People Are Taking Their Own Lives As A Result Of Being Excluded From Government Funding
Data collected by the Mental Health Foundation found that over half of the UK population in December 2020 had felt anxious or nervous in the previous two weeks – 60% of whom were unemployed.
In addition to this, data showed that one in five British adults reported feeling hopeless, something many of those who have been excluded for the government’s COVID-19 financial support have felt since March 2020 when the Chancellor Rishi Sunak first announced the packages being put in place.
According to Excluded UK, around 3 million UK taxpayers have been excluded from government funding in light of the ongoing pandemic, ranging from the self-employed and people on maternity/parental leave, to PAYE freelancers and directors of limited companies.
People’s mental health have understandably been affected as a result of this, with many people now suffering with mental health conditions when they hadn’t prior to the pandemic.
Jennifer Griffiths, mental health spokesperson for Excluded UK, said that the group which is made up of 28,000 members have had 13 suicides to date – possibly more. In light of this, several volunteers at Excluded UK have had to undergo mental health first aid training so that they’re equipped to help people who are thinking of taking their own lives.
Speaking about the devastating impact being excluded has had on people, Jennifer explained to UNILAD:
In our Facebook group we have 28,000 members and there’s a large number of those people, as time goes on, that literally end up with nothing. They’re relying on food banks and if they manage to get a small amount of universal credit, it’s not enough to cover their rent or their mortgage, let alone anything else.
I’ve got people who can’t afford to pay for their prescriptions so they’re not taking their medication anymore, including antidepressants.
‘I had one woman who posted on our Facebook group asking for someone to come collect her dogs because she couldn’t afford to feed them anymore. She herself had been eating dog food because that was the only thing she had left in her house,’ she added.
In regards to people ending their own lives, Jennifer said that ‘people are getting desperate’. She explained, ‘We have people post messages on the forum saying that they’re going to take their own life because they feel like they can’t get themselves out of the situation, that there’s no hope and that the government isn’t giving them any help at all.’
We’ve now had 13 suicides and God knows how many attempted suicides. […] I’ve got four whiteboards around me and one is full of names that I go through on a very regular basis and check up on them to see how they’re doing.
Excluded UK’s mental health team offer a triage service where they establish if someone is an immediate suicide risk – in which case they refer them to Samaritans or local crisis team or, if they’re really concerned about an individual, they’ll phone the police. The organisation also offers professional counselling sessions for their group members.
One person who found being excluded had a devastating affect on her mental health was Jilly O’Donnell. Jilly has her own aesthetic business in Exmouth but, due to having only opened the business in May 2019, did didn’t have any documentation of her tax returns until last month which left her excluded from any grants.
Jilly was assured throughout the pandemic by her bank that she ticked all the boxes for eligibility for a loan, but they later closed her business bank account in December without warning due to suspected fraud. Flags were raised after she borrowed £1,000 from her father which she transferred from her savings account, over to her business account.
Jilly explained to UNILAD, ‘[The bank] didn’t investigate and simply took an easy option of suspending my account and closing it mid pandemic. They also kept the last bit of money I had in my account for six weeks, including over the Christmas period, even after I begged them for it.’
‘They also told me while I was in the branch asking why it had been suspended and begging for my money that I wasn’t eligible for the Bounce Back loan – but they didn’t have to give a reason why. They treated me like a criminal.’
Jilly had already been struggling with the affects of the pandemic on her mental health, and being declined for a bounce back lone was the final straw for her. As a consequence, she attempted to take her own life in December 2020.
I found after the first announcement that I was going to be one of the 3 million excluded from government support, but I still had hope with the bounce back loan and, even though it would have only been a loan, it would have paid my bills and helped me invest in my business and come back stronger.
I found this was something that helped my mental health as it was a bit of hope and I could think of a future even in this dark time of fear and uncertainty. But, after my loan request was denied and my account was closed, I walked out of that bank unable to even buy food or fuel, let alone get through Christmas. I couldn’t take it anymore and couldn’t see anything but bills that I couldn’t pay.
After attempting to take her own life, her son fortunately raised the alarm to the police and reported her missing after Jilly failed to come home. She was later found at her clinic and taken to hospital to be treated. It was dubbed a ‘Christmas miracle’ by medics not only because Jilly survived the ordeal, but that she did so without any physical side affects.
Jilly has since received the help she needed from two local charities, RV1 and Rock2Recovery. She credits the charities for taking her from ‘rock bottom’ to being on the road to recovery following her suicide attempt.
While Jilly was ‘one of the lucky ones’ to survive the attempt, Jennifer’s friend wasn’t and tragically died in November of last year as a result of suicide. She was also excluded from government funding.
Jennifer recalled to UNILAD:
It was the 22nd November, 2020 that she took her own life and in her suicide note she said it was because she felt worthless and that the country thought she was dispensable and didn’t want to be in the world. She certainly didn’t want to borrow money off her friends and family.
She was the happiest person in the world; she had a fantastic career, she had a lovely relationship, but she got into the position where she couldn’t afford to pay her mortgage. The last time I spoke to her which was two weeks before she took her own life, she told me she had £25 left in her overdraft.
Jennifer continued, ‘When I found out, I was absolutely gutted. I felt so guilty that she felt that that was her only option to deal with it. I felt really sad that she hadn’t rang one of us before she decided to overdose. As time’s gone on, it’s made me fight even harder. I’ve just thrown everything at the campaign. I don’t want anyone to feel so low and worthless that they feel suicide would ever be an option. […] It’s such a waste of life.’
Jennifer herself is excluded and works for Excluded UK on a completely voluntary basis – just like everyone else who works for the organisation. While she was also unable to get universal credit, Jennifer is fortunate that her husband’s salary can support her and her family through these unprecedented times. Sadly, this isn’t the case for everyone.
She added, ‘There are so many families that have been completely decimated just for the sake of a little bit of support from the government. 20th of March last year, Rishi Sunak said nobody would be left behind, that everybody would get support. All the way along they’ve said that everyone has access to Universal Credit, and they’re not wrong – but they’re turned down when they apply for it.’
‘My friend was one of the one in 10 that’s not been looked after which made me angry because she felt so worthless, and she’s not worthless. She’s one of the most beautiful human beings you could meet and she brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. She didn’t deserve to be treated like that.’
If you’ve been excluded from government funding in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, you can seek support via Excluded UK’s website. If you like to donate towards the organisation’s efforts, you can do so here.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.