Walking together in the name of social justice

A personal story of experiencing assessment and the benefits system

Fri, 04/01/2016 - 11:22 -- admin
Atos

After my medical in the Summer of 2013 with ATOS.  My Incapacity Benefit was changed to ESA (employment support allowance). An appointment was made for me with the Disability Advisor at the DWP.  And I also received a letter from the DWP which announced I would be put in the Work based Activity group.   The advisor at my DWP appointment explained this away by saying I would be able to go on courses at this technical college, rather than remain a client of the Disability Advisor. At no time was I informed I would be placed on a Work Programme! I did at a later stage insist on a meeting with the DWP Manager at Rushey Green who apologised that the advisor hadn't told me anything about the work programme thus taking away any opportunity I had to appeal.  However, that left me in September 2013 having to embark on a two year work programme with one of the many Work Programme Providers.  Mine was based in Lewisham and called SEETEC.

The work programme which maybe for some clients on Job Seekers Allowance be of some help and usefulness because the clients need to show they are actively seeking work.  (which is done by applying to jobs on line and the code numbers noted on a sheet). But this is not the case for clients on ESA.  While on the work programme I did partake in the courses that were free. And after much argument they agreed to part fund an introduction to counselling.  Prior to this SEETEC will not fund a course unless you were guaranteed a job at the end of it.  Which of course never happens!! So its their get out clause and a money saver.

My personal experience of being on the Work Programme was quite a stressful one, in particular when being unwell and unable to make an appointment or class, automatically one is sent a "sanctions" letter threatening to stop ones benefit if your not able to prove your reasons for being absent. In Jan 2014 I was very unwell with double pneumonia, suspected TB and was in isolation on the ward.  I called SEETEC spoke to the manager explaining what happened, yet when I got home! another sanctions letter.

Staff at SEETEC were well meaning. Though lacked experience and knowledge.   Groups having to endure talks/video projections/questions...at times bordered on insult to be honest.  There were other clients who partook in the W.P. who very clearly were pretty unwell.....and should 'nt of been there in the first place.    Even the individuals that made up the group I was in.......couldn't sustain the programme due to issues with alcohol drugs and mental health.  Then sanctions are placed on them.  In theory some bits of the W.P. could be useful.  But need to take into account each person as an individual and offer tailored support.  We are not all the same.

I recently applied for PIP from the DWP......and filled out many pages to return, I saw a nurse at an interview.....though stated non medical ! I was asked to stand/sit/bend/balance etc. Which for me is very limited.  I was awarded 20.00 weekly on top of my £102.00 ESA. I have always contributed to society, and would still like too.  I did voluntary work at a hostel for more than a year. To stay as mobile as I am takes much effort and a lot of pain.  I need to exercise/swim/walk.   And would be happy to locate a part time job that allows me to stay well.

My prognosis for the future is that of my being wheelchair/house/bed bound. My challenges are degenerative disease of the lumber spine. I have two slipped discs and fractured vertebrae. And surgery to place two rods in my spine is an option currently being looked at....by the Pain Clinic and Neurosurgery dept. I also have I.C.  thus water infections are quite frequent and I have an overactive bladder....which I am under the Urodynamic team for in Gynae. After my gall bladder being removed in 2009. I still had issues with the CBD common bile duct as stones were forming in the ducts and giving me more episodes of Pancretitis  so I am on medication to thin the bile from the liver so no further stones formulate into blockages. I remain under the Liver Unit. I am also under the care of the Chest clinic at Guys awaiting a CT scan and have had a change of inhalers as my asthma is not being controlled very well

In terms of my mental health I have been seeing Jane at Psychological Medicine.   She has quite literally kept me alive. Depression/anxiety/suicidal thoughts.  Being in a terrible darkness and utter isolation on a regular basis is not easy to bear and endure. And as with my spinal and other health issues, I also need to spend time looking after my self in terms of what most people take for granted......which is getting yourself to the point of wanting to face the day a head. Its often a struggle to convince myself to get up from bed and not spend the day hiding away.   In addition there is the physical pains that I suffer daily....and have done so for many years.

I attend seven different clinics/units who are involved in my care.  And I take thirteen separate medications daily.

I never set out to become unwell.  Does anyone ?  Thus attempts by the Government to hold ESA claimants to ransom via the Work Programme is very dismal.  And will only serve to exacerbate one's situation not enhance it.  Setting ESA claimants up to fail......instead of helping..... the government
are hindering then punishing the most vulnerable in society.

After the W.P. I wanted to set up a woman's coffee morning 3 times a week from 10.00 t 12.00 on a voluntary basis for which I located a church hall to use. And wanted to reach out to those who were vulnerable/lonely/homeless etc.  How ever I was unable to secure funding.

Susan Linward

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