I had to give up work at the end of 2015 due to my back pain.
I had some spinal injections towards the end of December but I’d handed in my notice before then anyway because working and having to deal with my back had become intolerable. However, I was hoping that the injections would help me work until the end of my notice, or actually past my notice because they REALLY needed me in the store, and I loved both my job and my colleagues so much that I wanted to stay and help them throughout the busiest period of the year.
My doctor wouldn’t let me go back. She said that as it was a physical job I couldn’t risk moving the steroids from where the specialist had inserted them, so sadly I had no choice. The doctor was right of course, but it didn’t help when I had to go in and tell my manager that she’d have to work Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. On top of her normal days.
I felt terrible, like I’d let the team down. I couldn’t help it, but at the time it really didn’t feel like that when I left.
I found it incredibly hard to give up work, but even harder to claim sickness benefit. I thought this wouldn’t be an issue as I’ve been in receipt of DLA for a while now, and have been awarded it indefinitely. Because of this I went to my GP, got a fit note and sent it off with a claim for ESA.
When you are first put on ESA, you are given a lower amount of just over £73 a week to live on until you have had your fitness assessment. It took from the beginning of January until around June before I received my letter stating that I had to go for a fitness assessment. I duly attended with my dad coming with me for help. It was a good day so I went on a stick and with just my handbag to hold. I spoke to the lady at length, told her exactly how my disability affects me, and she seemed quite understanding. I asked her if she had any thoughts on what my outcome would be and she said although she didn’t make the decisions, someone on the amount of medication I’m on shouldn’t be working.
And then another letter came. It said that I was fully fit for work – and my ESA was stopped.
I was astounded. I contacted ESA and asked for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision. Again a letter arrived, and again and unqualified person had found me fully fit for work.
Now, I may be disabled but I’m not stupid. I was bloody furious that I was having to go through this process whilst dealing with depression from having to leave my job in the first place. I decided to fight them all the way, and went for appeal to be held at a tribunal.
Now, if you read up about ESA, you’ll find that this is happening an awful lot. As of March this year according to DWP figures, 36% of applicants found fit for work appealed this decision, and at Tribunal 52% of the decisions were overturned. That’s a BIG number.
It was very degrading having to go to a magistrates court to fight for something that I fully believe I’m entitled to. I’ve worked since I was 14 including my Saturday jobs, and it’s of no fault of my own that I now have a disability that restricts my capability for work. And yet the DWP made me do exactly that. I had to sit in a room facing a doctor and a magistrate and plead my case. I had taken my brother for moral support and he had me in tears when they asked him what he thought of my situation and he told them that he was so sad when he looked at me now because I am so broken from being unable to work.
My decision, like 52% of others, was overturned. DWP are not allowed to assess my fitness for at least two years, and are not allowed to ask me for a fit note for at least two years. This also meant my payments were reinstated and finally put up to the correct amount of just over £103 a week. That took over 10 months from when I initially claimed, which is a disgrace.
I still have to go and see a work coach. My first experience with her was enlightening and can be read here.
The moral of the story is fight. Fight them every step of the way. They want you to give up, to go away, to not claim what you are entitled to.
The company that does the medical assessments is Maximus, the same company in charge of the ‘back to work training’.
A study by the National Audit Office states that it’s going to cost the DWP £1.6 billion over the next three years to pay for the work done by this company. At the same time the savings have been estimated to be approximately £1 billion by 2020. So in actual fact paying Maximus costs more than paying the disabled.