The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Patricia Williams

1.  I first claimed ESA in 2009, when the sick benefit part of my pay was stopped by my employer - HM Revenue & Customs. I was subsequently dismissed for inefficiency (ie long-term sick absence due to workplace stress and bullying) in June 2010.

2.  In late November 2009 I had a medical to determine if I was fit to return to work. The outcome was that I was not fit to resume my job. Less than two weeks later I had an interview with Atos for ESA.

3.  I received very little support or advice at this stage, but did not anticipate any problems in "proving" I was ill given the result of my other assessment.

4.  However, the interview was very difficult for me and the doctor completing the forms misrepresented some of my answers, although this might have been partly due to his command of English. He refused to let me describe my symptoms, insisting on sticking to his checklist. He rarely made eye contact and rushed me through his list.

5.  When the result came out, he had scored me at zero. And the letter told me to go back to my job. I was extremely distressed by this, although my GP and Therapist assured me I would not have to return to the situation that had caused my mental health problems.

6.  I appealed to DWP, but this was dismissed immediately even though I pointed out that there were mistakes in the report. Atos also dismissed my complaint about his behaviour and the errors. This was very unsatisfactory - surely if I could prove there were errors in the report they should have investigated?

7.  I decided to appeal again, although I knew that the process would delay any recovery, or even make me worse. I waited about ten months for a date. The day before the Tribunal hearing was very difficult and I nearly cancelled. The only reason I was determined to try to go was because some Ministers, MPs and media were representing those of us who did not appeal as scroungers and liars. I did manage to attend, with support from my therapist and family. Going over the traumatic experiences again was very hard, but the Tribunal judge stopped at the point where I had already scored 24 points. This was without considering my physical health problems (asthma and arthritis).

8.  Apart from the personal experience of a doctor who didn't appear to care about me as a human being, the checklist is totally unsuitable for anyone with mental health problems or with diseases where the symptoms fluctuate, as with my asthma.

9.  Also I have "hidden disabilities", for which there is medical evidence, but that this system ignores. I didn't have ten operations for fun! This limits the type of work I can do even when my depression and anxiety resolve. Why doesn't the ESA system take into account evidence from our doctors and other health specialists?

10.  I am also very concerned about the proposal to time-limit awards. I no longer receive ESA, but if I were younger would still be too sick to resume work after two years. The extra stress for people with my conditions is more likely to delay any healing rather than get us back to work.

April 2011

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Prepared 26 July 2011