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Stuart Chester Cannot Talk, Read, Or Write- But He Must Fill In 20 Page DWP Form To Prove He’s Fiit For Work

September 1, 2015
A SEVERELY disabled young man who is unable to talk, read or write and needs round-the-clock care from his mother is the latest target in Iain Duncan Smith’s campaign against Scotland’s most vulnerable.

Stuart Chester, who has Down’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism and is unable to feed or wash himself, is being told by officers in the Tory minister’s Department for Work and Pensions to prove he is unfit for work.

The 25-year-old has been sent a controversial 20-page work capability assessment form to fill in that will investigate his fitness for work and whether he deserves his Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefits.

Last night Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil described Stuart’s case as “absolutely outrageous” and “shameful”.

Stuart has been given a deadline of September 18 to complete the complicated and detailed document and return it to the DWP.

His mother Deborah McKenzie, 51, said receiving the form had caused her “undue stress” and said Duncan Smith’s plan to deliberately target the sick and disabled was tantamount to “genocide”, after shocking DWP figures were released last week showing more than 80 people were dying each month following work capability assessments.

She said: “Stuart gets the high-rate DLA and he was supposed to get that for life because his condition will never change. He also received ESA benefits.

“I cannot understand why he was sent this capability for work questionnaire because he cannot talk, read or write or do anything for himself. There is no way he could work and this is just causing a lot of undue stress and anxiety.

“I was really upset when the form came through the door. I called up the DWP and asked them why they would send it out to someone like my son when he is supposed to to get DLA for life and they told me it was tough luck, that it’s just the way it is and I would just need to fill out the form for him just like everyone else.

“I know other disabled people in wheelchairs with conditions like cerebral palsy, also people like Stuart who cannot do anything for them, are being harassed by the DWP to fill in fit for work forms when there is absolutely no way they could work.

“I used to have to fill in a form for my son every three years but eventually we were told he had the DLA for life because his circumstances were not going to change and he I no longer had to fill in an application for benefits for him.

“I am his full-time carer and there is no way my son could work, no chance. He needs 24/7 care and cannot feed or wash himself and he has a lot of accidents toilet-wise. I have to do everything for him.”

Neil called for the “cruel” assessments on the sick and disabled to be scrapped, and demanded that David Cameron hand over the rights to decide on benefits to the Scottish Government.

He said: “This is absolutely outrageous and these are the kind of cases which highlight that the Tories are out of control and they must hand over running of our benefits system to the Scottish Government.

“It bad enough the DWP sends out these forms to people like Stuart but they don’t seem to understand the stress and worry this causes families in Scotland.

“If someone is clearly unable to work and has a lifelong condition they should not be hounded like this and they should be left alone, not put through the hell of being assessed for work and worrying about whether or not they will get their benefits when they are quite clearly entitled to them.

“It is nothing but bullying, harassment, intimidation and a breach of human rights of the most vulnerable in our society and it has got to stop.

“They have crossed the line and if we had control over these benefits, the first thing we would put an end to this kind of harassment and treat these people with respect and dignity they deserve.”

Last week, disability campaigners spoke to The National and warned more people would die because of work capability assessments unless they were scrapped.

The claim followed the release of figures that revealed 2,380 claimants died between December 2011 and February 2014 shortly after being told to get back to work and that their benefits were being stopped.

In the same period, 50,580 people who received ESA died within two weeks of their benefit claim ending.

Stephen Cruickshank, director of the Scottish Disability Equality Forum, who has spinal neuropathy, said the work capability assessments were unfit for purpose.

Mother-of-two Deborah, of Glasgow, said Duncan Smith had “a lot to answer for” and described him as “the lowest of the low” for targeting disabled people.

She said: “I don’t know how Iain Duncan Smith can sleep at night or live with himself targeting the disabled and most vulnerable in our society like this.

“It is beyond belief and absolutely disgusting considering many of the people being sent these forms were awarded with DLA for life which we had to fight for.”

Deborah said coping with everyday life caring for Stuart was “hard and challenging” and even though she knows that he cannot work, it is the uncertainty of having to fill in the complicated form that is putting her under even more stress.

A DWP spokesman said: “We regularly review people’s conditions to ensure that they are not simply written off and condemned to a life on benefits. That’s why we have improved the work capability assessment since it was introduced in 2008, ensuring that it is fairer and more accurate.

“Decisions are taken following a thorough independent assessment, and consideration of supporting medical evidence provided to us by a claimant’s GP or medical specialist.”

“It’s important that regular assessments are made, as for some people, conditions may improve or worsen.”

Bedroom Tax Victims Fighting To Stop Disabled Grandson Going Into Care

September 1, 2015

A disabled boy’s grandparents have beaten Iain Duncan Smith’s heartless bid to block a court appeal on the Bedroom Tax that will decide whether he carries on living with them or goes into care.

Doting Paul and Susan Rutherford were targeted by the ­cruel levy, which will force them to quit their three-bed home, two years ago and fought it with a judical review.

Grandson Warren, 15, needs round-the-clock attention from two people and because of their own disabilities the couple rely on help from paid carers – who need to sleep over regularly.

Without their third bedroom they will lose their support lifeline and Warren, who has Potocki-Shaffer syndrome, will go into care with the taxpayer footing the bill.

DWP chief Mr Duncan Smith urged judges to throw out the couple’s challenge.

But last month Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton ruled their case must be heard by the end of 2015.

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D Legakis Photography/Athena Paul and Sue are pictured in their ‘spare’ room, with Warren looking on from the corridor
Unjust: Paul and Sue are pictured in their ‘spare’ room, with Warren looking on from the corridor

Michael Spencer, a solicitor for the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Paul and Sue work round the clock to care for Warren.

“Without carers who can stay they wouldn’t be able to cope and Warren would have to go into care – at substantial cost to the taxpayer.”

Paul and Susan live in a three-bed bungalow in Clunderwen, Pembrokeshire, specially adapted to meet Warren’s needs.

They share a room while Warren sleeps in another. In addition to putting up carers, the third stores Warren’s equipment.

Paul and Susan – who were in BBC documentary Saints and Scroungers – claim the hated levy ­unlawfully discriminates against ­seriously disabled children requiring overnight care.

The Difficulties Of Getting Fit With A Disability

August 28, 2015

By Kate Ansell for Ouch!

My favourite thing about being disabled has always been that no-one expects me to do any exercise.

I have cerebral palsy (CP) and the assumption that I couldn’t take part in sport while growing up was one I was happy to embrace because I hate physical exercise.

So imagine my frustration when Paralympics 2012 came to London and disabled people the world over seemed to be getting sporty. Every other taxi driver would ask me if I was going to take up sprinting.

Though the Paralympics loomed large, it turns out I am not the only disabled person who dislikes taking part in sport. According to new research by Scope, although most disabled people think the London Paralympics showed they can achieve great things, only 5% of them were actually inspired to do more exercise or sport after the games.

The thing about having CP is that I never had to think about keeping fit very much. The way I walk is exhausting, and has always been a workout in itself. As a result, I have spent most of my life being very thin without even trying. For people with CP, this isn’t uncommon: there was even a Facebook group called Why Diet When You Can Have Cerebral Palsy? where we’d share our outrageously decadent calorific dinner plans and then laugh about how we planned to burn it all off tomorrow, simply by walking a bit.

But I had to leave that Facebook group because, unexpectedly, I got fat.

In what I now know is a pattern common to people who share my disability, as I hit my thirties, I became less mobile. This meant I did less of my characteristic strenuous walking and put on significant weight for the first time. “Oh yes,” said every medical professional I encountered, “this is what happens with CP as you approach middle-age.” Great.

So, now I have to watch what I eat and also do exercise.

But this change in my attitude isn’t just vanity, I need to shed the extra weight so I can improve my mobility.

I knew that I had to do something physically challenging … but what?

A physiotherapist once recommended I join a gym and I laughed at her because, well, gyms aren’t for me. People tend to stare when you have a disability, and I need to feel comfortable if I’m going to work out.

“I hate the gym,” agrees John Dickinson-Lilley, one of Britain’s top blind male ski racers. “I have a utilitarian approach to fitness. I have to go to the gym so that I can ski.” He’s comfortable in the gym he’s been attending for the last five years, but he stopped taking his guide dog or cane because of the attention it attracted.

Although it’s a necessary evil, I felt nervous about approaching the gym for the first time in my life, especially when I couldn’t move as well as I am used to.

Kris Saunders-Stowe, a wheelchair user and qualified fitness instructor tells me that I am not alone in feeling intimidated by a typical gym environment. “Centres don’t always help,” he says. “There is a lot of ignorance. They need to understand the disabled community more.”

Kris met prejudice when taking his instructor qualifications. One tutor told him he should be in “the special class” but it didn’t put him off. He believes attitudes are beginning to change, and, in an attempt to fill the gap, he now runs fitness classes for disabled people in Herefordshire. “Legs aren’t necessary to keep fit,” he says. He took mainstream fitness qualifications, and went on to specialise in working with disabled people. He’s about to release an exercise DVD for people with disabilities. The routine is energetic, but assumes the participant is sitting down.

Crucially, Kris says, the kind of fitness he promotes isn’t about winning medals. “People assume you want to be a paralympian, but it isn’t about becoming a big sports person.” For disabled people, the goals can be more modest, but life-changing, he says. “Forget fitness, some people just want to be able to lift their mug.”

Kris is supporting Steptember, a campaign by Scope to raise money and encourage people to move more, whether they are disabled or not. So next month is a good chance for me to get involved.

Ability Bow, a gym in east London, takes away the anxiety that you are being watched due to your difference, because they are dedicated to working with disabled people They have nearly 500 people on their books, and a waiting list. Many people are referred by their GP but some have self-referred after hearing about the results that its members have achieved. “It’s tailored to your needs,” says Victoria Kent, who founded the gym. “Disability is completely normal here.”

While researching how I could improve my fitness levels, I found other disabled people online who are attempting to get fit. One of them advised me to get a heart rate monitor to help me understand how much energy I was using on a day-to-day basis. This was suggested because step-counters are designed with regular walkers in mind, and so tend to underestimate the calories I burn when walking.

I did get a heart monitor, and now switch between this and a Fitbit, which counts steps. I have discovered that walking from my house to the local corner shop, and back again, renders a Magnum ice cream bought in that corner shop almost completely calorie-neutral for someone who walks like me. Not the point of using a heart rate monitor in the first place, I realise, but I do appreciate the information.

It seems unlikely I will ever become a true gym bunny, but it’s good to know there are disability-friendly places to go if I change my mind. And if I stop eating so many ice creams and set small goals for myself, it’s possible I’ll even start to get fit.

Daughter Says Mother’s Death Two Weeks Ago Was ‘Hastened’ By Benefit Delay Stress

August 28, 2015

Moira Drury died less than fortnight ago aged 61. She suffered from combination of illnesses, including depression and cancer, but her daughter believes that a seven-month delay in processing her benefit claim hastened her death.

During her life, she overcame domestic violence and severe disability to work as a nurse and bring up three daughters as a single parent. But at the end she was effectively abandoned without support and income by a glacial and bureaucratic benefits system.

“She was incredibly determined, resilient, strong and warm-hearted,” said her daughter, Nichole Drury. “She was such an amazing lady.”

According to Nichole, her mother’s demise was hastened by the decision of jobcentre officials earlier this year to stop her benefits. “She told me the day before she died that the stress of having her benefits removed contributed to her decline,” said Nichole, who is a veterinary surgeon based in Sussex.

“Stress and anxiety lowers your immune system and ability to fight disease. I am absolutely certain that the stress she endured caused her to give up her fight against her illnesses. Without the stress this caused she would have had a little more precious time.”

Her benefits saga started when she was told by her local jobcentre in Essex to undergo a fit-work-test, known as a work capability assessment (WCA), on 15 January to assess whether she should continue to be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit awarded to people judged unable to work.

Bed-bound and suffering from flu and a chest infection, she telephoned to say she was not well enough to attend. Illness also prevented her attending a rescheduled WCA just over two weeks later on 3 February.

On 16 February she received a letter from Basildon benefit centre saying it had examined her reasons for not attending the WCA. Presumably it did not accept that she was genuinely ill. The letter only says tersely that it considered she was capable of work and that she was no longer entitled to ESA.

Moira wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions to ask for the decision to be reconsidered. A week later the DWP replied saying it would not reverse its decision. “You requested a mandatory reconsideration of this decision on the grounds that … you were not well and had diarrhoea and that you have diabetes and epilepsy.

“Having considered all the available evidence, I am unable to accept that a good cause has been shown for not attending the medical assessment … and you cannot be treated as having limited capability for work. As a result, you are not entitled to employment and support allowance.”

That decision plunged Moira into an bureaucratic nightmare and personal depression. She was, her daughter says, “going round in circles”. She did not understand why she had lost her benefits. She was not told she could appeal, and was advised to reapply for ESA.

The DWP aims to process benefit claims within 16 days, but the reality can be very different. Moira’s claim was stuck in the system, and had still not been completed when she died. As a result, for the last seven months of her life, as her health deteriorated, she received no income.

When Nichole telephoned the DWP to check on the process of the application, she was told they were awaiting medical records from Moira’s GP. When Nichole checked with the GP practice, they told her they had not received any such request.

The lowest point came just over a month before Moira died, when she received a court summons for non-payment of council tax. As her ESA had been suspended, her local council had automatically stopped her council tax benefit, meaning she was liable for full council tax. Moira was not told. The shock arrival in July of a council tax bill for nearly £2,000 came the day after she received the results of a hospital biopsy that detected cancer on her lung.

“That was the point that pushed her over the edge,” says Nichole.

Ministers are fighting a permanent battle against critics from across the political spectrum concerned at how welfare cuts and reforms and benefit processing delays have hit the poor and vulnerable, causing illness and stress, and driving those affected to food banks and loan sharks.

On Thursday the government finally released statistics relating to ESA claimants who have died after claiming benefits. It is under pressure to release internal reviews into 49 benefits-related deaths since February 2012, 40 of which followed a suicide or apparent suicide.

Moira certainly did not fit with the crude media characterisations of benefit claimants. She was working as a nurse and bringing up three young children in the West Midlands in the 1980s, when her abusive husband attacked her with a hammer, an assault that put him in prison and her in hospital with a serious head injury.

When she recovered, she refused to sign on for sickness benefit, says Nichole, and returned to work doing night shifts at the local hospital. She later took time out to look after her daughters and subsequently worked as a receptionist until 2007, when a combination of limited mobility, mini-strokes, epilepsy and depression forced her to give up.

The DWP told the Guardian that its sympathy was with the Drury family but indicated that its files said it had proved difficult to assess her claim. “It’s important that people supply sufficient evidence – including medical evidence – when making a claim, as it could affect their benefit entitlement. That is why we contacted Ms Drury several times to try and gather further evidence. People also have the right to ask for a reconsideration of their case or appeal if they don’t agree with a decision.”

However, Nichole, who described her mother as proud and often unwilling to admit that she needed assistance, tried in vain to help her to navigate a benefits system she calls an “administrative assault course”. For her, a successful professional, who had had no personal dealings with the benefits system, her encounter was eye-opening.

“Nobody wants to see people exploiting the welfare system. But we don’t want a system which leaves people by the wayside. The way it works is crude and it’s cruel, and seems deliberately designed to get the weak and vulnerable off benefits to save money. It’s people who can’t fight back who are the victims.”

Ending Own Life Would Be Easiest Option, Says Terminally Ill Man

August 28, 2015

Caller Jeff tells LBC that Britain is letting down its most vulnerable after he was turned down for benefits, despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer.


Jeff opened his heart to Tom Swarbrick during a discussion about how thousands of people have died shortly after being declared “fit for work” by the Department of Work and Pensions.

“I’ve got a couple of months to live…and after working for 46 years, they refused me Jobseeker’s. I’ve been contemplating suicide – I think it’s just terrible that the Government can’t help.”

A very emotional Jeff also slammed the Government for not doing enough to help British citizens, saying: “I thought charity began at home…suicide would be the easiest option.

“I worked for 46 years off, never took a day off sick. And when I went down with cancer…I’m just too weak to work.”

Listen to the powerful call above.

Mencap Calls For Investigation Into ESA Death Stats

August 28, 2015

A disability charity has called for an investigation to be held into the deaths of more than 2,000 people within weeks of being judged “fit for work”.

Mencap, a learning disability charity, says the “tragic” deaths raise questions about the fairness of the work capability assessment.

It comes after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released figures sought under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The figures show that between December 2011 and February 2014, some 2,380 people died within around two weeks of their Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being stopped following a decision they were “fit to work”.

The DWP insists there is “no causal link” between benefits status and the likelihood of dying, as the individual causes of deaths were not recorded in the figures.

The department stressed that the death rates for unemployed claimants remained in line with trends in the wider population for a decade.

But Mencap argues the number of deaths is unusually high for people of working age who had been declared fit to work.

The charity’s Rob Holland, who co-chairs the Disability Benefits Consortium, said: “These tragic figures are concerning and warrant further investigation.

“We know the fit for work test is failing disabled people, with devastating consequences.

“Wrong decisions can mean people are left with little or no support at all, in some cases struggling to pay for their homes and basic essentials like food and heating.

“The Government must act now to reform the work capability assessment so it is fair for disabled people and those with health and medical conditions. Indeed there is real concern that the process itself is stressful and can in fact worsen people’s conditions.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We don’t hold information on reason of death, so no causal effect between a fit for work decision and death should be assumed.

“The mortality rate of those who are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – which includes some of those found fit for work – is still lower than for the general population.

“Furthermore, the overall trend shows the mortality rate for people who have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit, has fallen over a 10-year period.”

IDS Should Resign Over Disability Benefit Death Stats, Says Jeremy Corbyn

August 27, 2015

Iain Duncan Smith should resign after the release of statistics showing thousands of people died soon after being found fit to work in disability benefit tests, the frontrunner for the Labour leadership has said.

Jeremy Corbyn called for the Work and Pensions Secretary to step down, and said the Work Capability Assessments had left some disabled people in “despair”.

“He should never have been appointed. Yes, he should resign because these figures are so frightening and so disgusting,” he told a hustings event hosted by the Daily Mirror newspaper.

“I’ve had people with mental health difficulties as well as physical difficulties who are absolutely in despair because they’ve been declared fit for work and are absolutely not.”

The Department for Work and Pensions battled for months not to release the numbers, with Mr Duncan Smith at one point telling Parliament they did not exist.

But the statistics, released on the order of the Government’s transparency watchdog, show that between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,380 people died after their Work Capability Assessment told them they should start looking for work.

The figures related to claims for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit as well as IB/SDA.

The DWP’s mortality report says that a causal effect cannot be assumed from the new numbers.

  Jeremy Corbyn said the DWP secretary had to step down “These isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment,” it says.

When asked about the stats in Parliament during the fight to get them released, Mr Duncan Smith told Labour MP Debbie Abrahams:

“She knows very well that the department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance.”

In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests were causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately.

“There are certainly areas where it’s still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded.

The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. 

In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out.

The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship

Some payments for the ESA benefit were cut in the Chancellor’s recent budget, with Mr Duncan Smith arguing that the previous cash level created a “perverse incentive”.

Homelessness charity Crisis last year warned that an increase in sanctions for the ESA benefit was in danger of contributing to a rise in homelessness for disabled people.

A DWP spokesman said: “The mortality rate for people who have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit has fallen over a 10-year period. This is in line with the mortality rate for the general working-age population.

“The Government continues to support millions of people on benefits with an £80 billion working-age welfare safety net in place.”


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