Suicide and Social Welfare

I came across this paper from the International Journal of Social Welfare titled ‘Role of social welfare in European suicide prevention’ – happily with open access so freely available. I thought it was useful to share as it echoes some of my concerns about the move towards stigmatising those who receive welfare payments that is becoming the norm amongst politicians and journalists in this country (with few, notable, exceptions).

One of the aims of this paper was to

Evaluate attitudes towards the welfare system in 26 European countries and how they are related to suicide mortality, among both men and women.

The study looks at a correlation between spending by governments on social welfare and suicide rates but it also considered as well as government expenditure, changing attitudes to welfare on individual levels by using the results of the following questions which had been asked across the different countries

1‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that social benefits and services in [country] prevent widespread poverty?’

2 ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that social benefits and services in [country] lead to a more equal society?’

3 ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that social benefits and services in [country] make it easier for people to combine work and family life?’

Scores were given between 1-5 by respondents between ‘agreeing strongly’ (1) and ‘disagreeing strongly’ (5).

The figures were taken between 2003-2007 (in the UK – there are some overlaps with dates in other countries) and the UK comes out very strongly with some of the lowest suicide rates.

The data also looks at differentials between male and female suicide rates in the countries researched.

Correlation between negative attitudes towards welfare and male suicide rates were noted however there was not generally a correlation with female suicide rates.

The paper goes on to say

confidence in the successful anti-poverty role of welfare provision exerts a protective influence, in terms of suicidal behaviour, among males in our study.. There is evidence that low expectations of future income and social benefits make an individual more likely to commit suicide

On a broader level and one that is of particular note to me as a social worker

Greater confidence in the supportive role of social services in helping people to combine their work and family roles successfully was associated with lower mortality from suicide among males in our study. In these times of economic crisis, social and family bonds are weakening owing to unemployment and increased poverty, with rising suicide rates and domestic violence as a result

Worth considering a study such as this in the context of not only reduced welfare provisions (though to be fair, the UK comes out as having high welfare payments comparatively in this study which uses figures to 2007) but cutting of social services, certainly in as far as ‘supportive’ and ‘preventative’ roles are existing but also the potential for increased negative attitudes towards the recipients and purpose of welfare benefit payments, it is hard to feel positive (not that I did) about the way the government is playing the PR game by stigmatising those who need to claim from them.

I’d point anyone interested to the paper itself and the joy of finding more open access research papers. It has much more detail than I’ve been able to summarise but the findings worry me in the context of the current government agenda.


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