A LABOUR councillor believes statistics point to a link between austerity and the rise in suicides in St Helens over the last decade.

Since 2009 there has been a total of 206 registered suicides in St Helens.

Between 2015 to 2017 there were 83 suicides in St Helens, equating to a rate of 17.9 per 100,000 population – the highest in England and Wales.

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Earlier this month new figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that between and 2016 to 2018 the suicide rate had fallen to 16.1.

More significantly, in 2018 there were 17 suicides in the borough, the lowest number since 2010 when there were nine.

A new report from St Helens Council has revealed that between 2015 to 2019 Parr and Town Centre had the highest rates of suicide in the borough, with Haydock the lowest.

St Helens Star:

Historic data shows from 2001 to 2011 the suicide rate in St Helens was consistently below or similar to the England average rate.

However, data shows the rate of suicide in St Helens has been consistently rising since 2009-2011, the period where the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition began its brutal austerity agenda.

On Monday, the council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny panel were presented with a report relating to the current position in relation to suicide and injury undetermined deaths in St Helens.

Blackbrook councillor Alan Cunliffe pointed to a graph in the report that shows suicides in St Helens rising following the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and then steadily rising throughout the decade.

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Cllr Cunliffe said: “You can’t see things in isolation but if you look at similar areas to ours, it’s exactly the same.

“You get London and the South East where you’ve got the lowest rates.

“That can’t be a coincidence can it?”

Cllr Cunliffe said one issue that is likely having an impact is the length of time it can take to see a GP or specialist mental health services.

“They're crucial”,” Cllr Cunliffe said.

“In 2010 you could get to see your GP in two days. You’re now waiting on average two weeks.

“When somebody’s that desperate that they’re contemplating doing something like that, that has to have an effect.

“The whole austerity package must have had an effect on this.

“Sadly, maybe it’s something we should have predicted.”

St Helens Star: Blackbrook Labour councillor Alan CunliffeBlackbrook Labour councillor Alan Cunliffe

The council report says that since 2015, more than half of the people who took their own lives were unemployed at the time of death.

Additionally, two thirds were previously known to have mental health issues and more than a third were known to have attempted suicide or self-harm.

Mirroring the national picture, 80 per cent of those who died by suicide were male.

Haydock councillor Anthony Burns, cabinet member for public health, libraries and leisure, said a “lack of hope” was affecting the borough’s residents.

Cllr Burns said: “I’m not going to make a political point here because it’s too big for party politics, it really is.

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“However, the graph does state very clearly.

“I think I’ve said before, it’s a lack of hope. Everybody can agree that we’re having it tough in this town currently and we’ve had it tough for a little while.

“And I think that lack of hope is certainly affecting the figures.”