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A Culture of Cruelty
Jo Ritson is a former chair of 999 Call for the NHS. She's was a key member of our campaign team since the People’s March in 2014 and has followed the fight of NHS Defenders up and down the country. As a welfare rights advisor Jo has also witnessed the shocking cruelty that has been directed at disabled and vulnerable people by the current government - obsessed with Austerity and cutting benefits, creating a culture of “the undeserving poor".
The stories below are just a small selection of real life situations that Jo encountered in 2019 and in her words are “stories about how my clients get screwed over – time after time after time – by this government.”
Gloria had been messed about by the Department of Work & Pensions for over 3 years, ever since being forced off Disability and Living Allowance (DLA) onto Personal Independence Payment (PIP). With a combination of long term mental and physical health problems, she’d been on the ‘high rate care’ and ‘lower rate mobility’ of Disability Living Allowance for several years.
The first PIP assessment reduced her to a standard rate (lower) of daily living but nothing for mobility support. The second assessment (6 months later) gave her the same, but struggling Gloria asked for a reconsideration and got the ‘enhanced daily living’. However, she decided to appeal on the mobility element as she still got nothing for that.
While waiting for the result her physical situation worsened – her mobility deteriorated – so she asked to be reassessed again. This time the assessors announced that Gloria couldn’t claim anything as she was over 65, and told her to complete the “enclosed” Attendance Allowance form. No form was enclosed.
I rang the ASSESSORS (WHO ARE THEY?) to point out that Gloria was only 63, and therefore could not qualify for Attendance Allowance. They claimed they had no record of sending the letter to Gloria.
The letter I was looking at on my desk as we spoke.
They eventually changed their decision, and at last awarded her the ‘standard rate mobility’.
But, in what can only described as “a fit of spite”, they reduced the recently enhanced rate of daily living. Give with one hand, take with the other. More stress, more pain.
Three years since this whole debacle started, we take the matter to tribunal and Gloria wins, getting the enhanced rate of both components, backdated to 2017 – almost the same as her original DLA award. What was the point?
Steve is a lovely big-hearted builder and doing very well for himself, thank you very much.
Another long story (they always are) but after picking up a minor injury during a charity sporting event, and complications following routine surgery to fix him, he found himself fighting for his life – in a coma for several weeks and nearly a whole year in hospital.
Now severely (but hopefully temporarily) disabled, his key motive is to get back to work. However, he was refused any help with his claim for PIP. The assessor completely ignored every single one of the household aids and adaptations supplied by the hospital physio and OT departments, including his raised toilet and shower seats – ignored them in order to deny Steve the vital 8 points he needed.
We appealed and won, but this took months. When he needed it most, the social security safety net that he had contributed into – and which he never thought he would need – simply let him down. Because the safety net is now in the hands of a private company whose financial motive overrides the needs of vulnerable people.
Eric, a builder, was run over on a pedestrian crossing on his way to work. Rushed to hospital with multiple fractures, he spent several months undergoing repeated surgeries – trying to save his leg. All to no avail; after a year he’d run out of options and it was amputated.
Six weeks – I will repeat – six weeks after having the amputation he was found fit for work. He was never seen at assessment because the “nurse” (and I use that word loosely) decided she had enough information to write the report, which merely said he was “recovering from hospital treatment”.
Eric was injured crossing the road. He has a wife and kids. Eric could be any one of us.
He was plunged into poverty by a nurse working in a deliberately flawed system that doesn’t care. A nurse, doing a builder and his family out of an income. Just think about that for a moment. Worker set against worker just to save a few quid of our own bloody money.
Eric has enough to contend with, but at least (for now) that doesn’t include the burden of a huge hospital bill. But how long before NHS Bills become the norm if this government are allowed to continue with their “shrink the NHS" policy?
Tina is in her late 50’s and has had a lifetime of ill health, both mental and physical, including physical disabilities following a horrendous bout of domestic violence when she was thrown down a flight of stairs.
Admitted to hospital with severe pneumonia, both her and her family agreed to a DNR (do not resuscitate) notice should the worst happen.
Tina survived, but while in hospital she missed a work capability assessment – so she was, by default, found “fit for work “ and her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was withdrawn.
Her daughter rang to explain what had happened and sent in the hospital discharge note as proof. Despite being reassured over the phone that everything would be OK it wasn’t. The discharge note was ignored as evidence and the fitness for work decision still stood. Although housebound and in need of almost constant care, Tina would have to sign on and look for work.
Because she couldn’t do this, she simply went without. We finally got the decision overturned by submitting (again) the discharge note and a copy of Tina’s care plan that clearly showed she needed frequent district nurse visits, and which described her as very frail with tissue viability (pressure sore) problems.
Needless cruelty. Again
Jack is a young dad who has one of the worst cases of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) you could possibly imagine. He’s already lost most of his toes and parts of both his feet, and what’s left of them are painful and heavily ulcerated. He has daily dressings and weekly visits to the diabetic foot clinic, and is on some hefty painkilling medication.
He’s been on Disability Living Allowance for several years. This provided him with a mobility car so he could at least do some of the normal dad things and get to his many hospital appointments. That was until he was changed over to PIP.
His doctor has advised that he keeps off his feet as much as possible to prevent the ulcers bursting open. He can’t safely bear his weight, so effectively he can’t safely stand. But the ATOS assessors have told him he can walk 50 metres, reliably and safely, so the car has to go.
It is worth pointing out that Jack also has a missing right lower arm (from birth) and a badly injured left elbow joint. Despite it being pinned, his arm will neither bend nor straighten and because of his neuropathy, the operation site is permanently open and painful.
Because of this he can’t self-propel in a wheelchair or use walking aids because of his arm issues. He has poor balance because of his feet. If he fell, he could not stop himself because he effectively has no arms.
With a few taps on a computer keypad, the ATOS disability assessor dismissed all of this. She also lied in her report – saying that he only has two amputated toes.
Needless to say, we have appealed.
Jennie has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and came to us after being found ‘fit for work’. She was taken out of the support group and her Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) was slashed by £30 per week. She was also on the high rate care and mobility components of the old DLA and her son claimed carers allowance for looking after her.
In an attempt to “help” her back into work she was forced into what the DWP laughingly call “work related activity”.
In Jennie’s case this meant “volunteering” in a charity shop for two days per week. No training course, no meaningful support – just forced work. If she didn’t go, they made it clear she’d be sanctioned.
MS gives Jennie a lot of symptoms, one of which is extreme fatigue. So, she spent two days after each charity shop day recovering. One day work, two days recovering, one day work… week in week out with no respite. She became so permanently exhausted her other symptoms worsened.
Her GP provided evidence and we eventually got Jennie accepted as unfit for work and she was put back into the support group. Relief all round.
However …fast forward two years to the present day and we hear from Jennie again. She’s been plunged into poverty once more. On transfer from DLA to PIP they have given her 0 points. She has lost all her care and mobility money. Her son (who gave up his job to care for her) has also lost his carers allowance. She is now stuck, with hardly any income, waiting for an appeal date which will take several months to come through.
Ahmed, a lovely man, who had arthritis, occupational asthma due to dust exposure at work and vibration white finger from using power tools. He qualified for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and had low rate DLA, but as time progressed so did his arthritis, his white finger had worsened too and compounded the arthritis. His GP eventually referred him to us for help to increase his DLA.
I sorted out the DLA and asked him if he also wanted to be reassessed for Industrial Injuries benefit, to see if he could get these payments increased too. He refused because of his first experience. At his first asseessment he’d told the interviewing doctor that he couldn’t grip things, only to be told that he wouldn’t have difficulty feeding himself, because “you chaps eat with your fingers”.
I was furious but Ahmad shrugged his shoulders at the memory. “It’s so long ago now I’d almost forgotten about it” he says.
The good news is that Ahmad got his DLA increased, so he was more than happy. I’ve not heard from him for a while, so I really hope he is OK.
This is public money being abused by a government obsessed with stripping away our Social security safety net. My welfare rights work is funded by our NHS – money that should be spent on much needed medical personnel and equipment – not on the likes of me running around, disappearing up my own backside, trying to rectify the sheer incompetence of 10 years of this rotten government and its maze of useless departments.
There are countless thousands of disabled people being put through this, and what’s more they will all be reassessed and reassessed time and time again – all using and wasting the public purse.As long as we allow this grotesque merry go round situation to keep on turning.
Are we willing to be complicit in this cruelty by turning a blind eye? Are we really willing to let this government continue on a path of wilful destruction of our social safety net?
Another way is possible. Surely... please this election Vote4Change.
Vote Labour or Green whichever stands more chance of defeating Cruelty.
Notwithstanding the personal distress to these individuals and their families - what about all the extra costs of this unnecessary cruel process? All the repeated assessments, tribunal time, my time, our project co-ordinator’s time, DWP extra time, court costs, countless hours… just to get chronically sick and disabled people off the records.
Many give up – and simply accept their fate. Some take their own lives. The cost, and not just in terms of money is huge.
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