Friday, 30 November 2012

Sick and disabled braced for enforced work-for-benefits programme

This evening the Guardian published an article on their website, talking about the decision by the Department of Work and Pensions to allow, from Monday 3rd December, members of the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) claimants of Employment Support Allowance to be placed in the 'Work Programme', or Workfare as it is also known.  Now, of course, this type of story would be of interest to me as I am, currently, in that exact position.

Of course, I have another reason to be interested in the story.  It leads with me at the top of it.

This is really strange for me.  I'm not used to media coverage - my dealings with the media have been two short BBC childrens' educational programmes with Carol Vorderman when I was 11 years old and two very brief conversations on BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this year discussing the rising fuel duty.  Not exactly a "media darling", I'm sure you'd agree.  So, I hope you'll forgive me for being a little overwhelmed.

This is unbelievably important to me though.  My story is there in black and white and I won't re-hash it.  I've also detailed my physical problems before in This Blog.  But more importantly is the fact that these changes are coming on Monday.  Three days from now.

In theory ill and disabled people could receive a letter or phone call from their local JobCentre Plus from Monday onwards calling them in to do some form of work.  Remember, that is people who are receiving ESA, meaning that they have some sort of illness or disability that their General Practitioner feels is bad enough to warrant them not working.

Now take a moment and re-read that last sentence again, then think of this:  When did the word of GPs and other medical professions become almost worthless in this country?

But I digress.

If the unlucky person, already stressed and concerned with their own medical situation, gets this letter or phone call and has to attend, they will have virtually no choice but to comply - if they don't, they will be sanctioned, potentially losing up to 70% of their weekly money.

I'd love to see a politician try and live on £28.15 a week.

I stated to Shiv Malik, author of the report for The Guardian, exactly where I stand personally on this.  I'm absolutely petrified.  I'm currently appealing my placement in the WRAG, and have my Tribunal on December 11th, and yet it still scares the life out of me.  I can only imagine how others feel. 

And, in a way, I'm lucky.  I have an idea of what is coming.  Many, many others do not.  They don't have access to social media, and have absolutely no idea just how they could and probably will be affected by this.  That's why I'm desperate to get the word out, to raise awareness, and thankfully I'm not alone - there are many Bloggers, Organisations and many others trying to do the same.  And we will continue to do so.

I'd like to place on record my gratitude and appreciation to Shiv Malik for an excellent piece and for reporting on something many other journalists and media organisations seem to be shying away from.  I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to be involved and to tell my story.

Let us hope that someone in Government can somehow see sense.  I sadly won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Bullying Tactics of DWP and ATOS

I'm not the most prolific of writers, as this Blog is a testament to.  I write about things that are absolutely personal to me, and I wish I had the strength to write a lot more than I currently do.

Today though, I write about the most important person in my life - my wife - and the anger I have at the way the Department for Work and Pensions and ATOS Healthcare are treating her.

I've detailed in my previous posts the struggles that I have physically and mentally on a daily basis.  As I'm sure you can imagine, it can be extremely difficult for me to deal with, and without my wife it would be countless times more difficult.

Sadly, my wife has her own health problems to deal with also and has been on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) since August 2010.  She  is currently diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Chronic Abdominal and Back pain.  She suffers from fatigue constantly and is being tested for M.E.  She is constantly in pain and, on her very worst days, struggles to move from one room to another.

In the little over two years since she was placed on ESA she has had to fill in an ESA50 - the questionnaire sent out by ATOS Healthcare prior to a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) being done.  This is the timeline since she has been on ESA:

  • Aug 2010 - Placed on ESA
  • September 2010 - Completed and Returned ESA50 Form.
  • October 2010 - Medical Assessment with ATOS
  • November 2010 - Claim denied and ESA stopped.  Appeal immediately submitted and ESA restored at "appeal level".
  • February 2011 - Appeal accepted and claim reinstated.
  • September 2011 - 2nd ESA50 Form received and completed.
  • October 2011 - 2nd Medical Assessment with ATOS.
  • November 2011 - Claim once again denied and ESA stopped.  Appeal immediately submitted.
  • February 2012 - Appeal successful and claim reinstated.
  • June 2012 - 3rd ESA50 Form received and completed.
  • July 2012 - 3rd Medical Assessment with ATOS.
  • November 2012 - 4th ESA50 Form received.

So, in just over 2 years, my wife has had to endure three medicals and three appeals process, dealing with the stress and uncertainty for months at a time.  To make matters worse, she's been awaiting a decision on her latest since July only to receive a new questionnaire this morning!  It's making her more and more ill - she's been in tears all day since the post came and is struggling to cope with this all.

This isn't the first time I've heard of situations like this arising - sadly they're happening more and more in this current climate - but I genuinely fail to see how making ill and disabled people worse by causing distress and worry can ever improve the situation.

I will not stand (or sit, as tends to be with me!) idly by and watch my wife be persecuted by a government body just because they want to pigeon hole every claimant as fit for work.  No ill person wants to be out of work - do our leaders really think it is fun living on the meager amounts we get on benefits?

Oh wait, I forgot - they think we're all scroungers, don't they?

I find it ironic that during Anti-Bullying Month, the Department for Work and Pensions are conducting their own bullying right under everyones' noses.  I write this Blog not only as an outlet for my anger but to continue to raise awareness and as a public record.  I have written to my local MP and await his response.

I will keep you all informed.


I contacted my local MP yesterday, Mr Andrew Stephenson, with regards to the above.  He replied very quickly, stating that "it certainly does sound excessive" and that he "will take up her case with the Secretary of State.

I look forward to hearing from him in the near future, and in the meantime will be submitting my own complaint to the DWP and ATOS.