A British woman who captured headlines after the country’s Department for Work and Pensions sent her a letter while she was in a coma, demanding that she find a job, has died, her family said recently.
The Mirror reports 48-year-old Sheila Holt died last week of a brain injury she suffered during a heart attack in December 2013. She had been in a coma for the 15 months following the attack. The coma was reportedly a result of the injury, sustained when her brain was starved of oxygen for nearly 30 minutes as doctors tried to save her.
Her father, Ken Holt, and her sister, Linda Holt, were by her side when she died.
They say their loved one suffered from debilitating illness and hadn't been able to work. They believe Sheila Holt’s heart attack was the result of stress from being pushed into the government’s back-to-work program, because she feared her benefits would be cut if she did not.
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“I told her not to worry,” Ken Holt told the Mirror. “I said, ‘They won’t take your benefits, they can see you can’t work.’
“But Sheila said, ‘They will because they are a cruel government,’” he said.
“Sheila should never have been on the work program,” Ken added. “She spent her life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and tried to commit suicide several times. She was terrified of people.”
Holt suffered her heart attack and fell into the coma shortly after joining the program, which involved taking courses about returning to the workforce.
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Her father says the harassment from the Department for Work and Pensions and its private contractors didn’t stop, even after she fell into a coma.
His daughter made headlines last year after she received a letter in January from the department urging her on in the program, despite her being in a coma.
“We hope that all the activity or training intervention completed so far has not only supported you to achieve your aspirations but has moved you closer to the job market,” the letter read, in part.
“You will shortly enter the second stage of your intensive job-focused activity. Sessions and workshops may vary depending on the centre [sic] you attend,” it continued.
Sheila Holt’s family maintains the government agencies and their contractors had been notified repeatedly that doctors said she was unable to work. They also knew, by January, that the woman was in a coma, her family said.
According to a story from The Guardian, the letter prompted a public apology from Mike Penning, the country’s minister for disabled people.
“It's about time politicians did stand up and apologize when things went wrong. It clearly has gone wrong and the family have every right to be aggrieved and I hope she makes a full recovery, as much as she can,” he said.
But Ken Holt says the apology should be coming from Iain Duncan Smith, the current head of the Department for Work and Pensions.
“I believe that if it wasn’t for Iain Duncan Smith, Sheila would still be alive,” he said.
“Sheila had her life stolen from her by the ill-thought-out cost-cutting measures of this coalition,” her sister, Linda Holt said.
The Department for Work and Pensions said Monday that it stood by Penning’s previous apology.
Simon Danczuk, a member of Parliament, said Sheila Holt’s story is distressing.
“My heart goes out to Sheila’s family,” he said. “I’ve seen Ken’s devotion to his daughter. He’s been through hell having to see her lose her fight for life.”
“The welfare system is there to support the most vulnerable, not kill them,” Danczuk added.