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Tragic photographer faced ‘broken benefits system’

Friend tells inquest 46-year-old Barnsbury man feared appeals hearing before his death

25 October, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Anthony Webb was found dead at his home in May

A PHOTOGRAPHER found dead at his Barnsbury home was worried about having to appear at an appeals hearing after the government decided not to grant his benefits application, a friend has told a coroner’s inquest.

The case of Anthony Webb, of Coinstone Way in Barnsbury, has sparked an angry response from campaigners who say it “highlights” the “broken ­system” that dogs some of the most vulnerable in society.

Mr Webb was found dead at his home in May. An inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court on Friday found he had taken his own life. Assistant coroner Richard Brittain’s “suicide” verdict was recorded with “bipolar disorder as a contributing factor”.

Elitza Bonina, who has been close friends with Mr Webb since he taught her a course in photography about 15 years ago, stood in the witness box and gave a tearful account of his last few days.

The 46-year-old had a history of mental health issues dating back to 2015 when he self-referred to hospital. His family reported Mr Webb feeling “very low” in the months leading up to his death.

In that time he had filed an application for personal independence payments (PIP), benefits support designed to help people suffering from long-term ill health, which was turned down.

Ms Bonina said: “[He was] stressed about having to appear in court as part of the appeal process and the paperwork involved in renewing his eligibility.”

Mr Brittain, in his ruling, did not link Mr Webb’s death to his rejected PIP application and appeal.

Outside the courtroom, Ms Bonina said: “He was a private man and a deep thinker. He was creative and he was able to connect to people from all backgrounds. She added:  “He changed my life and he helped me expand my horizons in the arts and design.”

Mr Webb gave lessons in photography at Central Saint Martins art school. His photo­graphs were published in several books.

Liam Evans, campaigns officer at the Turn2us group, which supports people seeking help with benefits claims, said after the inquest: “There is an undeniable link between financial worries and mental health, and we know that DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] policies – such as sanctions, appeals and assessments – are a cause of serious concern.

“The tragic case of Anthony Webb highlights the failings of our current social security net. The DWP must fix the broken system so that people have the financial security to thrive in society.”

Geoff Fimister, of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said: “The very high success rate at appeal suggests that all is not well with the assessment and decision-making processes [in PIP cases].”

He added: “Neither we nor the DWP has any idea how many question­able decisions go unchallenged. We have identified PIP assess­ments as one of our continuing priority issues in the run-up to the next general election and beyond.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Suicide is a very complex issue and our thoughts are with Mr Webb’s family and friends at this difficult time.

“We are committed to ensuring that people with health conditions get the support they are entitled to and help is available for anyone making a claim.”

She added: “Decisions for PIP are made by medical professionals following consideration of all the information provided but we will of course review any decision if someone disagrees and they can appeal to an independent tribunal.”

• For emotional support call the Samaritans’ free helpline on 116 123 or alternatively email jo@samaritans.org

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