A single mother took her own life after she feared losing her benefits under new reforms to Britain’s welfare system, an inquest heard.
Amy Nice, 21, of Coppull, near Chorley, Lancashire, had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety after being diagnosed with kidney disease.
But she also felt ‘pressurised’ to find work under the Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, the hearing was told.
On October 24 last year after months of financial worry, Amy penned a suicide note saying she ‘couldn’t see a way forward.’
Amy Nice, 21, felt ‘pressurised’ to find work under the government’s flagship Universal Credit Scheme
She then dropped off her young son at school and hanged herself in woodland near her home.
A coroner at the inquest in Preston ruled the tragedy was suicide and said the risk of losing benefits would ‘play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of illness.’
Ms Nice, who had a history of self harming dating back to when she was just 12, had been receiving treatment for kidney problems but she also been see her doctor with undiagnosed gastric difficulties and chronic back pain.
In 2016 she was told by staff at the Department of Work and Pensions to find work or prove she was ‘actively seeking work’ but was not given a sick note until September last year – just six weeks before her death.
Ms Nice had suffered with severe depression and anxiety after being diagnosed with kidney disease
Her mother, Joy Nice, 55, told the hearing: ‘Universal credit was a massive factor in Amy’s presentation.
‘On September 6 she rang me saying she felt very suicidal. I tried numerous times to call the crisis line and it just rang and rang.
‘Amy suffered from depression and anxiety. It is very difficult when you are depressed because you don’t even want to get out of bed and talk to people and you need the support of people.
‘Amy found it very hard to marshal her thoughts and explain to me how she was feeling.
‘Around the time of her death, her physical appearance had really changed. There was a definite psychical problem there but nobody knew what it was. The not knowing made it difficult for her to put up with it any longer.
In 2016 she was told by the Department of Work and Pensions to find work or prove she was ‘actively seeking work’ but was not given a sick note until September last year
‘As a family, we question whether if Amy had been given a sick note earlier, would this have made a difference to her outcome?’
Universal credit, which has been rolled out across the country is a new benefit for working-age people, replacing six benefits – income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit – and merging them into one payment.
It was designed to make claiming benefits simpler.
Dr Suzanne Heald, Amy’s GP said: ‘I did on one occasion see Amy for low mood and she was prescribed anti-depressants but there was no reference to any suicidal thoughts.
‘There were at least three other references when seeing other doctors where she had some suicidal thoughts but her son was identified as a protective factor.
‘There was one instance when she rang the surgery saying she was very low in mood and she was asked to ring the crisis team. A lot of the reasons for her depression was financial because she was bringing her son up on her own.
‘There was one mention of her ex-partner being on the scene which made her extremely anxious at one point. She was having panic attacks when she saw her ex-partner and her mood was quite low and she was also suffering from severe back pain and had been referred to a chiropractor for these concerns.
‘Towards the latter visits she was given a sick note because she wasn’t capable at that time to be looking for any permanent work.’
Mental health nurse, Emma Clayton told the hearing that in the few months before her death her benefits were ‘giving her cause for concern.’
She said: ‘Amy had stopped taking anti-depressants because she started to feel better and there had been mention that she only took the medication on bad days.
Ms Nice (left and right) was described as ‘gregarious and outgoing’ by her devastated mother Joy
‘As part of assessment we would always discuss self harm or risk to others and Amy reported fleeting thoughts but denied ever wanting to act on thoughts of suicide, but she had been self harming since the age of 12.
‘Her son and friends were identified as a protective factor and as standard to patients we say that you can always come back to us or the GP.
‘In the last few months her benefits were giving her cause for concern as they had been putting pressure on her. Her position was pretty much the same and this was the only additional thing I could see that was obvious.
‘Her anxiety seemed more focused on financial matters. Since the government has been putting pressure on people going back to work we have seen a rise in patients coming through presenting similar symptoms of feeling pressured.’
Police were called to the scene of the tragedy after Amy was found by a passerby.
Det Insp Jane Webb of Lancashire Police said: ‘I found four notes at the scene, one was addressed to family, friends and her son saying she was truly sorry for her actions but that she couldn’t see a way forward or what she could do. That affirmed my belief that this was an action Amy chose to take.’
Recording a conclusion of suicide, Coroner James Newman said: ‘Amy had a long documented history of significant physical illness that I believed to her depressive illness. These were all documented and very cyclical in nature.
‘She was known to her GP and mental health services and Amy would interact with them. In 2016 and 2017 there is depression and anxiety along with an undiagnosed medical condition that would have played on her mind. She had a history of self harm but also had protective factors. She was well supported by family and friends and she was caring for her son as a single parent.
‘However, her condition appears to change in late 2016. She was under pressure from the Department of Work and Pensions – a source of income she relied on. The pressure was to get back to work be able to prove she was searching for work.
‘In a person with her mental history I could understand that would be difficult. There is pressure that she could run the risk of losing her benefits and I can see that financial matters would play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of physical and mental illness. It seems matters had been coming to a head for Amy for a few weeks.’
In a statement at the time of Amy’s death her mother said: ‘Amy was gregarious and outgoing. She liked to be around people and she was very memorable and was very loved.
‘It’s very difficult when you are depressed because you don’t even want to get out of bed and talk to people and you need the support of people. ‘Amy found it very hard to marshal her thoughts and explain to me how she was feeling.
‘I think for other people who are suffering from depression, talk to other people who are going through it. You can’t explain to somebody who hasn’t been there, it’s impossible.’
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions, said: ‘Our thoughts are with Ms. Nice’s family at this difficult time.
‘Suicide is a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to someone’s benefit claim. We’re committed to ensuring that people with mental health conditions get the full support that they need.’
For confidential support in the UK, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch. Click here for details.