Tag: ESA

Fighting Iain Duncan Smith and Our Stats Campaign

It seems lately that every day another minister for the DWP has something disastrous to say about claimants. The whole scroungers rhetoric took on a new slant in the beginning months of this year with statistics like, 71% of DLA recipients on life time awards left to languish un checked and 8,000 move in to work because of the benefit cap. These sorts of figures, of which there are numerous, are hard enough to swallow at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. For disability campaigners it is hard to almost daily, see stats we know cannot be true, banded about like the crock of gold at the end of the welfare reform rainbow.

This is how our campaign started really, we were both on Facebook both bemoaning yet another press release from Esther McVey that announced another appalling stat that both Jayne and I knew to be nonsense; I said “someone should right an open letter to that woman”, Jayne replied “are you up for it” and I think my reply was, “what me!’” and it went from there. We drafted an Open Letter to Esther McVey the Minister for Disabled People and put it up on line asking people to sign it; over the space of a month or so, 866 people signed the letter and left comments, some angry, some supportive of what we where trying to do, and some harrowing stories of Work Capability Assessments and hardship brought about by the so called reforms.

Whilst we were promoting the open letter and collecting signatures Jayne approached change.org about setting up a petition. It had been decided early on to send a copy of the open letter to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, including any comments along with the list of signatories, asking them to investigate the misuse of statistics by the DWP. We sent a copy of the letter and signatures to Dame Anne Begg the chair of the select committee, and continued to update her as the open letter grew. So it made sense to address the petition to the same Work and Pensions Select Committee, given their particular interest in the open letter and pages of comments. They W&PSC are responsible for monitoring how changes in policy and laws, effect people on the ground and can investigate when things go astray; they can also investigate MPs behaviour.

We launched our petition and waited to see what would happen, not really expecting very much and we were pleasantly surprised when it started to climb quite quickly. In the mean time we had closed the open letter and sent both a hard copy (by special delivery) and an email copy to Esther McVey, and several other politicians. We had discovered after launching our letter that many other people were trying to get some action to stop the DWP ministers misusing stats; from other disability groups, through to MPs and even members of the select committee, so it seemed our letter and petition were timely.

We sat back and waited for a reply from Esther McVey…….. None came….. But…. The petition with change.org had succeeded spectacularly; currently standing at 100,593, it has also been mentioned in several national newspapers including the Guardian and the Newstatesman.

After a month or so we decided we needed to nudge the DWP regarding a response to the open letter, and so we wrote a second letter asking for such a reply; this was both emailed and hand delivered to Esther McVey’s office by a fellow campaigner. This time we didn’t wait and we drafted a template letter for supporters to send to their MPs asking them to find out why the open letter had been ignored. This got us an official reply very quickly, but it didn’t answer any of our original points and was very dismissive; we forwarded this to Ann Begg who did not seem amused, nor were we.

A few days later we were contacted by Anne Begg to inform us that…

“we will be questioning the Secretary of State himself on the use of Statistics as part of his evidence session on the Department’s Annual Report which will be at 9.30 am on Wednesday 4th September.”

Unfortunately the wheels of parliament run slowly and a couple of weeks later we received another email…

“Just to let you know that we are having to postpone our evidence session with the Secretary of State as the DWP won’t have published its Annual Report until after the House returns in October. As the Sept session was to include both the finances of the dept as well as its use of statistics, it is better that we have the information from the Annual Report before quizzing IDS.”

I don’t yet have a date for the session but will let you know once I know.’

So this is where we are now; we have in the pipeline another letter to Esther McVey demanding a proper and considered reply from her and not a sectary, and we have October to look forward to. We also hope to be handing our petition in to Liz Kendel MP outside the Houses of Parliament, where she will then submit it to the floor of the House of Commons. We are trying to arrange this as close to the date we get from the W&PSC, for the meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, as possible; adding the voice of over a hundred thousand people to those MPs and campaign groups that have also called for the committee to investigate.

In the mean time we intend to keep collecting signatures and evidence of the misuses of stats by MPs and Ministers and continue to try to get a reply from the disabilities minister.

Jayne and I had met some time before all this, on facebook and twitter and we are mutual members of many FB disability campaign groups; we have both in the last few years become increasingly involved in various campaigns and campaign groups. Jayne describes herself as a fifty(ish), disabled woman (including Fibro) who worked full time for over thirty years as a community activist, adult tutor & counsellor whilst also raising her, now adult children; until her health degenerated to a point her GP compelled her to leave employment 4 years ago. Since then she’s been fighting the system to claim contribution based ESA & DLA she’s had 4 ATOS assessments and has been through 3 reconsiderations, where she had to persuade DWP decision makers, that her Dr & consultants are actually correct and 2 tribunals (both successful). The trauma of these experiences alongside battling with officers at her Local Authority for Housing/Council Tax benefit on each occasion has made her very cynical about the rationale behind all of the ‘Welfare Reform’ cuts. She is also a carer for her partner who also has a chronic long-term condition.

As for myself I am a 48 yr old mum with Fibromyalgia diagnosed 17 yrs ago, I have a six yr old with SPD, and I’m a carer for my partner who has bone cancer and MSSA bone infection.
I get DLA and I have a job. I’m a community education art lecturer, I work with people with mental health problems, and I also have my own business that I’m struggling to keep a float with no help, because I don’t meet the DWP’s minimum income floor for the work programme.

I got involved with the We are Spartacus Network a couple of months after I had my own ESA assessment; which was a month before I was due to go self employed (what a waste of money that was), I was found ‘Fit for Work” no big surprise, even considering I am still ill. I am also a co founder of Disability Matters UK a disabled person led disability organisation.

I have watched my students and sick and disabled friends fall foul of the ESA process; people who ARE genuinely sick and disabled being left with next to nothing to live on and living in fear of the PIP assessments to come. And I have watched these same people as they bang their heads against a wall this government has created, a wall fashioned out of spin and misinformation to discredit all claimants of DLA, so they appear to be fakers, even though the fraud rate of DLA is a tiny 0.5%. The reality of these people’s lives is so much worse than most can imagine.

Iain Duncan Smith in his capacity as Minister for the DWP and the 4 junior ministers under his authority since the coalition was formed, have all persistently misused statistics and rhetoric to justify the changes to Social Security.

We feel it is important that ministers do not misuse statistics to push forward with controversial policies – Ministers have:
A) Duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies,
B) N/A
C) It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister,
D) Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest, which should be decided in accordance with the relevant statutes and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 Ministerial Code

It is important ministers take responsibility not only themselves but also for their ministerial team’s actions and this is why we wrote the Open Letter to Esther MCVey and started the Petition to ask the Work and Pensions Select committee to investigate.

Since writing this we have had a second hand reply via Michael Meacher MP who received a reply from Ester McVey in reply to his query about us having not had an adequate reply it is long winded and basically doesn’t answer anything … We will be following it up…

Thanks for spending time and spoons to read this I know its long Phew!
Jayne and Debbie

Groups we are involved with…
WOW Petition
Deaep
We Are Spartacus Network
Disability Community UK Facebook Group
Disability Matters UK (Blog)
Disability Matters Facebook Page
UK Fibro Facebook Group
Cornwall Fibro Facebook Group
Talk about Fibro/ CFS/ ME Only Facebook Group
Cancer support for Partners and Carers Facebook Group

Our Blogs
Jayne Linney
Debbie Sayers Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind

Background articles about this story on our website

Iain Duncan Smith not appearing before Work and Pensions Select Committee on 4th September to answer questions about his use of statistics to make political points published 27th July 2013
Successful E-Petition on benefits heads to parliament published 19th July 2013


DWP issue conflicting advice as everyone is swamped with benefits paperwork

ESA File Height

Further to our story yesterday entitled “Benefits Paperwork Overloading Claimants” this website has uncovered certain documents in the public domain that seem to demonstrate confusing and conflicting information from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) with regard to Employment & Support Allowance Appeals.

The story yesterday spoke of ESA Benefit claimants being swamped by the paperwork that is involved with making a claim. The picture above was used to demonstrate the size of one claimants file of paperwork about her ESA claim that started in July 2010 which is still ongoing, next to a standard pack of 500 sheets of A4 paper to show comparative size. This claimant has not been paid any benefit money for approximately one year but is swamped with the paperwork involved in appeals and Tribunals as she believes she has never been placed in the correct category for her limited capabilities due to her Fibromyalgia.

The story also referred to a BBC Website article on the 4th May this year entitled “GPs ‘flooded’ with letter requests due to UK benefit reforms.” This article claimed BMA Scotland had said GPs were being “flooded with additional avoidable work” as patients seek support regarding benefit payment appeals. Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said: “The UK government’s flawed approach to benefits reform and changes to the Work Capability Assessment are flooding GP practices across Scotland with additional avoidable work.” It also states that The committee has advised GPs not to respond to these sort of requests which could literally leave claimants high and dry as they can not collect medical evidence to appeal.

In a document within the public domain dated 19th April this year the DWP have responded to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Question posed to the DWP was: “When a person appeals the decision of the DWP, for DLA & ESA which is based on an Atos work capability assessment. Who is responsible for obtaining medical evidence from their GP; the DWP or the person who is making the appeal?” The answer from the DWP was: “It is the responsibility of the appellant (the person who is making the appeal)
to obtain medical evidence.”

Yet in direct conflict the DWP responded to the BBC Website Article saying: “If the DWP requires further medical evidence it will be requested by a healthcare professional working for Atos Healthcare, which GPs are required to complete as part of their terms of service.” The article goes on and quotes Dr John Ip, secretary of the Glasgow local medical committee and a GP in Paisley who says: “There are contractual and agreed methods for GP’s to provide medical information to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

There seems to be total confusion about who should be requesting medical evidence from GP’s and Health Professionals. Quite simply it appears claimants are given misleading information from the DWP and do not know if it is their responsibility to collect medical evidence for an appeal or if that responsibility lies with the DWP. Due to this patients contesting controversial Work Capability Assessments conducted by ATOS Healthcare are having to collect evidence against these assessments for their appeal cases and they are doing so in huge numbers which is putting a strain on GP’s. There is so much strain that the BMA in Scotland are advising GP’s not to respond to requests which could lead claimants without benefit they may be entitled to because of the sweeping benefits reform especially with regards to ESA.

In yesterdays article we showed how claimants are swamped with benefits paperwork, the BBC article claims GP’s are swamped with benefits paperwork and we also know the Tribunals Service have a huge backlog of cases and are swamped with benefit paperwork as well. Therefore it is no surprise that a number of disability charities teamed up with Citizens Advice (who are incidentally swamped with benefits paperwork) to publish a document in 2010 about ESA, entitled “Not Working” because the benefits system is literally “Not Working” and since then nothing much has changed. This government have said they are committed to reducing bureaucracy and cutting paperwork levels within the public sector. But with regards to benefit reform and ESA, everyone concerned seems to be swamped in benefits paperwork as this system is simply “Not Working”.


Benefits Paperwork Overloading Claimants

20130507-225518.jpg

The paperwork for benefits claims is overloading claimants who have to prove they have limited capabilities for work and work related activity yet, are expected to manage a huge amount of paperwork.

The picture above is the file containing paperwork for one Employment & Support Allowance Claimant, next to it is a standard pack of 500 sheets of A4 paper for a direct comparison. Her claim started in July 2010 but this claimant feels she has yet to be placed in the correct category for ESA. She has not received any benefit for a year because of the 365 day rule for Contributory Based ESA, as she was placed in the Work Related Activity Group. By 365 days a claim should be resolved but instead it has taken nearly 3 years so far.

Despite her not being paid any benefit for a year, the responsibility to prove she isn’t capable to work is on her, despite her condition. This puts her in a real catch 22 situation as she is not capable to manage her case, but she has to do her case to prove she is incapable. When it comes to Tribunals claimants are not automatically entitled to help and many have to rely on charities and organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureaux who are being swamped by the volume of people needing their help. This has led to them joining other charities and publishing a report entitled simply “Not Working” about how the benefit simply does not work and overloads anyone going through it.

It all rests on the claimants responsibility to collect their own evidence, but if they are too unwell to do this and too unwell to approach these charities they often find themselves not being able to cope with the demands the state places on them. ATOS Healthcare are notorious in the British press and they hold the contract to conduct the Workplace Capability Assessment on claimants. However their notoriety comes from a high volume of clients appealing their assessments as ATOS has found they do not have limited capabilities. Often this decision is then overruled at appeal or tribunal if the claimant (who is incapable of work) puts a strong enough case together.

It is a huge problem for claimants when ATOS deem them capable as they then have to gather and often commission there own medical reports in an attempt to show ATOS are wrong and they are in fact incapable of work. This gives them a huge workload and overloads the charities that might be helping them. Today we have heard the volume of requests is also overwhelming GP’s according to BMA Scotland in this BBC Article. But the responsibility for all of this rests with the claimant who are drowned in paperwork, desperate for written evidence from GP’s , Specialists and Healthcare Professionals. As said previously the claimants often have to commission these reports themselves, it is their responsibility. This can cost hundreds of pounds while cases go on for three years despite not being paid any benefit.

Often ESA claimants also have to apply for other benefits like Disability Allowance, Housing Benefit & Council Tax relief. With benefit reform sweeping through these areas claimants are often left with huge files, like the one shown in the picture, for each benefit they apply for. I would certainly agree with CAB when they say “Not Working” as its not working for anyone and the system is simply flawed.


ESA Appeals and Tribunals Guide

Just a quick post to mention that (as the title suggests) I have done a guide for Appeals & Tribunals as they are so common and one of the most frequently asked questions. You can find it under benefits THEN Employment & Support Allowance THEN Appeals & Tribunals Guide on the red menu bar above this post near the top of the page, but to be really kind you can simply click here to be taken there by magic!

I am working on a Guide to the ESA50 form for ESA now. Its already feeling like filling hundreds out at once. Oh well my pain is your gain and all that.


Someone cleared a paper jam at the DWP!

I have had one of those collections of letters you can only get from DWP (Jobcentre Plus.) You know the type, it’s as if someone has cleared a printer jam and they have sent you all the rubbish the system sent to print!

It is so silly when you get multiple letters at the same, often containing contradictory information. Anyway, reading between the lines it looks like they are backdating my Support Group ESA payments after all. You get a four page letter each time a payment setting is changed. “From [Random Date] your payments will change to [Random Value] a week, if you disagree then you can appeal etc…….” it always seems that these dates are plucked out of the air and it’s almost impossible to work out if your getting the correct amounts. When you put all the letters together you have multiple dates, some only a day or so apart, the only true approach you can take is to total what you think you should be paid over a certain period, total what you have been paid and if there within a hundred quid of each other then accept it, if not, (deep breath) complain! Whoever thinks this process is fit for purpose needs a health check. Wouldn’t it be nice to have it layed out bank statement style in over a page so you can see exactly what’s going on! People say fuel bills are confusing…….

I will share a little story with you, my mum received a pile of these letters for her ESA, basically they all said from [Random Date] your payments will be £0.00, if you disagree……. Blah, blah blah!
There was no explanation as to why her ESA had suddenly stopped, there was no change in circumstances or further information at all. Obviously she rang them and got nowhere……. well after two days and HOURS on the phone she got through to someone who said “ah, I know what’s happened, we needed some information from you but the system isn’t capable of printing a letter out to ask you to provide it. So what we do is make the system send you a letter saying your benefit will be £0.00 as that usually makes people panic enough to call us, that way they will eventually get through to this department and we can ask them for the information over the phone. Then you will get another letter saying your payments will be the correct amount and if it’s put on the computer correctly it will be from the same date the system stopped the payments from!”

HOURS she was on the phone for! Bouncing from department to department getting false explanations until they got to the correct department! How much time and money is this wasting, can’t they just pick the phone up and ask for the information? Instead they send letters out to panic people into calling them? I’m surprised we’re not in some sort of national financial crisis where they are paying out more than they get in in taxes…………………….. “Oh, now wait a minute!”


The Brown Envelope of…….. Success (rare as it is)

I will cut to the chase……. I’m in the Support Group for Employment & Support Allowance!!! It’s taken a matter of days short of Three Years to get it though!

That’s right, three years of hellish backwards and forwards communication, involvement of MP’s threats of legal action, national and local media involvement, and even threats to publish my entire case file online have paid off! The truth is, since I left employment as a Police Constable I have been unfit for work and work related activity and as such I contacted the benefits hotline all those years ago and was advised that Job Seekers Allowance was the correct benefit from an adviser who hadn’t even heard of Employment & Support Allowance! This set the tone and was the standard of service I have received from “Jobcentre Plus” and the DWP at almost every turn. Looking at my file its sheer thickness is about the same as a pack of 500 sheets of A4 paper and my success is down to my painfull journey to learn about the law so I know what should happen, better than most of their paid “advisers” and hold the DWP to account at every turn.

One major objective for this site is to educate and inform, so that suffers of Fibromyalgia don’t have to do what I have done and can benefit from the lessons I’ve learnt, as its almost impossible to get the correct benefit unless you learn everything about the system and the law behind it. This is because the system does not work, the staff are incorrectly trained and the computer system that manages all claimants is unfit for purpose!

Obviously for me it’s not all good news, for some reason I can not fathom just yet I won’t be in the Support Group until the 28th August. I don’t yet know why I can’t be in the Support Group from now or even from the date of appeal. I also don’t know why my benefit isn’t being backdated, my latest appeal started last year and all my ESA was cut back in April/May time. Another thing I don’t know is how long I have been awarded it for, from experience I know it can be for as little as three months at which point I will have to start again with an ESA50 form and another probable ATOS medical. It is a joke that classification can take longer than the award is for and the appeal process can take over a year for an award of three months! So chances are a claimant will either be in the assessment phase or an appeal phase rather than being in an confirmed awarded phase! It’s o wonder the DWP have completely overloaded themselves with assessments and appeals is it?

I will now have to fight for my award to be backdated so the fight is far from over! I also want to write a comprehensive guide in PDF form on benefits like ESA & DLA. This will include advice on how to prepare for an ATOS medical, how to write a successful appeal and how to prepare for a tribunal. The truth is that this is going to take quite some time, my health means most of my time is spent in bed and incapable of working on such a document as frustrating as it is. In the meantime a lot of the advice I would write in a guide can be found on the benefits sections of this website. I can not stress enough how important it is to do your own points assessment using the links I have provided before you fill in an ESA50, attend a medical, file an appeal or attend a Tribunal. Also remember its all about evidence, your word is not taken at face value so get statements from medical professionals and inform all consultants etc you require a copy of all reports to your GP as trying to get them all copied afterwards takes time and probably money!

Of course, I will keep you updated with how I get on! Use the site and get in touch if you have any questions!


Fibro and WCA News

I thought I would group my next two posts into one as I’ve already blogged twice today!

Fibromyalgia News

Firstly some rather bizarre news on Fibromyalgia from the Daily Fail (Daily Mail) about a GP who diagnosed herself with Fibromyalgia and then managed to cure herself by not eating Fruit & Veg. A rather extreme case of “five a day keeps the doctor away” (from work)!!! Obviously there is more to it and one thing I take from the story is the importance of keeping a food diary to see if certain foods, groups or properties may be aggravating or causing certain problems. You can read the full story here.

Work Capability Assessment under Review

Dr Harrington who is behind the controversial Work Capability Assessment that claimants of Employment & Support Allowance must go through is reviewing how his latest recommendations are been implemented. During this process he is asking for people to write to him about there experiences, particularly if you have had more than one assessment. I think it is vital for people with Fibromyalgia to submit their experiences as its not often we get this much of a chance to get our views and experiences under the nose of someone at this level. He will of course receive information from people with any other condition who have undergone the WCA and it’s not just about those with Fibromyalgia. The assessment is literally the practical implementation of the law and the Employment & Support Allowance regulations and the descriptors are part of schedule one and two of the latest update. If you feel like I do that the WCA is fundamentally flawed perhaps it’s worth making our feelings known. Although saying that we are not alone especially after Citizens Advice produced there damning report entitled “It’s not working” which I support. For me neither schedule encompasses the reasons why an individual may not be able to work, and not be able to take part in work related activity. To read more about the information he is after visitthis site and download the document entitled year three call for evidence skipping to page 11 if your limited by time!


ESA Update

After my frustrating post on June 15th I wrote another letter of complaint to the DWP (Jobcentre Plus) I told them the situation literally meant this letter was a complaint about a letter of complaint that was not acknowledged about a complainant and appeal that was acknowledged. Thats how absurd the situation was. I said I would have to consider writing to my MP to start another investigation, the Highest person in the DWP, publish my entire case file online (circa 400 pages) and write to local and national media!

Isn’t it stupid when you have to go to these lengths?

Well I finally heard from them, (first time since November when they told me they were dealing with it only to have my ESA cut in may) by means of a phone call. Hurray, someone is going to communicate! He was very polite and assuring and explained there had been a catalogue of errors by Job Centre Plus and ATOS healthcare with respect to my case. Basically a decision was made in December but I wasn’t informed. Then no one acted upon my first letter which to be honest I’m not sure it’s even made it to my file, then my complaint and appeal was not auctioned because I hadn’t signed the letter personally (due to my illness that day I asked my other half to print and send it) and that no-one had taken it upon themselves to tell me anything until three complaint/Appeal Letters were received!

So, he took my verbal evidence as reason for “late appeal” so he could actually submit it and sent me copies of all paperwork for signing. I took the opportunity to send a batch of medical reports through as well. It was a pleasant conversation and I think we both understood each other but I suppose only time will tell!

So I’m again officially in Appeal Status for ESA, still not in the correct group, time so far……. 2 years 10 months


Awake and frustrated about ESA

Well, I’m finding myself awake and getting frustrated about my lack of Employment & Support Allowance. I complained last November and got a response in writing and a promise they were looking into my claim that I should be in the Support Group, gathering more medical evidence and to acknowledge my claims that I am finding it hard to keep up with constant letters going backwards and forwards highlighting poor treatment and even unlawful decisions by decision makers.

Well, I’ve heard nothing since November, I’ve had nothing to inform me a decision has been made! I’ve had nothing to inform me a decision has not been made! I’ve had nothing!

In the first quarter I sent a letter of complaint and further information highlighting ATOS refusing to come and conduct a medical at my home at the request of my GP and FIVE cancelled medical requests! I RECEIVED NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF MY COMPLAINT

In the second quarter I was told my ESA had been cut under the new 365 day rule, I wrote another written complaint asking what the hell was going on about my Support Group Appeal. I RECEIVED NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF MY COMPLAINT.

To summarise they told me they were looking into my Support Group Claim in November 2011 but I have no result, I have written to complain twice and they are refusing to acknowledge my letters! What do I do? I had requested an appeal over six months ago and complained twice and they just won’t acknowledge my appeals and complaints?

What the hell do you do when the Jobcentre plus won’t let you appeal and won’t acknowledge any complaints? Can they just decide not to let you claim benefits, not to allow you to appeal, not allow you to complain if they feel like it? They have done with me!

I know it’s against the law for them to do this but I can’t take them to court, I have little money and I’m not medically able to go through it! Should I write to my MP? Should I threaten to publish my whole case online? Should I go to the press?

I’m going out of my mind tonight as I’ve finally managed to relieve nearly two weeks constipation (Too much information) and finally have a bit of energy, great, I should be sleeping! Not much chance of that is there?


Our Family Income just dropped like a stone

As the title suggest our family income has just taken a dramatic nosedive due to the cuts and benefit changes. How it is all worked out is very complicated so I’m not going to go into detail but the important bit is that our circumstances have not changed, but out income has.

From 1st May:

Child Tax Credit – Completely Withdrawn
Working Tax Credit – Completely Withdrawn
Employment & Support Allowance – Completely Withdrawn

We are still a couple, one disabled (bedridden), one working full time, one child under 2 in private rented home with no housing benefit or council tax reductions. Looks like this year is going to be a squeeze then, especially when my DLA does not cover my share of council tax, rent, bills, food etc etc. Cheques made payable to………………………


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