In Brief

'Fit for work' tests linked to higher suicide rates

Mental health charities say study is worrying – but the government has dismissed it as 'wholly misleading'

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The government's controversial "fit for work" tests for sick and disabled people have been linked to hundreds of extra suicides in England.

Work Capability Assessments have also been connected to an increase in mental health problems and a rise in antidepressant prescriptions, according to a study by researchers in Oxford and Liverpool.

A 5 per cent rise in total suicides, an 11 per cent increase in self-referred mental health problems and a 0.5 per cent rise in prescriptions were all recorded, according to The Guardian.

"The pattern of increase in mental health problems closely matches the increase in assessment of the work capability assessment," said the study's lead author Professor Benjamin Barr.

Campaigners have long warned of the dangers posed by the tests, which are used to determine if people are unable to work and therefore entitled to government benefits and support. 

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the study as "wholly misleading" and said the authors themselves warned that no conclusions could be drawn about cause and effect.

Professor Thom Baguley, associate dean for research at Nottingham Trent University, also cautioned that further evidence was needed. "The evidence goes beyond merely establishing a correlation but falls short of establishing a causal link," he told the BBC.

But Labour and mental health charities say this is further evidence of the harmful effects of the tests. "This worrying study shines a light on the damaging impact the WCAs can have on people's mental health," said Tom Holland, policy and campaigns manager of Mind.

Shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger said it was "unacceptable to have a system that causes vulnerable people anxiety, putting their health at further risk."

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