When Government Policy Abuses the Vulnerable….

Over the past 5 years or so, I have frequently had patients with significant mental health problems being deemed fit by the Atos Healthcare administered system of medical examinations for people on sickness benefit. I recently had a patient come to me with heightened distress over this. She felt she was doing well, was seeing a psychologist who was helping her fight her considerable psychological difficulties. Then she received a letter deeming her fit for work, and then an invitation to see a ‘Personal Adviser’ at a Jobcentre Plus office about 2 miles away (she has trouble travelling out of the neighbourhood).

I told my patient (let’s call her H.; this is not her name) about the work of Franz Kafka, about vulnerable people getting caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare. I printed out a few paragraphs from Wikipedia on ‘kafkaesque’. She was comforted by this, knowing that someone had described this situation, that she was not entirely on her own in this.

I told her I would provide her with a letter to take to her interview with the ‘Personal Adviser’ the following week. I asked her permission to write this up on this blog. She consented, provided she remained anonymous. I asked her to write a few words about it felt to be on the receiving end of these letters and injunctions.

Here is my letter to the ‘Personal Adviser’:

Sharon(not her name), Jobcentre Plus

Dear Sharon,

I understand that H. is due to meet with you this week.

I think it is important that you be aware that H. suffers from quite significant mental illness in the form of bipolar affective disorder (she was hospitalised two years ago for some time) which at times has psychotic features. She also has chronic depression and anxiety, and panic attacks. She has a sleep disorder, with regular nightmares of abuse she suffered as a child. She is under the care of local psychiatric services, on an ‘Enhanced Care Programme’. She sees her keyworker monthly. She takes antipsychotic medication, mood stabilisers, and antidepressants. She has just finished a course of psychology treatment which she has found very helpful. She also has chronic fatigue syndrome. She struggles to hold things together on a daily basis.

H. has a 22-year-old son with autism. She is his carer. He has high dependency needs.

The DWP seems incapable of assessing people with mental illness intelligently. As a result, a number of patients of mine with significant mental illness are forced to jump through quite inappropriate hoops in order to hang on to their benefits. This system is in itself abusive and worsens their mental health.

I am aware that you are merely doing your job and you have nothing to do with the development of this policy. Please let your superiors know that this lady is struggling to survive and that if you attempt to force her into one of your pigeonholes you risk making her worse.

If you wish to discuss this any further, I can be reached on  Tel……

Yours faithfully,

*

Last night I saw H. again in surgery. She said the Personal Adviser said it was nothing to do with her; she did not make the decisions; she advised H. to appeal; and gave her some documentation and an ‘invitation’ to see someone at A4e, the next hurdle in the thoughtless endurance trek she has to undertake.

She had brought something she had written at my request, about how it felt to be on the receiving end of all this. She said she had difficulty writing it down, so she wrote a poem, she hoped that was ok. She gave me permission to publish her poem, provided she remained anonymous.

Here is the poem:

I need the Lord my saviour,
but you make me feel a failure.
I need love and tenderness,
but all you give me is stress.
I am made to feel like a criminal,
but your knowledge of me is minimal.
I am innocent and free,
but you make me feel guilty.
I try to be good with all my might,
but you think me a parasite.
I need salvation,
but you give me aggravation.
How would you feel, if you were me,
made to feel worthless and lazy.
H.

4 Responses to When Government Policy Abuses the Vulnerable….

  1. I like “H” will no doubt have to go thru a similar treacherous journey and to say I’m terrified at the prospect is a understatement. I have suffered with mental health issues for over thirty years. Depression/bipolar? anxiety and panic disorder and like “H” had an abusive childhood which included sexual abuse. However I have been able to work since leaving school in 1975 but have had times off sick during this time, mostly during the 90’s to present and have been unemployed for short periods. For the last 5 years things have been becoming harder and harder in my present employment and the last two winters I have spent being off sick. This is like 3 months at a time and it makes me feel totally guilty which doesn’t help the anxiety. I had been experiencing very sore muscles and wasn’t sleeping properly. However I was asked by my supervisor to help him move a metal cabinet which was heavier than I thought and being metal (and he gave me the bottom end to lift form the floor) it cut into my hands I didn’t feel the strain on my back. But the next day I could hardly move. I got back to my work after two weeks off but my back wasn’t right. And the pains I had been feeling in various parts of my body and to varying degrees of pain from numb to excruciating became worse! I re injured my back again at work last June and have been off since. My Dr has done various tests and found my hormone levels were in my boots so now on hormone replacement therapy have seen a rheumatologist but haven’t got a arthritic problem which in myself I knew as my joints are ok this seems to just be muscular. My Dr says it might be Fibromyalgia which I had never heard of. She is treating this with amityptaline which is supposed to help with the pain which it doesn’t and tramadol which has the same affect! The most worrying thing is the lack of sleep. Which raises my stress levels and this raises my anxiety therefore making my depression worse. And she has raised my meds for anxiety. So feel spaced out most of the time! I have had a medical with ATOS for industrial injuries benefit which my back injury has been found to be. Now my work has terminated my contract and I’m now on ESA which God only knows what this is!! It’s so confusing and in the state I’m in I’m lucky if I know which day of the week it is! So I await the resulting ATOS medical for this thing I have, which in itself I don’t understand, with trepidation! If anyone out there has any advice I really would be very grateful. Thanks Les

  2. David Moynagh says:

    This tory led government is openly sadistic in the manner in which it punishes and vilifies the sick, disabled and unemployed. Their cruelty is remincent of nazi Germany’s tyrannical abuse of specific groups. The only solution is to use your vote at the election ballotbox and keep them out. Up here in Scotland, the people despise the tories for their welfare cuts and consider them to be more scurulous and verminous than a plague of scavenging parasitic rats

  3. I’m in my 3rd year of battle with the DWP after being awarded DLA high rate mobility and mid rate care for life in 1997 for a condition that could only get worse. Then in 2013 I was the victim of a violent attack leaving me almost unable to walk at all compounded by a stroke I suffered in hospital. I was unable to speak, my thoughts were random and even traveling to familiar places by car was a challenge as I would feel like i was travelling in the wrong direction. Filling in forms and writing letters would take days and still have incorrect information included. When I informed the DWP theybreacted by sending me paperwork by the kilo with sometimes 3 letters a day all giving contradictory information. I had to move home to somewhere with easier access and soon realised that my local counci was run by thugs after I was thrown over a desk and the CCTV images of the incident were destroyed by the complaints officer who was also the office manager and the fraud officer so I was on my own. I found a house that I could afford to buy outright if I sold my flat. This meant I would no longer need to claim housing costs from the DWP but until the building work was finished I woukd have excess capital to claim income support, if I had to live on this capital it would not be available to adapt the house to my needs and therefore I could not buy it. I asked the DWP how the rues would effect this situation and the reply was “we are not going to tell you until after you buy the house” The CAB contacted the DWP and said that they had placed me between a rock and a hard place. The response from the DWP was “That is correct”
    The CAB found 3 rules that could be used ;
    1) They could look at my individual circumstances and decide what is fair.
    2) They could disregard my excess capital for 26 weeks while work was carried out or longer under certain circumstances…
    3) They could apply rule CUS/368/93 which says that a property cannot be renovated from the proceeds of the sale of a previous property but must come from a mortgage or loan.

    Obviously I hoped option 1 would be used in a fair way but as they refused to give any more information I asked about option 2 as there was no way that the work would be completed in 26 weeks due to the time it would take to apply for items using the green deal scheme and getting planning permission so I asked if the delays I expected would be covered by the certain circumstances. The reply was “we are not telling you. Buy the house and get the work done and then we will decide”
    Option 3 did not seem to apply to my situation as this was about a judges comments on a rich couple trying to buy 2 houses and getting a thatched roof on a cottage with income support.

    I had no choice but to take the risk and informed the DWP of my intention. My income support and incapacity benefit claim was cancelled immediately but when I called to find out why they could not give a reason and said it should be re started by the next payment. I had signed the contracts for sale and purchase of my property but had no money for moving expenses and had to cash in my pension to pay for this and for food. I told the DWP that I had 5 weeks to return this money to the pension fund so please sort out why my benefits had stopped. After 7 weeks my benefits were repaid but they could still give no reason for stopping them but they were reducing them because I had obtained money by cashing in my pension. In effect they have stolen my pension from me.

    On the day I moved I received a call from a whistleblower at the DWP who informed me that they had decided to enforce CIS/368/93 but had no intention of informing me. A subject access request of my file confirmed this. I was told that I was to be given a 26 week disregard of capital but that this was not the final decision. I explained that this meant I could not risk employing builders as I may have to repay any income support claimed from the time I moved and so I would have to do the work myself. The reply was “we also want receipts for every nail and screw you use to ensure you do not deliberately lose capital to claim benefits ”
    I replied that to have any chance of this I would have to stop taking painkilling medication which caused fatigue and even to take illegal stimulants so I could build all day and scan respceiots all night. They did not respond. On my 53rd birthday I injected myself with crystal meth and began the work. Bearing in mind I had diminished responsibility at the time this seemed to be my only option.
    I failed to complete the work so they gave me another 26 weeks but meanwhile I had applied for a tribunal. The DWP claimed that the judge had no power as they had made no final decision but the judge said that they had decided to give me 26 weeks disregard of capital and he would hear the case. He explained that I could only object to this 26 week disregard and that he was going to regect my application. This meant that the 26 week disregard was the correct and final decision and therefore CIS/368/93 could not be used against me. The original decision made on the day I moved was denied by the DWP lawyer who said that the decision could not have been made as it would have been illegal.
    I failed to complete the work and suffered a nervous breakdown in the attempt. Then I received another letter saying that. A decision was made to give me yet another 26 week disregard of capital but they had forgotten to notify me so I now only had 8 weeks.
    After this time my house was and still is in chaos and dangerous but I asked where I should send the receipts. I was told not to bother as the decision to enforce CIS/368/93 had been made from the start and i would have to repay 2 years of income support. I informed them that the tribunal judge had already ruled against this and was told that the judge had found against me and in any case they had no obligation to comply with his judgement. They have not responded to any letters requesting my appeal rights against this and I cannot escalate this until they do.

    The forced labour of trying to renovate my house had serious effects on my physical and mental health but when I attended my PIP assessment the assessor lied and i had 0 points. 3 days later my car was taken and as I am unable to get to my front gate I cannot even use a taxi if I could afford to.

    I’m lucky to be resourceful and have made my own (illegal) electric vehicle. I consider the actions of the DWP to be a serious attempt at murder but cannot do anything about it because they ignore complaints and fail to process the case meaning I cannot use the ombudsman and cannot afford to use the courts. Luckily I only need to hang on for a few months and then I can get an equity release and tell the DWP where to shove their benefits . I will also be able to afford a lawyer and hope to prosecute certain individuals for abuse of office. Any person Without the skills I possess would not have survived. I did consider suicide but the part of my self that had survived the stroke would scream out not to give them the satisfaction until it was heard. I had to teach myself to speak and opperate my phone without medical help as I had to change GP but had no way to get to the new one and no time for tests. When I look at what they did to me when I was so vulnerable it makes me so angry for what they did to me that I want revenge at any cost . As soon as I have sorted out my housing problem I’m going to dedicate all my resources to exposing and shaming those bastards who no doubt had a good laugh at the way they tricked and conned me.and I can fight as dirty as they have because I now have nothing to lose.

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