Year: 2020 Source: Critical Social Policy. (2018). 38(2), 302-322. SIEC No: 20200005

One of the symptoms of post financial crisis austerity in the UK has been an increase in the numbers of suicides, especially by people who have experienced welfare reform. This article develops and utilises an analytic framework of psychopolitical autopsy to explore media coverage of ‘austerity suicide’ and to take seriously the psychic life of austerity (internalisation, shame, anxiety), embedding it in a context of social dis-ease.

Drawing on three distinct yet interrelated areas of literature (the politics of affect and psychosocial dynamics of welfare, post and anti-colonial psychopolitics, and critical suicidology), the article aims to better understand how austerity ‘kills’. Key findings include understanding austerity suicides as embedded within an affective economy of the anxiety caused by punitive welfare retrenchment, the stigmatisation of being a recipient of benefits, and the internalisation of market logic that assigns value through ‘productivity’ and conceptualises welfare entitlement as economic ‘burden’. The significance of this approach lies in its ability to widen analytic framing of suicide from an individual and psychocentric focus, to illuminate culpability of government reforms while still retaining the complexity of suicide, and thus to provide relevant policy insights about welfare reform.