Last week, the SKWAWKBOX put out an appeal for those who have suffered the abuse of the government’s PIP (Personal Independence Payment) process, which consists of multiple hoops, unrealistic appointments and constant meaningless assessments that often result in the withdrawal of payments to people whose conditions are never going to improve.
We were inundated.
The stores we received were full of bravery and anger. Some are desperate. All are harrowingly tragic. In the first of a series of those stories to raise awareness of the human cost of government callousness, the following tells of the situation of ‘X’ – a senior midwife who, within just two years of a diagnosis of severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), was unemployed, homeless and bounced around without support by the DWP (Dept of Work and Pensions) and its agents.
It is told in X’s own words, with emphases added by the SKWAWKBOX:
I was diagnosed with aggressive rheumatoid arthritis. I was working as a rural community midwife and was diagnosed relatively early (within six months) of aggressive symptoms.
I was able to work, minus night shifts and deliveries. I could (just about) drive a car still and complete most tasks. However, I worked for maternity seniority who felt this was untenable and unfair to other midwives so I was bullied by them into redeployment. This was in fact against the law and I took my case to my union for investigation.
Whilst this process took almost a year, I had some time off work due to pain of the RA and also mental stress incurred from the unsupportive and hateful work ‘powers that be’. I was taking a train to work because the travelling to a hospital unit (at their request) was now over one hour and the walk from the station to work and back again, a blessed relief (I would listen to podcasts and or practice mindfulness via head phones).
The stress at this time was unimaginable. I was about to experience a cascade of loss that would see me lose my home as well as my career and my health. I applied for other (diminished) posts to remain employed by the same Trust and applied for PIP at the same time. I was taking many explorative prescriptions, sometimes up to four or five per month to try to manage the RA, the pain levels and at times the anxiety of uncertainty my condition and predicament at work was putting me through. I knew I would be entitled to a basic care component at the very least. At its worst, the symptoms of the RA meant I could not dress, prepare food and or clean myself properly and I lived alone.
After I applied, I was offered a PIP assessment 35 miles away from my home. I was clinging to my job and needed to rearrange the appointment. So when I rang the PIP line, I was on hold for up to 30 minutes per call and told I could rearrange and was asked why wasn’t my assessment closer to my home. I couldn’t answer that as I was provided the initial assessment and unbeknown to me at the time, there was a closer option (7 miles away).
During this second delay of waiting for another appointment, the union and lawyers were wading into my work case. Things were unbelievably stressful. I had been off work and was being pressured to return or risk unemployment. I was commuting by train to stay in work and could not risk any reason to be dismissed.
My next PIP appointment clashed with a work shift and once again, I called to see if another appointment was possible. I was told that only one rearranged appointment was possible and then dismissed by the customer service person and told that I would need to reapply for PIP again. I knew that several months had passed and that any back payment would be significant and that this was the real reason behind the dismissal of my case.
I was advised by my union to seek legal advice, which I did and I decided to take the DWP to court to get assessed, using my original date of application as the claim start. If I was successfully assessed then I would receive the care component and financial support I was entitled to. In fact I believe that if I had received support when it was needed, I would not have lost my home; which I did one month after the dismissal by the PIP/DWP service team.
I became homeless. I lost my job and I now suffer from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Recently the court case dates were highlighted to me after I had moved house (constant temporary accommodation) again. Sadly I was too unwell to consider the court action I had applied for and I was not told I had postal mail to collect, so I missed the appeal date.
I am beyond angry that the DWP deliberately makes it difficult for anyone in pain, suffering ill health and or mental instability to apply for financial support that they are entitled to receive. I experienced a severe case of loss which was completely avoidable had they not made a mistake and asked me travel such long distances to the initial assessment. The policy relaying guidance for any applicant is not transparent and does not bear in mind that people who are unwell may be depressed and unable to note any attention to detail prior to or, during application.
I find the entire system grossly negligent. There is a duty of care within a welfare system which I pay taxes for (and as an NHS worker this smarts the most) which is made purposefully inaccessible and which has definitively affected the course of my wellbeing and negated my progress to good health.
The whole process of PIP applications must be assessed and brought to justice as a public service. The Tory party has hateful intentions toward people with illness and disability, and the government breaks human rights throughout its policy making. They must be brought to account. The public want an NHS service and despite (wrongful) media controversy, want a service of support via a fair welfare system.
Please use my story in any way that will help to support justice for PIP applicants.
X’s account – like the others that will follow in the series – puts the Tories’ ‘conscious cruelty’ into stark, human terms that must surely move and outrage those who read it. If we’re unmoved, then sheer self-interest should motivate us to demand change – if X can go from a long and fruitful career as a midwife to homelessness in such a short time, almost any of us is vulnerable.
Anyone with a heart must surely see the urgency of bringing the whole blighted, Tory edifice down.
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