I, Daniel Blake director Ken Loach appears at vigil for ‘fit to rule’ man who died on way home from job centre

AWARD-winning film director Ken Loach appeared at a vigil yesterday (Wednesday) for a man ruled “fit for work” who died from a heart attack on his way home from a Jobcentre. And he likened the case to the desperate central character in his campaigning film I, Daniel Blake.

Lawrence Bond, 56, who had multiple health problems, died in the street after leaving the Jobcentre in Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town, two weeks ago.

Around 50 people were outside the centre, alongside Mr Loach and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, yesterday afternoon to mark his passing.

Mr Bond was ruled “fit to work” in July and his incapacity benefit – now known as Employment Support Allowance – was cut. He was awaiting the outcome of an appeal at the time of his death.

Asked if he recognised comparisons that had been made to the eponymous character Daniel Blake, who dies while attending a review of his fit-to-work ruling, Mr Loach told the New Journal: “Absolutely. He was a man of similar age, he was a man who has worked almost all his life. It’s absolutely comparable and it’s a monstrous injustice and the government should be driven from office. If they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re not competent. If they do know, they’re not fit.”

The newly-appointed shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, Debbie Abrahams MP, was also at the vigil organised by Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and WinVisible disabled women’s group. The crowd called for an end to cuts to the welfare budget and chanted “we are all Lawrence Bond”.

read more here: http://www.camdennewjournal.com/ken-loach-i-daniel-blake-kentish-town

Woman with MS had benefits cut because she could squeeze assessor’s thumb

A multiple sclerosis sufferer who had her mobility allowance axed because she could squeeze a person’s thumb has won a victory to have her benefits reinstated.

Mel Wiseman, 43, is unable to walk unaided for more than five metres and struggles to put her own clothes on.

She qualified for disability benefits but had her £87-a-month personal independence payment (PIP) cut after being ruled fit to work.

The decision was made after Mel, from Leicester, demonstrated to officials that she was able to squeeze someone’s thumb.

Assessors from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) visited her at home last July and decided she was no longer eligible for PIP.

Mel and her husband Charlie, 44, who is his wife’s full-time carer, appealed the decision after claiming her benefits were unfairly stopped.

The DWP has now reviewed the case and agreed to re-instate the benefit and has increased it to £301 to include mobility and daily living allowance.

The payment has been backdated to August and in addition the case will not need to be reviewed for another four years.

read more: http://metro.co.uk/2017/01/02/woman-with-ms-had-benefits-cut-because-she-could-squeeze-assessors-thumb-6356537/

The DWP Has Lost Almost 60% Of Appeals Against Removing Disabled People’s Benefits

Campaigners said the new figures demonstrated, yet again, that the welfare system was failing people who were ill or disabled.

Almost 60% of ill or disabled individuals who have challenged a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ruling that they are “fit to work” have won their case at tribunals.

The DWP’s own figures show 58% of people who appealed against the loss of the employment support allowance (ESA), a benefit awarded to people who are unable to work due to illness or disability, for claims started between July and September last year had the jobcentre’s decision later reversed on appeal.

These are the most up-to-date statistics on appeals available, due to the DWP only recording the outcomes of completed appeals – a process that can take months.

Earlier this year, statistics released in March showed 52% of appeals lodged between October 2014 to December 2014 were upheld.

The latest figures were condemned by disability charity Mencap, which told BuzzFeed News they demonstrated a “broken benefits system that continues to fail sick and disabled people”.

Rossanna Trudgian, Mencap’s head of campaigns, said it was those most in need – who “desperately rely” on ESA – that were being failed. Without it, they would struggle to remain part of society and maintain their often fragile health.

“Behind these numbers, though,” she said, “are real people who live in fear of being assessed for their disability by people who don’t have full understanding of their condition” and “continue to incorrectly assess disabled people as being fit-for-work”.

Mother of two Charlie Foulkes, 43, was left without her full support after an assessor ruled she was “fit for work” in January of this year. Eventually, in May, a tribunal took the decision to restore her ESA entirely.

“I know this sounds melodramatic but you kind of just end up thinking, Do they just really want people to die, just to get rid of them?” she told BuzzFeed News. “It’s vile.”

The former university worker, who suffers from psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, and migraines, had been on welfare for 10 years before her reassessment. “They said that I looked fit and well,” she noted. “They just don’t listen at all. They tell a lot of lies.”

She appeared in front of a tribunal in May. “Within 20 minutes the judge had decided that she didn’t want to hear any more and gave me full marks for just the first two descriptors, based on my mobility,” Foulkes said, “so that was it.”

But, she said, she remains very worried about the future, and has been left with severe anxiety and stress as a result of the appeals process. “It just seems that the government doesn’t care about anyone’s medical problems,” she said. “It is all just how many people they can get off benefits.”

read more here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/rosebuchanan/the-dwp-has-lost-xx-of-appeals-against-removing-disabled-peo?utm_term=.pevoo68MO#.ds0XXWBJG

Carly came forward about sexual abuse – then she lost her benefits

Carly lives with terrible pain, but when her benefits were taken away the appeals tribunal was at the same court handling the sexual abuse case

The thought of going to court makes Carly feel sick. In her 30s, she has been building up to it for years. When she was a child, she was sexually abused, and – after three decades and a breakdown – she finally went to the police last year. “I hid it from everyone until then,” she says when we first speak, a day before she goes to court.

She doesn’t regret her decision – but it has taken its toll. Flashbacks and nightmares from the abuse are vivid and the thought of going through it all in court is “traumatic”.

“It takes everything I have just to get through the days,” she says. However, it’s another “court case”, of sorts – at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – that has led to Carly not only struggling with her mental health but to keep a roof over her head.of childhood abuse has left a physical as well as psychological mark. “My body’s never been able to cope,” she says. Her adolescence and 20s were filled with ill health – throat infections, bone pain, and mood swings treated with antidepressants. And in 2013, after years of tests and trials (at one point, she had to go on low doses of chemotherapy), she was diagnosed with the rare bone disorder SAPHO. Sometimes the pain is so bad that she cries all night. “Like a knife being stuck in my bone and being twisted,” is how she describes it.

For almost 20 years Carly worked as a nanny. At times, she’d leave a job and then take another because, with memories of the abuse, she gets anxious around men – but by 2014, with the breakdown hitting on top of her physical illness, she finally had to give up work completely and go on the out-of-work benefit, employment and support allowance. She was judged to be so ill that the DWP put her in what it calls the support group: people found to have no chance of being well enough to work.

Money was tight without a wage, but another bit of social security, personal independence payments (PIP), helped Carly get by with an extra £54 a week.

That was until March this year when – just 18 months after being awarded PIP – Carly was told that she had to be tested again. If it wasn’t so grim, it would sound almost efficient: an assessor turned up at Carly’s home, filed a report, and by the end of spring Carly had lost her benefit. DWP rules meant that not only was her PIP stopped but her severe disability component of ESA too: that’s over £110 a week gone in total.

To appeal against the decision, Carly had to attend a tribunal in August. It would be intimidating for anyone to sit in a court in front of strangers on a panel but for Carly, it was devastating – it was the same court that was dealing with the abuse case. When she found she’d been sent back there for her benefit appeal, Carly tells me she “just lost it”. By the time she was at the tribunal, she was shaking and crying uncontrollably. “It was as if I was on trial,” she says.

To add to her anxiety, the medic on the panel was a man, and when he asked questions she couldn’t get words out to answer. “I couldn’t even look at the doctor,” she says. “How could I give an account?”

That night, she had flashback after flashback of the abuse. By the next morning, she’d told the police she was pulling out of the sexual abuse case. “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’” Before deciding to continue with the trial, she was in such distress she was close to being sectioned. “I’d packed bags,” she says. “I don’t know where to. I just packed.”

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/24/lost-benefits-appeal-tribunal-court-handling-seual-abuse-case

Will disability benefits appeals become less fair?

Plans to scrap in-person tribunals and remove expert panel members risk skewing the system further against disabled claimants

The government could bring in radical changes to the benefit appeal process, including a shift away from “in-person” hearings, with judges instead making many decisions based solely on written evidence, telephone calls or video conference. The proposed changes – which are open to consultation until the end of this month – are part of a wider bid to digitise the justice system, but a range of social security tribunals could be the first services to be moved online.

Claimants wishing to appeal against a benefit decision now do so either through paper submissions or by physically attending a tribunal. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says that non-physical appeals will only be done where appropriate and that support will be put in place to assist claimants to use the new digital system, including access to paper channels for those who aren’t able to go online. But disability advocates fear that a move from in-person hearings could result in fewer appeals being upheld.

“We get 90% success when the appeal’s in person. On paper, even with us involved, it’s barely 50% success,” says Michelle Cardno, founder and lawyer at Fightback 4 Justice, a not-for-profit group offering appeal advice and advocacy. “So it would be detrimental for claimants,” she adds

Although the MoJ states it does not collect data on the outcomes of different types of hearing, research by the University College London Judicial Institute and the Nuffield Foundation in 2013 found claimants almost three times as likely to win an appeal for disability living allowance (DLA) after an oral hearing than paper alone (46%, compared to 17%).

read more:https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/12/online-benefits-appeals-tribunals-disabled?CMP=share_btn_fb

Hundreds of disabled people in Coventry denied benefits unfairly

MP Colleen Fletcher has spoken out after it emerged that more than three quarters of PIP claimants successfully appeal decisions over payments

In 2015 699 people in Coventry appealed against PIP decisions. There were a further 213 appeals set to reach the courts at the start of 2016.

According to the latest available figures (January to March 2016), 78 percent of people in Coventry who appealed against PIP award decisions won in court.

This appears to be a long-standing problem with a similar situation emerging in the figures from July to September 2015 and October and December 2015 when successful PIP appeals in Coventry stood at 69 percent and 75 percent respectively.

The most recent regional and national averages show successful PIP appeals at 65 per cent in the West Midlands and 64 per cent in England.

read more here: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/hundreds-disabled-people-coventry-denied-11902033

Law students had to help a man in debilitating pain fight being declared “fit to work”

Disabled claimants are increasingly vulnerable, with justice more difficult to access, and the need to be reassessed after being declared “fit to work”,

The first Paul Crane knew of having his benefits cut off was when his landlord called up to ask where the rent was.

It was the start of a harrowing time. After ten years of receiving support for debilitating pains – caused when gamma knife radiosurgery to repair a haemorrhage on his brain stem caused radiation damage to surrounding tissue – he had suddenly been declared “fit to work”.

Paul’s life has never been the same since the operation, which repaired the haemorrhage but left parts of his brain and spinal cord permanently damaged. Every day he is haunted by stimuli – light, noise, crowded places – anything that sets off his “excitable nerves” will leave him in agony with migraines, cause numbness and dizziness, or leave part of his face sagging. Even sneezing or tiredness can cause a traumatic flare up.

He says: “Tiredness causes pain and pain causes tiredness. I don’t socialise much, I’ve let people down too many times. I go fishing, which is my only relaxation but even that sometimes is too much”.

Over a decade of suffering and being prescribed a cornucopia of drugs – none of which have fully worked – Paul has learnt to live with the pain. But a new regime at the Department for Work and Pensions, which he says was “like the difference between black and white”, has been hard on him. This was when the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) replaced the Incapacity Benefit, and new work capability assessments (WCA) were brought in to test whether or not claimants were “fit to work”.

“It was as if they were trying to fail me,” he says, “like the system was designed to make me fail. I realised how lucky I had been before. The ESA people looked at me as if to say, ‘Oh God another scumbag’”.

When the news that he had been refused ESA hit him, Paul says he found himself in “a very dark pit”, confused and afraid of what would happen next.

“How could they come to this conclusion? I answered as truthfully as I could and they failed me. I’d just spent two weeks either in bed or on the sofa.”

It’s a painfully common story. Disability rights campaign groups such as the WOWPetition and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have been pressing the DWP to take notice of the plight of people like Paul, and are fighting for a comprehensive impact assessment of how changes to the benefits system and wider government spending cuts affect people with disabilities.

In August, after months of pressure, the DWP released the official figures for mortalities following “fit to work” verdicts between December 2011 and February 2014, revealing that 2,380 died in that period.

And even more damning, the Avon & Bristol Law Centre (ABLC) revealed that, of a hundred WCA appeal cases taken on by volunteer law students, 95 had been successful.

read more here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/welfare/2015/09/law-students-had-help-man-debilitating-pain-fight-being-declared-fit-work