One year ago, I completed a great, long form about my health conditions and sent it away to the DWP. I’d been off work sick for 6 months and was no longer entitled to statutory sick pay from my work (SSP). I now had to apply for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is basically SSP that is paid by the government. My partner works, so I had to apply for the contribution based benefit, rather than the income based one. Yes, he has an alright job and we manage, but he shouldn’t have to spend his last penny on a taxi for my hospital appointment. He would, but he shouldn’t have to.
I want to get this clear from the start. I 100% meet the criteria for claiming ESA, I even meet the criteria for the “support” group that you can claim indefinitely, as opposed to the “work related activity” group which you can only claim for a year if you’re contribution based, rather than income based. Even with their basic tick box check lists that only truly represent a very narrow percentage of illnesses, I meet the criteria. Assessing HYPERMOBILITY on a check-list that only awards points for IMMOBILITY seems pretty ridiculous to me – so I told them this. Repeatedly. As someone with no experience of benefits or dealing with the DWP, I naively thought that I’d be fairly assessed. Stop laughing.
I had to go to an assessment by a “health care professional” who had no idea about hypermobility. In order for this woman to meet her weekly target of leaving sick people destitute, she awarded me ZERO points. None. Zilch. Diddly squat. At some point I’ll get round to scanning in her “report” for all to see, in a hope that other people in my positon don’t feel personally attacked, but can see that this is standard – inhumane, disgusting and dangerous, but standard, nonetheless – protocol. This was nearly the end of me. I’d spent so long fighting for doctors to take my pain seriously, to be seen as more than a hysterical woman or a hypochondriac… And now the DWP were implying I am a liar and need to get back to work? I’m so glad my partner’s work understand that there are times when he just needs to leave work and be home within minutes. This was one of those times.
I applied for a mandatory reconsideration. I sent away a letter from my GP and one from my Occupational Therapist explaining my problems and that I am not fit for work. I sent about five pages of “corrections” of the original decision and explained very eloquently and politely that the HCP who assessed me was an evil combination of ignorant, arrogant, cruel and a complete lying bitch.
They upheld their decision that I scored zero points and was fit for work. Whaaaaaat?!
Somewhere, behind the scenes in all this, my local MP had been in contact with the council. The financial inclusion team had been in touch and a lovely chap called Jamie was going to come over and help me take my case to a tribunal. At this time, I was also awarded the higher rate for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which is a disability benefit – the DWP had declared that I am properly disabled… but in the same week, fit for work. The only difference is that the woman who assessed me for PIP knew about hypermobility and was a rehab physio nurse. The ESA woman was… possibly a dental hygienist or a tadpole or something. PIP pays for wheelchairs, shower stools, taxis, special equipment and those “free” (not free) mobility cars people get. ESA is there to replace earnings from being able to work. And when I say “replace”… I don’t know that a single person could live any quality of life with this income alone.
Anyway, Jamie from the council couldn’t quite get his head round how the DWP could be so inconsistent. Well, he could. He sees this level of incompetency all the time. But he did find it kind of bizarre. The DWP justify this by saying that PIP and ESA are assessed by completely different companies, using the same criteria… and I AM the same person for both assessments… Hmm! Jamie scoured the pages and pages of paperwork, submitted documents on my behalf and sat in the tribunal with me. If it wasn’t for this man, I don’t know if I could have done it in the end.
So, yesterday, my partner took ANOTHER day off work to come with me to my tribunal. I had to buzz the security guard to let me in the parking barrier because there were no dropped kerbs. Helpful, eh? It felt super safe. When we got in, poor Jamie was looking rather stressed. His two previous clients had both been denied their appeals. Bollocks. But, he’d always been really positive about my case, so I tried to keep it together.
I was in and out in fifteen minutes. On descriptor 1a I was awarded enough points to be in the support group. 1a. That’s the first fucking descriptor in the entire fucking scenario. WHY DID ALL OF THIS EVEN HAVE TO HAPPEN?!
I thought I’d feel elated and like I’d stuck it to the man, but I just feel a little bit like the DWP has stolen a little bit of me. They have been the biggest source of stress and worry for me. I’m sick and I am content that I’m doing all I can about that… But what do you do when the government keep saying “we don’t doubt that you have a health condition but we do find you fit for work” when all your doctors disagree? You eat a lot of chocolate, cry a lot and drink a lot of gin. I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to tap into the bank of Dad and the bank of Boyfriend. I know people much worse off than me and it’s just awful.
I hate that there is a misconception in the UK that you just mosey into the job centre and sign up for benefits and get handed cash dollar. Or that your GP writing a sick note for you automatically means the DWP will pay sickness benefits. Oh no, no, no! Currently, the DWP and Tory government are letting people DIE while applying for sickness/disability benefits. People. Fucking. Die. Not one or two people. Lots of people.
I’m glad I didn’t die. But I very nearly killed myself. I’m relieved that it’s finally over, but I’m a little bit broken from the process. That’s why I’ve been so absent. It’s just all been too much. Now for two weeks of CONSTANT hospital appointments…