Jackie’s Story – The DWPs’ determination to class me as fit to work.
Jackie lives in a small village in North Ayrshire, Scotland. These are her words on how her Work Capability Assessments (WCA) have been conducted by Atos and The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
My issues with The Department for Work and Pensions, (DWP) started last June when, as part of my Employment and Support Allowance, (ESA) I was sent for medical assessment at Glasgow Disability Benefits Centre which is in Cadogan Street, Glasgow.
I suffer from multiple health conditions, some of which include; ME, osteoarthritis, (which affects my; hips, back, neck, shoulder and pelvis), carpal tunnel syndrome and depression with anxiety and stress issues.
I travelled by train to the assessment centre. On the way I stopped off in Paisley first to do bit of shopping, my father was seriously ill in a care home at the time and I needed some things for the photo album I was making for him, of his memories.
I got what I needed and a few other bits and got back on train to Glasgow. You’ll see why this is relevant soon.
I got to the centre eventually and had my assessment. I showed the assessor my prescriptions and various medical reports. I explained the problems that I have in great detail. She didn’t register any emotion whatsoever.
I left feeling apprehensive but confident that I had given them enough facts to make an informed decision. Bear in mind, they have multiple reports of their own from my doctors stating that I am not fit to work.
A week later I got letter stating that I had been found fit for work; “No Limited Capability for Work” as they call it.
I got on the phone to the ESA helpline straight away and asked for a mandatory reconsideration, as there’s no way that I am fit to work. I really wish I was.
The contact centre agent I spoke to said he would send me the assessors medical report, and that he would phone me back in a weeks time to discuss the matter further.
When the report arrived in the in post I was utterly speechless. The assessor had written; I don’t take any medication for my pain, despite the fact I had taken my repeat prescriptions with me. It also said I “arrived at the centre carrying 4 heavy shopping bags”. This was entirely false, I did have 2 bags yes, but they weren’t heavy at all, plus how did she determine the weight?
The amount of outright lies she wrote was disgusting. It was a report, but you could have been mistaken it for somebody else’s entirely.
The ESA helpline advisor phoned me back and went through the medical report with me. He was utterly shocked at what was written, and he quickly overturned the original decision and put me in work related group of ESA.
I was later told that the people that do assessments are not necessarily trained medical staff and that, their bosses tell them to pass people fit when they are not. Over 70% of cases that go to the tribunal stage overturn the DWP’s decision.
I turn for help
I contacted Patricia Gibson, MP for north Ayrshire and Arran, she is my local MP and she always has time for her constituents.
She was shocked at what she saw in the report and wrote to the DWP asking why non-medically trained staff are assessing benefit claimants’ fitness to work. For now, that was this issue resolved.
My health started to get progressively worse, so I spoke with my work coach in October of last year. He advised that due to my health getting worse I could be moved in to ESA support group.
I had just lost my father at end of August, and I was not coping with the grief well at all if I’m honest.
My work coach advised I write a letter to ESA asking to be moved from the ESA work related group to the support group. With the letter I also enclosed and up to date sick note from my doctor. I took it and letter to job centre and my work coach emailed the letter and sick note to their Greenock office.
An hour later I received a phone call to say they had received my letter and sicknote and that a decision would be made within 7 days.
After numerous letters from my MP and countless calls from myself to DWP, I was sent another medical form in December.
Yet another assessment
In February 2018, I was sent back to Cadogan Street in Glasgow for yet another assessment. I took all my letters and reports from hospital consultants and my repeat prescription, for evidence.
On the 12th of March I received a letter. Now I was even classed and Limited Capability for Work, (LCW), but fully fit!
I couldn’t believe it. At the time of the assessment I was barely able to walk and was using crutches, I had just suffered a really bad ME attack and found it difficult to leave house. To be honest I was in a mess mentally and physically.
This time my assessment was carried out by a doctor. I asked to see report because I wanted to know what had been written this time.
This will shock you.
I live on my own. I have 3 dogs, 4 cats and hobbies to keep me busy as I’m frequently housebound. The DWP decided; because I live on my own and “manage”, I was fit to work. Also, because I was able to walk from the waiting room to consultation room, they said I was coping well, despite struggling on crutches.
I have carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis in both hands. This makes it difficult to the simplest things. The assessors opinion? I was able to take paperwork out my bag and can use pen or pencil, therefore I have no issues. I received 6 points from the DWP, nowhere near the 15 that classes you as being unfit or needing adjustments to work.
I phoned my MP straight away, she was speechless and wrote to the DWP asking why they had found me fit for work despite my health getting worse.
I decided to ask for another mandatory reconsideration. I contacted a local charity called CHAP who are similar to the Citizens Advice Bureau to assist me. A very nice case worker helped me do mandatory reconsideration on 14th March.
I received a decision on that last in the beginning of May. They agreed with the assessor and upheld them classing me as having: “No Limited Capability for Work”.
I have appointment with CHAP on 8th June to start tribunal processes. Which can be long and drawn out.
On May 30th I received a letter from the DWP. I have been asked to attend ANOTHER Work Capability Assessment. This is getting beyond a joke now. This shows the sheer determination by them to class me fit to work.
From bad to worse
To make matters worse the “Support for mortgage interest” (SMI), scheme is being replaced with a new loan based system.
I applied for it last year, but whilst doing this they stopped making payments to my mortgage provider. Due to a series of “errors” and “miscommunications” they are still yet to sort this out.
The problems and upset this has caused me must be causing other homeowners on benefits as no longer is your full mortgage paid but just the interest. How do I cover the rest? Did I chose to become disabled?
SMI has been around since 1948 but this government is determined to change everything without thinking it through.
I appreciate you taking time to read my story and I will share with you what happens with my case in due course.
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I’d like to hear how Jackie’s case progresses.
It’s outrageous that this sort of thing is still going on. Jackie, needs to get the name of the assessor and complain to the management every time. These people really need hauling over the coals. Jackie should also have insisted on a home visit, it is her right under The Equality Act 2010 which states that ‘reasonable adjustments’ should be made for those with disabilities when accessing public services. The private assessment companies work for the DWP which is a public service.
It’s happening every day, all over England, Wales and NI. I think Scotland is still suffering these kinds of issues as well.
Am I the only person who thinks that this case reflects badly on disabled people? No disrespect to Jackie but she freely admits that she was capable of going shopping on her way to the assessment. It wasn’t even shopping for essential groceries. Then she admits she manages to look after 3 dogs and 4 cats. I’m a dog & cat owner and I know that they involve quite a bit of work. How does Jackie manage to open tins and packets of pet food or clean out litter trays or carry heavy pet food home? Jackie may well be poorly but her story certainly doesn’t suggest she is incapable of doing some work. Maybe not physical work but if she capable of looking after so many animals, having a hobby and capable of shopping then surely anyone in their right mind would find her capable of doing work of some description
Uh huh. Shows what you know.
“I suffer from multiple health conditions, some of which include; ME, osteoarthritis, (which affects my; hips, back, neck, shoulder and pelvis), carpal tunnel syndrome and depression with anxiety and stress issues.”
Let’s see. I don’t know her, so I’m guessing at a lot of this, but I’m fairly informed about these things and know people with all of these conditions.
ME: Also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Major symptom is extreme tiredness, both mental and physical, which can cause inability to think properly and pay attention to a conversation, do simple things such as wash a dish or change clothes, and even get out of bed. ME can also cause various types of pain, sleep problems, dizziness, flu-like symptoms, and heart palpitations. For some people (she’s probably one of them) the symptoms vary day-to-day, or week-to-week. Occasionally people with ME will push through the symptoms to get something done, or even (shock) do something fun once in a while, but doing so often causes worse symptoms for days afterward. She probably paid for her day of travel/shopping/DWP fun.
Arthritis: Almost certainly causes chronic pain, which is awful, exhausting, and depressing (I have it too), stiffness, inability to do a lot of things, and mobility limitations (needing crutches to move around, for example, which is also tiring, probably quite slow, and likely aggravates her carpal tunnel syndrome).
Carpal tunnel: Very painful, sometimes right up the arms, and causes weakness and often numbness. Many people with bad carpal tunnel can’t hold a fork, pick up a pen, or turn a round door handle. A friend of mine had to drop out of grad school for 3 years because her CT was so bad that she couldn’t type. Most people can do more than they should, but they pay for it, and doing that a lot can cause a progression of the symptoms. So taking papers out of a bag, writing with a pen, etc., probably hurt and made her symptoms worse. Add in the osteoarthritis in her hands, and I suspect that she struggles to do much with them.
You mention another assessment when awaiting Tribunal decision ? As an appeal is ongoing judicialy then it is unlawful for either party to interfere in the legal process e.g medical assessment. This happened to myself and you can guess after I won the appeal I was then determined one month later as fit for work on the new assesssment. I complained all through this process and DWP telephoned to apologise and said this assessment should not have happened The new decision was overturned without mandatory reconsideration as if it went to appeal then would raise contempt of court issues in my opinion. . I am in Scotland so same office involved and they are fully aware of this point.
OK, now the mental health problems, which were probably caused/worsened by becoming disabled, chronic pain, isolation, having to struggle with the simplest things, having to stop working, poverty, and having to deal with the degrading, nasty benefits system.
I’m assuming you’ve never experienced real depression (not just feeling down for a week or two), anxiety, or the negative effects that any stress can have on not just the depression and anxiety, but her physical problems as well, particularly the pain. Emotions magnify/lessen the experience of pain. I’m going to leave you to look up the symptoms of these illnesses yourself, because I’m bored of explaining them to people, but as a sufferer, I can tell you that they can be extremely disabling. They’re also variable for a lot of people. Some days I can go to the shop, and wave at a neighbor. Others I can’t get out of bed, change clothes, bathe, sleep, or even eat.
…cont. (break to find errant cat and tempt him out of tree).
Chronic pain, ME, and mental health problems all suppress the immune system, resulting in a constant cycle of colds, infections, etc. Fun fun.
Side-effect of meds can be disabling, cause permanent damage, and can sometimes be fatal. I’m on 2 meds to counteract the side-effect of other meds. Several of the others cause drowsiness, confusion, and fatigue, so I’m in a slight haze all the time. I now have a permanently damaged stomach and blurred vision due to meds. J likely has similar issues.