Like others, I read with a deep sense of sadness about the deaths by suicide of Mark and Helen Mullins, a couple in Coventry who were struggling against the insurmountable barriers set up by a social services and social security system that seemed to be weighted against them – existing between them only on £57.50 per week due to a set of circumstances that laid to waste the idea of a welfare state that supports those who need support to the extent that they were driven to despair.
However, the overwhelming sadness I felt was not accompanied by surprise that I’ve seen others express. I am shocked that this situation can come to pass in the UK today. Shocked but not surprised. I can see how it happened.
I’ve worked with a few people over the years who have learning disabilities but have not been ‘diagnosed’ as such and it has been easy for people like this to ‘slip through the net’ – especially if there are others around to provide support – like Mr Mullins or more often in the cases I’ve been involved with – parents.
It is very very difficult to be ‘diagnosed’ with a learning disability as an adult. I don’t know the particular details about Helen Mullins though. Generally, it is something that is picked up on as a child and services are triggered subsequently. Services that are in place to support people with learning disabilities are focused on people who have higher needs so someone that has a higher functional ability may not be ‘picked up’ by the specialist services even if the job centre then make a decision that she is not able to work.
General adult services would not make an assumption of need unless it were presented to them according to FACS criteria and while it is clear to see the cumulation of circumstances affecting Mark and Helen, I can see how they would not need the increasingly high ‘Fair Access to Care Services’ criteria applied in Coventry which only meets ‘substantial’ and critical’ care needs.
As far as safeguarding processes go, if Helen was not known to social services through either of these paths – being known to a learning disabilties team or being known to an adult team on the basis of meeting the FACS criteria, there would be no procedures to apply. Safeguarding often needs someone to have carried out the abuse and in this case, it seems almost to be a case of institutional abuse by a system rather than by an individual.
And that leaves us with mental health services. It’s hard to know if there were any underlying mental illnesses. There is reference to Helen’s ‘mental health problems’ in the initial piece in the Coventry Telegraph but it may be that again, criteria are above the needs that were evidenced by Helen.
Helen had a child removed from her and so this begs the question of better liaison between children services and adult services in providing support for families on an ongoing basis but the unpleasant and unfortunate truth is that higher criteria will and do exclude some people who need support.
As far as the benefits go, I don’t fully understand why Helen was not able to work and why this information wasn’t coordinated between a job centre, a GP and a specialist service. I suspect that the learning disability may have been acknowledged medically but below the level that would allow support from a specialist team however I’m very confused as to why if Jobseekers Allowance was denied, Employment and Support Allowance wasn’t granted.
Ultimately, it is tragic. This should not happen. There may be many issues we don’t know about but this is not a society that I want to live in. We must protect and support the right to welfare without stigma and we must be aware of the chipping away of social services support from all angles.
This is the tragic and human face of cuts.
Rest in Peace Helen and Mark. We must find the gaps in the system and fill them in and we must push the government again and again not to pull the support away from people who rely on it.