Domestic Abuse Survivor on Hunger Strike after Government Removes Benefits

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Sixty year old, domestic violence and abuse survivor George Rolph suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.  He endures painful flashbacks and extreme levels of anxiety which make it hard for him to function in everyday life.  Despite this, he was assessed as ‘fit to work’ by Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions and stripped of his benefits.  George is now the 28th Day of a hunger strike to protest the cruelty of the government’s assault on the welfare state.

The Case of George Rolph

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It is with some consideration that I cover the case of George Rolph.  It would be irresponsible to encourage a man with known mental health issues to engage in a hunger strike, which is effectively a long, painful means of killing oneself.  I also do not wish to encourage anyone else.

However, I have chosen to cover the story because the fact that in 21st century Britain, a member of one of our most vulnerable communities felt they had no choice but to take such a step, is worthy of hearing about.  In other words, George deserves to be heard.

George Rolph stopped eating and drinking on 21st May after having his social security payments stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions.  Like all other claimants, George had to endure the Atos Work Capability assessment.  This computer based test sees disabled people, and the physically and mentally unwell, asked a string of questions which generate a score determining whether they will continue to receive their benefit payments or not. This test supersedes the determination of medical experts and the claimants own clinicians.

Despite severe depressive episodes, PTSD and attacks of anxiety which leave him in tears – George Rolph was designated Fit to Work and left with no access to financial support.  Like all others who have lost their social security, he was told that it could take up to 8 months to appeal the decision, during which time he would not be eligible for state financial support.

He told the Mirror:

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay rent, I’m already behind with the gas and electric,” he says, quietly…I knew I was going to end up homeless. And I’m 60. I’m not going to make it out there…Then I thought if they’re going to put me out on the streets and make me homeless, if they’re going to kill me, well I’ll do it…I’ll be the one who decides where and when I die. I will go on a hunger and water strike.”

Seven days without water or food left George unable to stand up, lift his head, and unable to see properly.  After strenuous efforts from his local MP Heidi Alexander, the DWP finally capitulated and sent a home assessor to George.  His benefits were restored.

“I’d been told an appeal would take eight months to a year, but suddenly my benefits were reinstated until 2015.” He says.

At this point George chose to return to taking on fluids, but to continue his hunger strike on behalf of all those other victims of the Atos work capability assessment process.

“I can’t end this because of all the other lives the DWP has ruined,” he says. “People are taking their own lives.”

George has reached a particularly dangerous stage of his hunger strike now.  He has been told by Doctors that he is unlikely to survive past 40-50 days.  This means George could die in a little over a week, if the situation remains unchanged.

“I want to be very clear that I don’t want anyone else to do this, especially disabled people,” he says.

Dying to Work

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The government’s own statistics show that between 2010 and 2011 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of losing their benefits after being assessed as ‘fit to work’ by Atos and the DWP.  This is 204 people a week, or 29 people a day, dying of the illnesses and conditions that the government has dictated they are fit to work with. In their final weeks of life, these people were not being supported to focus their remaining time and energy on their loved ones, leaving the world in a state of peace.  They were harassed by the Job Centre, late payment notices and threats of eviction as their social safety net was ripped away.

As this horrific figure, one person every hour, is almost too large to conceive of, here are some names among that number.

Linda Wootton, 49, was on 10 medications a day after a double lung and heart transplant.  She was weak and suffered regular bouts of blackouts.  She was put through the Atos Work Capability Assessment and as she lay in a hospital bed dying, she received confirmation she was ‘fit to work’.  She died just nine days later.  Her husband Peter said:

“I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own bodily fluids. It took half an hour for her to die; a woman who is apparently fit for work”.

Brian McArdle, 57, 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, he was deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos.  He died of a heart attack the day after his benefit payments were stopped.  His thirteen year old son Kieran told the Daily Record:

“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.

Colin Traynor, 29, suffered from epilepsy.  He was deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos and forced to enter a lengthy, bureaucratic process to appeal the decision – during which his benefits would be frozen.  He did not live to see the result of his appeal.  Five weeks after his death, his family received the news that his appeal was successful.  Too late for Colin.  His father Ray said:

“I firmly believe – 100% believe – that the system this government introduced has killed my son.”

At the rate at which people are dying – these three people represent the death toll in just the last three hours.  This is not just some occasional poor decisions, this is a Linda, a Brian, or a Colin, every two minutes, all day, every day, dying because this system is designed to throw people out of the social security system – whether they need it or not.  76% of those who appeal the Atos decisions have been found eligible for benefits, meaning that not only is this failure costing lives, but it is costing court time and public money.  This has led to Citizens Advice arguing for Atos to face financial penalties for the computerised assessment delivering all these bad decisions.

Enough is Enough

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Our tasks in life are often prioritised into important and urgent.  Important things we respect but seldom do.  Urgent things get done.

For most of us, social justice is important, but not urgent.  We treat it like some theoretical issue; maybe we can attain it, maybe not.  All too often we talk about the long game, and shrug our shoulders at the unfairness of it all.  Some even argue there is no such thing as poverty in the UK, or that things are not really as bad as we would think.

This needs to stop. Now.  This is not important, this is urgent.  By the time you wake up tomorrow morning, more than two hundred others will have gone to sleep permanently after having their life lines cut by the government.  George Rolph may well be one of them.  It should not take the victims of these policies starving themselves to death to get our attention.  But it did. Worse, most people are still not listening.

George Rolph should not have to threaten suicide before we turn off Britain’s Got Talent and start to give rat’s ass about each other.  It is time for us to decide what kind of society we are.  At the moment, we are choosing to be a society that shoots its wounded; a society that condemns its most vulnerable as shirkers, skivers and scroungers. In order to change it, we must change ourselves.

Take Action

Join the WOW Campaign – stop the War on Welfare

Support Disabled People Against Cuts – a kick ass campaign group by disabled people, for disabled people.

20 thoughts on “Domestic Abuse Survivor on Hunger Strike after Government Removes Benefits

  1. Pingback: Scriptonite Daily Round Up of the Week’s News | Scriptonite Daily

  2. Pingback: Tories Put Forward New Far Right Bills: Ban the Burqa, Privatise the BBC, Bring Back Death Penalty | Scriptonite Daily

  3. Good morning, i was wondering if you could would consider doing something on Councillor Brewer, featured on the Mail on line today. He is the Tory Councillor in Cormwall that would like to cull disabled children at birth, much like how farmers deal with their malformed sheep (his words not mine). Actually the article is very difficult reading, swear words spontaneously explode from ones mouth whikst reading it for some reason!

    • Do you think this councilor would include the British scientist Stephen Hawkins? and all those who become not perfect as fodder for slaughter? do you think we should have a medical report on this councilor to see if he is up to standard? of perfection.

  4. George Rolphs own words (please refer to his Facebook page, if the post is still there) … George is a big fan of Westboro Baptist church. Just saying :)

    “When other men ask me to explain to them the thought processes of females, or why I think single mother households are a very bad idea, I always send them to Mil Millington’s internet page http://mil-millington.com/ and this particular passage from his writings. All of the mystery of female thinking is revealed in these two paragraphs and, if men could only grasp the significance of his words, the need for the male to try and understand the female mind would be quickly satisfied by the sudden realisation that there is no such thing as the female mind and we could all go back to a deep and dreamless peaceful sleep. Until, that is, an earthquake happens…

    Over to Mil….

    “We had an earthquake here the other week. Surprisingly, I’m not being metaphorical. I mean we had an actual earthquake: in the geological rather than the emotional sense. It happened at about one o’clock in the morning, we were pretty close to the epicentre, and it was 4.8 on the Richter scale. Now, I’m depressingly aware that all you Californians are right now glancing up from your crystals and pausing mid-mantra to snort, ‘4.8? Poh. That’s not an earthquake, that’s just someone slamming a door.’ Well, yes, I suppose it’s all relative, but here in England where tectonics is less brash and showy, 4.8 is easily vulgar enough to stand out.
    The important thing is that just before 1 A.M. the whole house shook. Naturally, this woke us up. Cupboards rattled and banged, furniture shivered across the floor, the bed struggled like it was possessed by the spirit of a wild animal that was trying to get out. The instant it ended, Margret’s freshly woken face slid in front of me. Her voice irritated and her eyes accusatively thin, she hissed, ‘Was that you?'”

    Do you see it, Guys…? Do you…? Huh?

    Now do you get feminism?

    Now, for any guys out there staring at the screen and reading my words over and over and failing to grasp their significance or get anywhere near the point, I can say only this: admit it. You were brought up in a single mother household with no father figure to teach you the ways of men, weren’t you? As a result, you, like almost all the women reading this, will be thinking that her reaction to the earthquake was a perfectly reasonable one because anything, that in any way ever, upsets the female equilibrium MUST ALWAYS BE, a mans fault, somehow. And that is why single mother households are a very, very, bad idea for the good of society.

    Nuff said.”

    • And what separates me and the Westboro Baptist Church, is I will fight for the right of people to receive case and support when they need it, whether I agree with them politically or not. I do not ask opeople to subscribe to my view of the world, in order to receive due care when they are sick. I’m happy to tackle George Rolph’s views on women and the world anytime. But that is a separate conversation from whether he deserves to be heard on this issue.

      • Bravo Scriptonite, I was supporting a 90 year old antipoll tax protester, awkward `cos the old boy was also, it turned out, quite opposed to people of colour…!

  5. Yet another fantastic piece on something very close to my heart. I have been a strong supporter of George’s stand against the ATOS process and respect his initial campaign. It was being ignored by the main stream media and lots of us on his page were responsible for raising his profile with journalists; which is why I’m so pleased you covered it. Regretfully, over the past week George has raised a number of other contentious issues on his ‘helpers’ site which will undoubtedly detract from his vital message of supporting the sick, vulnerable and disabled. Because of that fact and because hIs views on a number of social issues are so very different from my own, I have withdrawn my support for George; however the fight against this tyrannical ATOS system goes on. I’m now going through the process acting as appointee for my profoundly disabled son to transition his benefits from incapacity to employment support allowance and believe me everyone going through this process are being treated with utter contempt. I’m a naturally polite but assertive person when dealing with people and after telling the DWP I was unable to handwrite the form can i fill it in on line, a swer no. So i asked for assistance in the form of a home visit (my son is unable to visit the DWP offices due to the nature of his physical and learning disabilities) they told me ‘you’re his appointee you have to fill in the ESA form and if its not back by 12th July, no more incapacity benefit’. They then proceeded to ask me why i couldnt get to a CAB office for help. Apart from the fact our CAB office was closed in a recent bout of cuts and there are waiting lists months long at our closest CAB, I reminded them I was not answerable to them as Ii do not claim ANY benefit, including carers benefit as I work. They reluctantly agreed pass it on to another DWP department for consideration (but that was after 40 minutes of me being on the phone arguing the point with a DWP manager) so I’m to expect a phone call but nearly a week later I’m still waiting!

  6. After reading this I went and done the self assessment pip test, going on the results I will no longer qualify (even though my DLA was classed indefinite) I have epilepsy that is not controllable and 2 slipped discs in my back that they can’t operate on so some days I can’t even move off a chair, I actually did work with my epilepsy but damaged my back being a carer on the community, now I’m incapacitated I’m going to have help took away, what a joke. Also done test for my son who is mentally and physically disabled, would take to long to list all his problems, he goes high school in September but I still can’t let him out by himself as he’s not safe, has communication problems and high anxiety, autism, can’t even cut his own food, going by the test he will lose his aswell it’s ridiculous, yes there are many people out there committing fraudulent claims but why should the innocent pay, sorry for ranting but for quite some years I tried to work with my disabilities and I didn’t always claim benefits for them

  7. One has to remember Britain is not only a war infested country of the past and still attempts albeit feebly to involve its military in little incursions of conquest but still produces weapons that are designed to maim and kill, it is time for Cameron to give a unequivocal apology to all countries that Britain has raped plundered an have used violence on a scale that is only superseded by America, it is time for the British Establishment to return some of its ill gotten wealth back to the World and change its direction of authoritarian vindictiveness and have the courage to make amends and in particular being the early part of the industrial age terminate from being a machine of loose cogs to becoming human.

  8. Great piece. Well said.I am 60, with severe respiratory disease, unable to work. Unable to walk across the room often. I have the luxury of being a dual national, so I had to move to Australia, away from my adult kids, away from everything I knew and cared for. A terrible choice, but at least I had a choice. I don’t have to live with prospect of being told I am fit for work, and like so many in Britain, face losing everything, even their dignity. it is shameful.

  9. THE FACTS SHRIEK FOR THEMSELVES-OF COURSE THERE ARE STILL SOME ON UNREASONABLE SICKIES BUT OBVIOUSLY THIS QUANGO CANT TELL THE DIFFERANCE.
    DAVE

  10. This entire scheme was devised by a outlawed American insurance giant UNUM,and should never have been allowed to trade in this country. They all should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

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