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Arbeit Macht Frei: 10 Cases of Starvation and Freezing Under Universal Credit in “Civilised” UK

Days ago, the Court of Appeal found that the Tory government discriminated against disabled people through the unfair and cruel practices of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The finding confirmed in law what millions have known since 2010, that the Tory government is engaging in nothing less than what can be described as a process of social cleansing through the DWP. The victims of this cleansing are not limited to the disabled but include some of the most vulnerable and poor across British society.

Just last year the United Nations condemned the Tory government, a report comparing British welfare policies to the creation of workhouses. Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused the Tories of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

Such is the level of misery inflicted on the British public that many have suggested that the poor and vulnerable are headed back to Victorian levels of inequality and poverty.

Given that people are literally freezing and starving to death, it’s not hard to see the point.

Bear in mind the fact that the UK, with a $2.83 trillion GDP, is the fifth-largest economy in the world.


Errol Graham

The Guardian | January 20, 2020

Errol Graham was a vulnerable 57-year-old grandfather with a long history of mental illness. Errol had his benefits stopped after he failed to attend a “fit for work” meeting. He starved to death four months later weighing just four and a half stone (28.8kg). The gas and electricity to his home had been cut off and Mr Graham had been without any money for six to eight months at the time of his death.

Errol’s daughter-in-law Alison Turner said it was “heartbreaking… it’s horrific for someone to die like that.” 

“This does not appear to be an isolated case and we now need a fully independent inquiry into deaths that may be linked to a social security decision. The government must do all in its power to prevent any further tragedies of this kind.”

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary

Mark Wood

The Guardian | February 28, 2014

Mark Wood had a number of complex mental health issues. Despite this, he was found “fit for work” by an Atos assessment, a decision which meant the jobcentre stopped his benefits and left him with £40 a week to survive.

Mark starved to death four months later weighing just 5st 8lbs (35kg).

The coroner said that Mark’s death was “caused or contributed to by Wood being markedly underweight and malnourished”.


Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke, 35, was the victim of a serious assault in 2016 that left him with “incapacitating nausea, deadly pain on the back of [his] brain that starts spreading after exercise, and a whole host of other problems.” Following his injuries, Andrew claimed Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Both were stopped after the DWP said he was fit for work.

Andrew had no money to get to the hospital despite immense pain, stating that he could have “starved to death” due to the decisions by the DWP.


David Clapson

The Guardian | September 9, 2014

Ex-soldier David Clapson was a diabetic who died starving and destitute because he was penalised by the Job Centre for missing a meeting.

After missing the meeting David had his £71.70 benefit stopped entirely, leaving him penniless and unable to afford to eat or provide electricity for his home and fridge. Without a fridge, he couldn’t keep his insulin cold.

David died of diabetic ketoacidosis three weeks later.

“When he died he had just £3.44 to his name, six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines. A coroner also found he had no food in his stomach.”

Gill Thompson, David’s sister

Mark Smith

Veteran Mark Smith served in the army for 6 years and suffers from cervical myelopathy. He needed disability payments to survive. He waited years for his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to come through and following the stopping of his £200 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in November of 2018 Mark reported that he was “starving and freezing to death.”

“I’m starving because I have no money for food, and I’m having to rely on Hull Veterans to feed me and bring round food parcels to my house in order to eat. I can’t afford heating either, so I’m freezing to death, and the cold conditions in my house are making my neck even worse.”

Mark Smith

Chris Gold

Chris Gold from Shepton Beauchamp in Somerset was declared “fit for work” in 2015 despite having suffered a stroke. While waiting for his initial Universal Credit payment he had his phone line cut and “knew that he was going to lose everything. His house, where he brought the girls up.”

“I feel like I’ve been hung out to dry and not eating and that – it just makes you feel ill all the time. Yeah, I want to keep the house because I’ve worked hard for thirty-eight years but it just seems unfair that I’ve worked all my life to buy a house and now I’m going to end up with nothing.”

Chris Gold

Chris died in 2017 starving and in fear. He never received his Universal Credit payment.


Danielle White

Danielle White was forced to starve herself so her children could eat,

A mix-up between her housing association and the Department of Work and Pensions meant she was told to pay double her normal rent, being threatened with eviction if she didn’t. The Birmingham mum had moved over to Universal Credit, the payments coming too late and leaving her in arrears.

“I can barely afford to feed myself. I’m going days and days and days without being fed. If you come into house my freezers empty, my cupboards are bare. I’ve never lived like that. I do it so I can feed my other two.”

Danielle White

Elaine Morrall

Elaine Morrall had her benefits stopped after she was too ill to attend a meeting. Her illness was ignored and she was sanctioned despite the 38-year-old battling depression and an eating disorder. She had recently been in intensive care but was told that “being in intensive care was not sufficient reason for failing to attend a Universal Credit interview.”

After having her money stopped the Runcorn mum was unable to heat her house. She died in 2017.

“How many people have got to die before this government realises they are killing vulnerable people?”

Elaine’s mum, Linda

Alice (Not Real Name)

Alice suffers from several debilitating medical conditions, including epilepsy and severe arthritis. She almost starved to death after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her disability benefits.

Such was the suffering of Alice that she developed refeeding syndrome, a condition commonly seen during famines and at Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz.

Wikipedia defines refeeding syndrome as a “syndrome consisting of metabolic disturbances that occur as a result of reinstitution of nutrition to patients who are starved, severely malnourished or metabolically stressed due to severe illness.”

“When too much food and/or liquid nutrition supplement is consumed during the initial four to seven days of refeeding, this triggers synthesis of glycogen, fat and protein in cells, to the detriment of serum concentrations of potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Cardiac, pulmonary and neurological symptoms can be signs of refeeding syndrome. The low serum minerals, if severe enough, can be fatal.”

Wikipedia

Stephen Smith

The Guardian | June 20, 2019

The case of Stephen Smith rightfully shocked many to their core.

Stephen was thrown off ESA by Atos and was expected to sign-on, despite debilitating illness that meant he could barely walk around his own house. He was sanctioned and forced to starve. He weighed 6 stone and was declared fit for work.

“He has been unable to heat or look after his home properly because his health has deteriorated which I suggest is obvious from the photographs. He lives in one room of his 3 bedroom house he rents from a private landlord. It is rat-infested, he cannot use the toilet nor is he strong enough to put water in a kettle. He relies on bottled water.”

Stephen’s law advisor, Christmas 2018

Stephen Smith died in April 2019.


The cases listed here are the mere tip of an overwhelming iceberg with tens of thousands suffering extreme poverty and desperation under a system of welfare that is beyond incompetent and into the realm of deliberate subjugation of the most vulnerable in society. The system of sanctions that leaves the desperate and struggling without a penny to their name can be described as nothing but cruel and unusual punishment. A system of welfare that allows people in the world’s 5th largest economy to starve and freeze to death can only be described as a crime against humanity.

Not only must this abominable system be replaced as a matter of urgency, but those responsible for the continuing misery inflicted on the British public must be held to account.

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