ONE of the priorities for the UK Government’s new Suicide Minister should be investigating Tory social security policies, Theresa May was told yesterday.

The Prime Minister marked World Mental Health day yesterday by appointing Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price to become what is thought to be the world’s first Minister for Suicide Prevention.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford welcomed the announcement, but suggested there were more immediate steps the Prime Minister could take to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.

READ MORE: Minister pledges to improve mental health services across Scotland

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Blackford referred to a report in the Independent from last December revealing that “nearly one in every two women taking part in the UK Government’s work capability assessment say they have attempted suicide after or during the process”.

The paper revealed that attempted suicides among out-of-work disability benefit claimants had more than doubled since the introduction of fit-to-work assessments in 2008.

Blackford said: “A series of secret internal inquiries reveal that Conservative Ministers were repeatedly warned of the policy’s shortcomings,” he added, before asking the Prime Minister to commit to “ensuring that her new Minister for Suicide Prevention looks at the impact of her Government’s own social security policies and at long last scraps the appalling work capability assessment”.

May could not give Blackford that promise.

“First, the assessments were introduced by a previous Government. It is important that we get the assessments right. It is right that we are encouraging people into the workplace and wanting to ensure that people who are able to be in the workplace are given the support that enables them to do that.

“That is what we want to do. It is right that we maintain assessments. Of course we look at the impact and quality of those assessments. That is work the Department for Work and Pensions does on a regular basis. It is important that we are undertaking those assessments.”

Minutes after the row it was revealed that May’s new minister for suicide prevention had once joked about killing herself.

Speaking to the Thurrock Gazette in 2014 about rumours she might follow Clacton MP Douglas Carswell in defecting to Ukip, Doyle Price said: “I would sooner jump off Beachy Head than join Ukip.

“I am a Conservative.”

Around 20 people each year kill themselves by throwing themselves from the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head in East Sussex.

A senior Labour spokesman said: “Any comment which increases stigma or disrespect or lack of understanding for mental health issues – in particular in this case mental health issues and suicide – is obviously completely inappropriate.”