In the UK, reports have emerged that a mother of four died alone in a freezing home after her social security was stopped unfairly due to sickness.
38-year-old Elaine Morrall, from Runcorn in northwest England, was found wearing a coat and scarf after allegedly losing her social security despite suffering periods of ill health. Her cause of death is not currently known, although police have confirmed they're investigating her death.
A local newspaper reports that Morrall’s case came to light after her mother Linda Morrall posted a letter that subsequently went viral on social media. In the letter, Morrall’s mother alleges that she died on November 2 after her social security payments were stopped.
“[She died] in the cold with her coat and scarf on because she wouldn’t put her heating on until her kids came home from school. [She] was in and out of hospital in recent months in intensive care but was not deemed ill enough for employment and support allowance,” Linda wrote, according to reports.
Linda claimed her daughter was being taken to court to pay her rent, despite having no income, and was struggling with mental health issues including severe depression and an eating disorder.
“[She] was in and out of hospital in recent months in intensive care, but was deemed not ill enough for ESA [employment support allowance],” Linda wrote. “[She] had her benefits stopped numerous times, which in turn stopped her housing benefit.” As a result, Morrall was on the verge of homelessness after missing an interview with social security officials because she was in the hospital, her mother claims.
Anti-poverty campaigners have long been warning that the British government’s austerity measures, and in particular their recent rollout of Universal Credit, risk endangering the most vulnerable in our society.
Universal Credit replaces all the individual social security payments those receiving government welfare used to receive with one, single payment. In principle, charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have welcomed the move to a single payment.
However, built into Universal Credit is the requirement that individuals attend certain meetings or fill out specific paperwork by set dates. Fail to do so—miss a meeting with welfare officials, for example—and you may receive a sanction, meaning your payments are stopped. This can push people into desperate poverty, waiting weeks or even months for emergency payments.
Last month, influential think tank The Resolution Foundation warned the government that Universal Credit “needs urgent change if it is to be fit for purpose,” highlighting long waits of up to six weeks to receive payments as particularly dangerous for families and individuals on low incomes with limited savings.
For Linda, her daughter’s death was the preventable result of an uncaring bureaucracy that didn’t prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable. “Is being dead [enough]…to prove she was ill? How many people have got to die before this government realizes they are killing vulnerable people?" she wrote.
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions told Broadly, “Our thoughts are with Ms. Morrall’s family at this difficult time. We understand that people can’t always attend appointments, which is why we will re-arrange alternative times. Assessment decisions are made with consideration of all the information provided, including supporting evidence from a GP or medical specialist. Anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal."