Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Ballad for Child J

"Child J, a 5 month old baby, died in the summer of 2009, when his mother, Ms K, jumped from a third floor balcony, holding him in her arms. She also died. An inquest subsequently found that she had taken her own life and that Child J had been unlawfully killed."

As the official learning inquiry observed, "Ms K was therefore without any source of income as a result of these [benefit] decisions." She raised this with a range of individuals and agencies, as well as pursuing formal appeals processes. Her General Practitioner wrote to the DWP.

Ms K was a French national. She came to England with her sister some years ago. She worked a number of jobs, thus paying tax and NI, and studied. On holiday abroad she became pregnant . Having worked and studied in Britain for years she stopped at around the time she was to give birth, then ran afoul of the benefit system.

I don't know the lawyers, social workers, doctors or benefits officials in this report, which is a document of open record. However the benefits decision shows that all of the professionals involved had to deal with a very bad set of rules regarding the rights of European mothers.

The trap Ms K fell into is called being a foreign woman, in a sense. But here is how it's done.

When a European national who has a job and pays tax and NI over here is injured in the job or loses work and signs on, he is entitled to benefits. When a French or Polish woman does the same then falls pregnant , she is advised, by the smiling and well intentioned clerk that she should claim Income Support, because as a woman about to give birth she shouldn't have to sign on.

Then if the mum isn't British they send a habitual residence test form. And then when they find out that she isn't working, she loses her benefits at the exact same time she's bringing a baby into this world. Because after ceasing to sign on, she ceases to be a worker. An generally speaking, unless she is a classified as a worker, she loses her benefit rights.

According to one argument the reason for the withdrawal of benefits is because pregnancy is not an illness, and thus if you cease work, you voluntarily take yourself out of the labour market.

This was an unusual Serious Case Review. "Child J was a well loved baby, who received exemplary care from his mother, until the point of his sudden death." A sudden depression was thought to have been a possible cause of these deaths.

The Panel judged that the stresses arising from being refused benefits would have been the most significant factor in precipitating the development of mental illness. So the sudden onset of depression, or perhaps suicidal lack of feelings of self worth was caused by money worries.

Not lawyers, not doctors, not social workers could manage to save Ms K or her son, Mr J, a loving mother who picked her kid up and walked into statistics. None of us managed to stop it.

It would be mean and cowardly for me to claim that I could have secured a different ending to this case. I didn't know the people, although I recognise the patterns. Social services can do more to help financially while benefit claims are going on, but try to save the money for emergencies. Lawyers struggle with a slow bureaucracy, and confusing and contradictory legislation.

I'm pretty sure that either the legislation is wrong , or the interpretation of those rules is wrong, or the level of service that Ms K received was wrong, because otherwise we must be living in an unhealthy society.

Here's one thing I know for a fact. If the cuts to Legal Aid proposed go through future Ms K's will not be entitled to legal advice. So what I think about what we could have done worse, or better, will soon become obsolete.

She paid taxes, she spoke French and English both. She had an English baby. I hope you're all as ashamed as I am.

1 comment:

  1. It is really hard to believe in it, but it is obviously happening already...