Monday, 4 April 2011

ESA and the Work Capability Assessment

Today marks the day when the government's scheme to transfer all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants onto Employment and Support Allowance begins.
One and half million people will get their letters calling them into Atos offices for the Work Capability Assessment - the test designed to assess whether someone is genuinely in need of support or if they are fit for work.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling has said that genuine claimants have nothing to fear, that the only people who need to worry are the fakers who just prefer a life on benefits to one of work.

He's wrong. The fakers have nothing to fear; they have options. They are able to go out and work or comply with the regulations to claim Jobseekers Allowance. It's the genuine who are afraid because they have no options. If they could work they would do. No-one wants to be ill. No-one puts up with the 'scrounger' label or the suspicious looks if they don't have to.

Everyone who claims any of the disability benefits know about the WCA. Those on IB or in the work related activity group of ESA have been terrified of it for months. And rightly so - it's a terrible assessment that even the government's own advisory board as well as the man who designed it, have said is not fit for purpose.
They've heard the stories about those who've been denied benefit despite their illnesses. They've read the story of Paul Reekie, who committed suicide when his benefits were stopped.
Now they wait to see how their own claims will turn out.

I've been through two WCAs myself. The first was when I came down with my symptoms of MS, though I didn't have a formal diagnosis at that point. I was summoned to the Atos centre, waiting for what seemed an interminable amount of time, then was called in to see the doctor.
I was scared to start with and my fears were not allayed by he fact that I couldn't understand a word of what the doctor - from Eastern Europe - was saying. Nor could she understand me. She put me through a series of tests, none of which I could do, then sent me on way. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes at most.

The following week I received the report she had sent to the DWP. I was shocked at what she had written - it was lies from top to bottom. Every test she had done she'd put me as passed even though I hadn't. She had omitted things I had told her and gone against everything that had happened in that room.
In short, she said there was nothing wrong with me.
This was despite being barely able to walk, being unable to feel my pelvic muscles which led to lots of bathroom visits and being so tired I could barely think straight. I couldn't bend down, I couldn't kneel down, I certainly couldn't touch my toes.

I sent the form, along with detailed rebuttals of everything that was wrong, off to the DWP. The following day I received a letter saying I wasn't entitled to benefits because I was fit for work. I then had to ring them up and tell them I'd appealed at which point they said my benefit would be continued until the appeal was heard. I was on tenterhooks, worrying over what would happen about it, if they would listen to me or uphold the Atos doctor's decision.

The next letter I received was one telling me the appeal had been successful and my benefit would continue. I can't tell you how relieved I was.

Last year I underwent the WCA again when I left hospital following my formal diagnosis with MS.
I received a letter from Atos telling me to call and make an appointment - if I didn't, one would be made for me. So I rang and spoke to a very bored and slightly dismissive man who gave me an appointment who gave me an appointment for a date that they decided.
When I arrived, I was shown into the waiting room by a security guard, and greeted by a receptionist who looked at me like I was something foul on the bottom of her shoe.
I waited for about half an hour, all the while getting more and more uncomfortable as I felt the judging stares coming from the staff. If anything is designed to put you off it's that. So far, it was worse than my previous experience.

When I was finally called in I met a very nice lady doctor who seemed to understand about MS. She didn't attempt to make me do anything she knew I couldn't and was very reassuring. Very different from the first assessment so I had hopes that it would be ok.
Well, she didn't lie. But that's about it. Despite having shown some knowledge of MS she placed me in the work related activity group, meaning that with the right support I could work.
Because of course the right support will mean that I no longer struggle to get dressed in the mornings. Or take a shower. Or cook meals. Or walk anywhere. Or need to rest after putting a load of washing on. Or want to cry when the pain in my head gets too bad. And it will get better because of course MS is curable.

I didn't have the strength or the energy to try and appeal though. Not to mention I was scared that they might stop it completely. So I left it as it was. I see an advisor every few weeks, meaning a taxi journey to the jobcentre where I wince with pain as I struggle with the sensory overload of neon lights and too many people.

And in the summer I get to go through it all over again.

Now then Mr Grayling, are you still going to tell me I have nothing to worry about?

Cross posted at Where's the Benefit?


1 comment:

  1. "He's wrong. The fakers have nothing to fear; they have options. They are able to go out and work or comply with the regulations to claim Jobseekers Allowance. It's the genuine who are afraid because they have no options."

    Absolutely perfectly put. That's what I've been wanting to say for months but hadn't found the words. For a lot of people it's benefits or death, "getting through somehow" is not an option we have. "Managing somehow even though it's a stretch" is what we already do just to stay alive at all.