered from high blood pressure, arthritis, Crohns disease and asthma.  He had been arrested and sectioned under the Mental Health Act in July 2011 after self harming in a London street.

Just a month after his sectioning, he wandered into a bakery after it had been looted by rioters, picked up a gingerbread man biscuit, and walked off.  He was arrested by police who spotted him eating the biscuit a little further down the road.  Despite his medical history, James was remanded in custody in Wandsworth Prison while awaiting trial.

On 8th August 2011, he went to the prison gym where fellow inmates carried out an induction.  Despite ticking three separate boxes which should have prohibited him from strenuous workout, he was sent into the gym regardless.  On returning to his cell at around 5pm, he suffered a massive heart attack.

What followed was a tragedy of errors.  The prison officer making the call to the emergency services could not tell the 999 operator James’ name, the reason why he needed medical help, or even the post code of the prison.  The ambulance service then deprioritised the call.  All the while James was expiring in a prison cell.

An inquest, while criticizing all parties who had a duty of care for James Best, also raised the question of why a man which such a history had been placed in a maximum security prison in the first place.

James had been placed in prison as part of the cynical and hysterical crack down after the riots, where judges were instructed under political pressure to hand out ‘example making’ sentences.  This saw a college student receive a six month jail sentence for stealing a bottle of water worth £3.50, and people like James Best ending up behind bars too.

Instead of engaging in a reasonable analysis of what sent our young people into such a flying rage that they burned down buildings and looted shops, we were told that they were all feral, mindless thugs that needed to be punished severely.  In fact, any attempt to suggest that punishment alone was a flawed approach was shouted down as airy fair liberal nonsense.

This is the culture that made is acceptable for a man with serious mental and physical health issues to be held as a Category B prisoner in a maximum security prison, for stealing a ginger bread man.

The Man Who Froze To Death on a Porch

 Daniel Guantlett

Thirty five year old Daniel Guantlett froze to death in February this year on the porch of this (pictured above) empty bungalow in Aylesford, Kent.  He was on the porch because if he had entered the bungalow he would have been in breach of new ‘anti squatting’ laws.

Six months ago, the UK Parliament passed legislation which made it possible for the police to immediately evict anyone found squatting.  Since then, there have been thirty three arrests, leading to ten convictions and three prison sentencesNone of these court cases involved squatters displacing existing tenants, all of the properties involved were completely empty.

Daniel Guantlett had been one of those arrested, for sleeping in the disused bungalow on a previous occasion.  This bungalow was empty, and was due to be bulldozed.  On this particular night, Daniel chose to obey the law and settle on the porch for the night, whilst temperatures dropped to minus 2 degrees.

This decision to comply with the law cost him his life.

His frigid body was found by a passer by the following day and an inquest later confirmed he had died of hypothermia.  To add to the tragedy, Daniel was the second homeless man found dead in the town that weekend.

People finding themselves without shelter should be supported by social workers and housing officers, not bullied by bailiffs and police officers.  We have permitted our parliament and our police force to criminalise homelessness.

This led directly to a young and destitute man freezing to death in the street, while a property lay empty behind him.

The Blind, Half Paralysed Man Who Died After Being Deemed ‘Fit to Work’

 Brian+McArdle

Brian McArdle, 57 died of a heart attack the day after his benefit payments were stopped as ATOS and the Department for Work and Pensions had deemed him ‘fit for work’.

Mr McArdle had been left paralysed down one side, blind in one eye, unable to speak properly and barely able to eat and dress himself after a stroke on Boxing Day 2011. Despite this, along with everyone else claiming disability related benefits, Mr McArdle was hauled in for a Work Capability Assessment, to make doubly sure he was actually disabled.

The stress of the impending review provoked another small stroke in the days ahead of the assessment.  A month later he received a letter informing his that he’d been assessed as ‘Fit for Work’ and the benefits sustaining him and his thirteen year old son Kieran were to be cut off on September 26th 2012.  On September 27th, Brian suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Speaking to the Daily Record, his son Kieran said:

“Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go.

“He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man, but even an idiot could have seen my dad wasn’t fit for work.

“He was under a great deal of stress the moment he was told about his assessment, and then after he got the letter telling him his benefits were being stopped he completely changed and he was very down.

“In the three weeks leading up to his death his fighting spirit was gone. I feel Atos caused my dad stress and unnecessary suffering which brought all this on and didn’t help.

“So them and David Cameron need to see the bigger picture and know their changes are killing genuine people like my dad. It has to stop before more people lose their lives.”

Brian is just one of 1,100 people who died last year (that is more than three people every single day) after being deemed fit to work by Atos.

Meanwhile, Atos were awarded sponsorship of the Paralympic Games and received £3bn in government contracts.

It is Time to Stop the Madness

 compassion

I could have told the story of Mark and Helen Mullins; this couple were found lying side by side in bed, having committed suicide after lack of access to benefits saw them entirely dependent on charity hand outs to survive.

I could have told you about Christopher Harness; he hanged himself after finding out the funding for his place at a mental health treatment centre was to be cut.

I could have told you about the unimaginably horrific death of 81 year old Gloria Foster; the bed ridden pensioner was left to die an excruciating and lonely death by thirst and starvation after her care firm was raided by the Border Agency and no one picked up her care needs.  She simply sat, trapped and unable to call for help, waiting to die.

I could have told you any number of these stories.

When we take a moment to look past the headlines and the statistics and let ourselves absorb the full tragedy of real lives lost, it is harder to shrug away and ignore.  It should be a source of national outrage that these stories are just a drop in the ocean of the overwhelming suffering being meted out to the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

My purpose for telling you is to overcome the myths; the myth that poverty doesn’t really exist in the UK; the myth that these cuts are just some ‘tough decisions’ and are aimed at those people who are playing the system.  There are hundreds of thousands of real people, in real pain as a result of these changes in public spending,  They didn’t cause the crisis.  Meanwhile, the people who did cause the crisis – the bankers, the tax evading corporations, the politicians who made it all possible –  become richer and more powerful.

The nation is being manipulated into fighting one against the other so we don’t take collective action against the real source of our struggles.  A climate of suspicion must be stoked and fostered.  Simple human compassion must be eroded. Only in this way can they have us support our own annihilation.  Worse, this cultural shift does more long term damage than any individual budget cut.  The funding can be turned back on tomorrow, but the attitudes being hardened will take far longer to soften again.

The single greatest protest of this cruel ideology of austerity for the poor is to refuse to harden our own attitudes.  Compassion, concern and cooperation are heretical ideas in Austerity Britain.  So indulge in them, as often as you can with as many as you can.  One day, this era will be over.  That day will come sooner, the more of us that keep our heads and our hearts.

Take Action

Squash Campaign – join the campaign to reverse laws which criminalise squatting.

Atos Monologues – an intrepid group have collected the stories of those who have suffered and died and turned them into monologues to be performed.

WoW Petition – sign the War on Welfare petition to stop the war on the welfare state which has led to the painful stories you have read herein.

Callum’s List – a list of further victims of the welfare cuts.

10 thoughts on “Austerity Kills: Shocking Deaths That Need Never Have Happened

  1. I hope you have read the appalling news about a 53 year old lady with myasthenia gravis from Solihull, which is an affluent borough, which also has a lot of social housing for its poorer people. She walked under a truck because she did not have the money to afford the ‘bedroom tax’ her council was imposing on her. She was not in good health, and her last child had moved our from a house that in no way is palatial in size. She had lived there 18 years, and loved her garden. She was desperate enough to do this in spite of having loving family and young grandchildren. It is now being reported and I hope that this time people will be outraged enough to see the vileness of current policies. It is really time that people started to say “NO”. As in, No I will not help this government enforce these policies, I will not support my councils actions, I will not take part in these processes. I know times are difficult, but people need to have the courage of their convictions, stick with the decent attitudes that prevailed for many of the post-war years, and say no. This includes people in work in positions where they become the enforcers of these unjust laws. It also means not blaming hapless workers in other countries who may come here. It is nothing to do with their actions, and it is a lie that we are so overcrowded that we cannot house our own. This is a way of stimulating the housing market without seeming to. Solihull is a spacious and for the most part green and affluent borough, so why do they need to implement this measure. If you want to see overcrowded, go and see Hong Kong, which we were responsible for until somewhere around the time this lady moved into her home.

    We are sliding into something so ugly and repressive that when we come out of it people will look at themselves in the mirror and say, “Did I really participate in that? How could I possibly have helped make this happen?” And then they will hide their true shame because they could so easily have opposed it and didn’t.

    On the other hand they could take a stand now, before there are more deaths, and take back what was decent and good about England, and decide to make a stand against this tyranny.

    Thank you for this column, it gives me hope that we can find a way through this.

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  3. Nine weeks ago, my brother who had disabling back pain for eighteen months, and was sleeping in a chair because he couldn’t lay down, was told he was fit for work after a WCA by bloody Atos.
    Eight weeks ago he was diagnosed with end stage cancer, one week after being found “fit for work”.
    He died on the 8th April after enduring pain likened to “walking on two broken legs”.He was 55 years old, so much for the WCA and the bastard tories – vile scum!

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  5. Your article has made me cry and feel sick with the uncaring world we live in. What the government has done, is doing and plans to do is deeply shameful and cruel. We all know who the real criminals are and it certainly isn’t people who are vulnerable and have no choice. I think the so termed ‘Austerity Cut’s’ are not what the government are putting in place instead it is a well thought out PLANNED POVERTY, an attack on all who are unemployed, poor, sick, disabled and vulnerable. We as a society are all victims to this attack whether it affects us directly or not. Our communities and society are being destroyed by evil, greedy people and we must fight and be a visible so we can to stop their draconian fascist ideologies. My partner and i have made a poster as we are trying to get people to drop the term Austerity Cuts and use the real truer term of PLANNED POVERTY. we think this might help people better understand what is being done to our society and our communities. I would love to be able to send it to you.

    • As a disabled person living in my country of birth I am ASHAMED to be British ,how the hell can we stand by and let this happen ,this has got to be stopped NOWNOT TOMORROW OR THE DAY AFTER NOW …LYNNE X

    • I would love a copy of your Planned Poverty poster – i completely agree with you that it should not be called Austerity Cuts and be renamed planned poverty as that is what they are doing

  6. Shameful. Truly shameful that this country allows this to go on. This country is going to hell in a handbag. Yes I know that isn’t the correct expression but when you realise that all this set in motion with the election of our first “woman” prime minister it kinda makes sense.
    Keep up the good work here on your blog, stories like these need to be out there since the main stream media seem determined to ignore them. We need more like you to turn the tides before we end up with every working person in this country classed as poor because all the wealth has been gobbled up by the so called elite like David Cameron et al.
    If they have their way a return to the days of feudalism is on the cards….no justice for the common man, women treated like property, girls married off at 13 or younger, an indentured population working to make the rich even richer and praying they don’t end up in the poor house for displeasing their lord and master.

  7. It was pointed and it interesting that the death of Lee Halpen, a film maker documenting how homeless people existed, was in various newspapers after online networkers pushed the story. Both the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror reported the story.

    A few months before, in February, we shared and tweeted the death of Daniel Gauntlett to no avail. It was only reported by a Kent local news and various blogs, but no mainstream media picked up the article.

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