Blind from birth, epileptic and unable to leave home alone – but Government says she’s fit to work

Hazel Macrae has been told by the Department of Work and Pensions that she must go back to work despite being blind from birth

Blind since birth and stricken by a string of disabilities but told she is fit to work – this is the reality of Government benefit cuts.

Hazel Macrae, who also suffers from epilepsy, Type 2 Diabetes and osteoarthritis, was claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and was told she’d have to undertake a back to work assessment.

The 62-year-old filled in a questionnaire explaining she’s unable to leave her home without the help of her partner or son because she is afraid of falling, can’t use a pen or pencil, telephone, and would be unable to “move safely” in a workplace.

She was also required to meet with a health professional in Gosforth to undergo a face-to-face assessment where she was asked a series of questions about her daily activities.

Echoing the award-winning Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake – which was shot in Newcastle – Miss Macrae has been told she has “limited capability for work” and her ESA has been moved from the Support Group to Work Related Activity Group, and reduced by £15 per fortnight.

Miss Macrae, who has artificial eyes, will now have to regularly meet with a work coach to discuss how she can get back into work.

read more here:

“I had to get my local MP to intervene due to DWP staff laughing at me down the phone when I was requesting letters etc in braille.

……..”I would have my benefits delayed, not weeks but months to be processed and in the mean-time I had nothing to live on. I ran up debts for my utility bills and council tax etc and this confounded bedroom tax for a box room smaller than my toilet. When they were finally sorted I was sanctioned. Why? For spending too much time at the cancer units and not enough time looking for a job. Sanction after sanction after sanction.”………

This is an extract from a letter published on Welfare Weekly.

Read the rest of it here:

Blind disabled girl who can’t speak ordered to attend INTERVIEW to make her WORK

A PARALYSED and blind teenager who has the mental age of a three-month-old baby was told by Government officials to attend a ‘work-focused interview’ – even though she can’t speak.
Danika Smith, 19, has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which has left her unable to walk and with the mental age of a zero to three-month-old, and she also has cortical blindness.

After mother Donna, 41, put a benefits claim in for her several disabled daughter, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) sent a letter calling Danika in for a meeting.

Ms Smith, who is her daughter’s full-time carer, planned to attend the meeting as she was “intrigued” to watch the adviser try and discuss work prospects with her.

But after publishing the letter on Facebook, the DWP cancelled the meeting.

Ms Smith, from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, said: “I would gladly have taken her just to see how farcical it is.”

read more here:

Half-blind UK widow commits suicide after incapacity benefit cut

A partially-blind widow, who suffered crippling back pain for over a decade, committed suicide after her incapacity benefit was cut because state assessors claimed she was fit to work.

Following a two-minute assessment, private firm Atos Healthcare concluded Jacqueline Harris was fit to work despite the fact she had trouble walking and suffered constant, excruciating back pain.Her incapacity benefit was subsequently axed by the government, which pays the firm to conduct fitness-for-work assessments.

Harris, a former nurse who had claimed incapacity benefit for a number of years, was awaiting a serious spinal operation when Atos assessed her. According to the deceased’s sister, the Atos employee asked Harris one question during the interview – whether she was capable of catching a bus.

The firm has been the focus of a firestorm of criticism in recent times, with mounting claims that vulnerable and unwell people are being wrongly proposed for work, and are forced to endure exasperating and upsetting medical interviews.

‘Atos should be shot’

Fifty-three-year-old Harris was discovered dead in her home in south Gloucestershire in November 2013, with a hand written note attached to her chest stressing she did not wish to be resuscitated. She took her own life just a few weeks before an appeal hearing had been scheduled with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Harris’ sister told the Daily Mail the family received a letter about the hearing a month after the former nurse died. “I didn’t tell them she had died and went along myself. I said to them ‘I’m disgusted’. Atos should be shot,” she said.

Speaking outside the Bristol court, where Harris’ inquest was held, Christine Norman said her sister’s decline was sparked by the DWP’s decision to replace her incapacity welfare allowance with Jobseeker’s Allowance. “It gave her no hope. She was defeated. What hope did she have?” Norman asked.

Norman added the government has since ruled Atos’ decision to declare her sister fit for work was wrong.

Throughout the inquest, the court was told Harris had suffered an array of different injuries and disabilities since the 1990s. Her trouble began with a fall during work, causing injured discs in her neck and back. She also endured chronic pain in her hands, resulting from a vicious dog bite and partial blindness following a severe bang to the head.

As her back pain worsened over time, Harris sought assistance and advice from doctors, attended pain management classes and engaged in physiotherapy.

Following the DWP’s decision that she was fit to work, Harris pleaded with the body saying she was awaiting an intensive back operation. But her poignant pleas were reportedly ignored.


Read the rest of this story here:

Blind man repeatedly had his benefits stopped because DWP failed to send his letters in braille

Rob Powell had to turn to payday loans to survive after blundering pen-pushers continually sent him letters he couldn’t read

Robert Powell, a 46-year-old small business adviser from Dagenham, Essex, has been blind since shortly after his birth – following a brain haemorrhage that damaged his optic nerve.

He has worked most of his life, but in September 2011 he was made redundant by a charity and applied for disability benefits. “I wrote on the form that I am totally blind and have been since birth,” he says. “I told the Department for Work and Pensions I’ve got no sight at all.”

Despite this, instead of sending him letters in Braille, the DWP ­communicated with him by an ordinary letter on numerous occasions. When he didn’t reply, his housing benefit and ­Employment Support Allowance were repeatedly delayed.

“I had no money to eat,” says Rob, a Gamesmaker at London 2012, forced to turn to payday loans to survive.

He was eventually told by the DWP that he could have Braille letters, but that there was a four-week delay in translation. “So, by the time you get your letter, you’ve already missed the ­appointment,” Rob says. “It’s like a nightmare. Your benefits are then stopped for four weeks until another appointment comes through.”

New DWP figures have revealed the use of punitive sanctions has rocketed under the Coalition ­Government. In the year to September 2013, 897,690 people were sanctioned. For missing an ­appointment, the ­punishment can be as harsh as one month without benefits, three months or even up to three years.

On Monday night, Panorama showed footage of a wall chart in a Grantham jobcentre which explicitly set out the cash savings to the DWP through ­sanctions, ranging from £227.20 for a four-week sanction to £3,728 for a ­sanction lasting one year. The DWP called it “an isolated incident”.

The same day, the Policy Exchange, David Cameron’s favourite think-tank, joined an outcry of Anglican bishops in speaking out on sanctions, benefit delays and the link to foodbanks. The think-tank’s research found up to 68,000 people are wrongly having ­benefits stopped every year.

Meanwhile, letters I receive tell stories of DWP and Atos incompetence – lost letters, clashing appointments – as well as a complete failure of humanity. People have been sanctioned for attending funerals or missing ­appointments due to ill health, which people on sickness benefits often do.

Last night, the DWP said that Robert had never formally been sanctioned by them. But they agreed that he might have had delays in his benefits being paid if he hadn’t replied to letters. Rob said: “I received formal letters that said my benefits had been suspended because I hadn’t supplied medical ­certificates or attended Atos appointments. If that isn’t a sanction it certainly felt like one.”

Either way, blind people not receiving their benefits for weeks because they have failed to reply to letters sent to them in the wrong format, is a new low.

In fact, Robert’s story is seen so frequently by the RNIB that the charity has decided to take his case – and four others – to court. Lawyers are also ­examining another 50 potential cases.

read the rest of this article by Ros Wynne Jones in the Mirror, 5th March 2014:

RNIB threatens DWP with court action for failing to cater for blind

Charity considering dozens of cases against department relating to their failure to send out benefits letters in braille or large print

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is threatening the Department of Work and Pensions with court action for suspending the benefits of a blind man after he missed appointments which he was only informed about through letters he was not able to read.

The RNIB has prepared five legal cases against the DWP and said it was looking into a further 50, which relate to the department’s failure to send out benefits letters in braille or large print format . In a number of cases, the DWP suspended recipient’s benefits leaving them in desperate circumstances, the RNIB said.

The charity’s intervention emerged as the DWP published figures showing the total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) was introduced in 1996.

read the rest of this article by Shiv Malik and Patrick Wintour in the guardian 19th Feb 2014:

Blind and severely disabled teen “bullied” by Government into PROVING he can’t work

A defiant dad took an emotional stand yesterday over the Government’s “bullying” calls for his severely disabled son to prove he cannot work.

Bus driver Fred Hazle, 49, reached the end of his tether so took his blind lad James, 19, to Downing Street to tell David Cameron: “If my son can work, YOU give him a job.”

The father and son made the journey after receiving a barrage of demanding letters from the Jobcentre – including three in four days – as part of the Government’s “fit to work” scheme. The letters threaten that James’s £71.95 a week in benefits will be stopped unless there is evidence that he cannot hold down a job.

James needs round-the-clock care and has the mental age of a five-year-old. He has severe learning difficulties, epilepsy and autism. The demands about losing his benefits have been sent despite James’s doctor already telling officials the teenager can’t work and his condition will never improve.

Fred pleaded yesterday to see the Prime Minister or Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. But the battling dad was turned away.

He said: “If they say James can work, they can give him a job. Let’s see them take him on in one of their departments. I wanted them to see him and tell me he can work but they wouldn’t. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth but it’s not about the money, we can take care of him. It’s the fact they are treating him like a second-class citizen because he is disabled.

“He got allowances and benefits when he was a kid but now he’s an adult they come on all threatening even though they’ve got the paperwork. It’s disgusting bullying and intimidation on someone who can’t defend himself. I’ve fought the system for my boy for 19 years and I’m not putting up with it any more.”

At the gates to Downing Street, Fred and James were informed they had to make an appointment and wait three months just to hand a letter in. They were told they could be arrested if they caused a nuisance.

They headed for Parliament. In its lobby, which is open to every citizen, Fred asked to speak to Mr Duncan Smith, but was told the minister would not see them as they are not his constituents. The dad and son were then asked to leave.

Fred feels his lad is being victimised despite the family doing their best to ensure they jumped through the Government’s hoops. As James neared the end of his education at a blind school in September, Fred and wife Jacqueline put all the paperwork in place for him to receive Employment Support Allowance when he finished. To prove the teenager’s eligibility, his GP signed him off indefinitely from the fit to work programme.

In early July, the payments began but within a fortnight, letters began arriving on the family’s doormat in Dagenham, East London, saying the funding would be stopped if they did not provide further proof of James’s disability.

A flood of warnings then arrived on August 5, 8 and 9 from the Jobcentre Plus head office in Glasgow. Despite numerous calls to the Jobcentre hotline explaining the situation, the letters kept coming.

Fred says that after yet another demand, he eventually took James – who was born without optic nerves – to their local Jobcentre to prove his point.

The woman behind the counter burst into tears when she saw James, said Fred. The dad added: “The GP told the DWP that James’ condition will never get better. It will only get worse.

“The Jobcentre said they want more proof than that so I took him down there. The assistant was so shocked she cried. She rang head office to say there was no job he could do – only to be told she wasn’t medically qualified to make an assessment.”

“The DWP haven’t sent anyone to see us or told James to go for an assessment anywhere. They’ve had no contact with the boy but they are constantly on at me and his mum. It keeps us up at night with worry. All they need to do is sit down with us and meet him. But they hide behind threatening letters instead.

By Ben Rossington in ‘the Mirror’, 9th November 2013. Read the rest of the article here:

Deaf and blind man fears losing home over “bedroom tax” as disabled legal challenges mount

Martin Styles, whose wife and son are also deaf, needs his ‘spare’ room to keep equipment that he needs to communicate

A deaf and blind man who uses his spare bedroom to store braille equipment fears that he could lose his home due to the “bedroom tax” as lawyers warned that the controversial measure is having a discriminatory impact on the disabled.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is facing mounting legal challenges from organisations representing disabled tenants affected by the tax, which argue that it has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, and may breach human rights. 

Severely disabled Martyn Styles, 50, of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, fears he will be forced to choose between having a carer and keeping his home as a result of the tax, which penalises tenants if they have a “spare” bedroom by reducing their housing benefit by up to 25 per cent. Mr Styles lives in a three-bedroom house with his wife and 16-year-old son, who are also deaf, and uses the spare bedroom to store Braille equipment and a specialised computer. He now faces paying more than £40 a week in bedroom tax.

With the help of a communicator guide, Mr Styles used touch, tapping and hand movements to explain his plight.

“I won’t be able to afford a carer if I continue to pay my bedroom tax and my benefit reduces as a result,” he told Kent and Sussex Courier. “I will be left with no quality of life. A disabled person like me with a family fears this added expense because there is so much else that I need to pay for.”

Mr Styles is unable to read print, lipread or hear, and is only able to communicate with specially-trained carers. “I also need to pay out extra money elsewhere for things like cutting the grass and keeping the access clear,” he said. “These are things that sighted people could do or even leave undone, but for me it’s so important.”

Kari Gerstheimer of Sense, a legal advice team for disabled people contacted by Mr Styles, said: “Our legal team has had a significant increase in the number of calls received from deaf-blind people and their families struggling to make ends meet and fearful of being forced to leave their homes as a result of the bedroom tax. The tax has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people as many have been found to have a so-called extra room despite requiring it because of their disability. Alongside other benefits being cut housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people.”

Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities have already won permission to challenge the benefit reform in the Court of Appeal. An appeal judge has ruled ten test cases should be heard, as they raise issues of public importance.

The appeal is against a High Court decision in July upholding the legality of new housing benefit regulations critics say are unjustified and unlawfully discriminate against the weak and vulnerable in society.


by Adam Sherwin in ‘The Independent’, 28th Oct 2013. Read more here:


High Price To Pay For Being Disabled

By @WelshWallace

I have been through hell and back the past few weeks and now I can finally tell you everything because for me it is now over, but for thousands of others they are either still going through it, have gone through it but not as lucky as me, or have yet to go through this themselves. I am lucky in a lot of ways and at one point I did not even think I would be here to write this, but I am and this is why.

It all started one morning a few weeks ago at 8am. My phone rang out of the blue and a man’s voice introduced himself as someone from the DWP informing me I would be receiving a phone call that day between 10am and 4pm from ATOS (who carry out work capability assessments on behalf of the DWP), and failure to answer this call or answer the questions could lead me to having my benefits stopped. In just a few minutes, my life went into overdrive caused by fear and stress. I had to cancel an emergency appointment to see my doctor because I was losing feeling in my feet. I had to cancel a support group later that day, so I could sit in waiting for my phone to ring. When it rang a lady explained I needed to fill out forms and return them as soon as possible, or my benefits will be stopped. Over the coming weeks I lost count of how many time I was “reminded” that failure to do something immediately would result in my benefits being stopped.

The forms I was expected to fill out are not given in Braille or audio format despite being advertised that they are. The service from the DWP to help people over the phone fill out benefit forms no longer existed and I was left trying to find help to complete the forms in a short time frame. In my area all services for the blind ceased 12 months ago. Help to read mail, help to go out, help to live independently etc for the blind, all ceased under government cuts because they are not classed as life threatening. A recent report by RNIB highlights that in as little as 10 years not a single blind person in the UK will have no help to cope with sight loss due to government cutbacks

I spent an entire day chasing down different departments who all refused to help with form filling. The attitude I experienced from staff was unnecessarily rude and one of annoyance, no matter how polite I remained. Sometimes it honestly felt as if they enjoyed telling me that my inability to fill out a form, because I could not see, would lead to my benefits will be stopped. Finally my own doctor came out just to fill the forms out for me.

I gathered evidence of my medical conditions from various agencies to accompany the questionnaire and requested a home medical assessment. I am not well enough to travel to an assessment centre. My health declined rapidly and I knew I was becoming very ill. I made a distressing phone call to a friend (@bendygirl on twitter) and left her with instructions that if I die she had permission to do certain things and carry out my wishes. This is not me being melodramatic: I live with the risk of my lungs failing at a moment’s notice every single day. I have also been diagnosed with heart failure and I live everyday to the full, because I do not know if it will be my last. I could pass away in my sleep, because my heart & lungs can pack up at any moment with no warning.  I do clay working hooked up to oxygen to help me breath. Yet people do not know this because I always focus on the positive sides of my life and how I genuinely feel blessed and happy. People can say we all live with uncertainty, and yes we do, but I live with it constantly hanging over my head, wondering if I will make it through the day, hooked up to my medical alarm 24/7 to allow me to live independently and not wrapped in cotton wool but enabled to live as ‘normal’ as possible. Stress is the last thing I should have in my life, especially to the extent that was being placed upon me right now.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson from Wales; one Great Britain's most succesful disabled athletes; poses with the torch which will be used for the 2012 Paralympic Games in Green Park, central LondonThis is a phone call no-one should have to make or receive and while @bendygirl & Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (pictured right) took on my case to deal directly with ATOS, I collapsed. The stress brought on a heart attack. I spent 3 days in the Coronary Care Unit and a further 10 days in hospital recovering, but I had no fight in me to get well. For the first time since my life changed from injuries I wanted to give up. After all I was now classed as a ‘scrounger’ and a ‘skiver’. I was the target of harassment and abuse at home, I am verbally abused online every single day and I was treated with complete contempt by staff at ATOS, constantly speaking to me like I was dirt and saying my benefits would be stopped- meaning I would lose my one chance of becoming self-employed, running my shop through the ‘Permitted Work‘ rules. Every aspect of my life had turned into a horror story of abuse and contempt and this was viewed as acceptable. I genuinely did not want to come home from the hospital – I wanted to give up.

Numerous letters of proof were sent to ATOS requesting a home medical assessment. I am not disputing the fact that I had to be assessed to see if I was ‘unfit for work’ – I just wanted to be assessed at home due to my various disabilities. I am fully blind: one working arm, bad heart & lungs and unable to stand and/or walk for more than a few minutes. I do various charity work and run an online shop, under permitted work rules as already stated. I am trying to build a business to become fully independent and come off benefits while coping with what life throws at me health wise. I get up at 5am and do not go to bed until midnight, exhausted because everyday tasks take longer to complete and leave me in incredible pain – but I still do it. I never complain and I never gave up……….. until now.

All letters of proof from professionals, clearly stating my disabilities, were rejected and even my housing officer received an abrupt letter saying that what she had sent was of no use and if I didn’t sort something out within 48 hours my benefits would be stopped, yet no-one from ATOS informed me of this. It was only because my housing officer contacted me straight away was I was made aware and then able to contact a senior doctor, I had never met, to immediately read & verify my medical records and write to ATOS about my situation and verify I was entitled to a home assessment.

@Bendygirl and Baroness Thompson helped by contacting influential people to inform them of what was happening to me and how I was being treated. I had to close my online shop temporarily, due to a barrage of abuse online from people accusing me of being a fraud and a cheat. Everything I had worked so hard for was on the verge of being lost. My last chance to be something and reaching my goal of self employment was about to be taken away and I was seriously contemplating suicide. I had enough of fighting against a tidal wave of hate and bureaucracy. I had enough and I had no more energy or spirit to carry on fighting a system hell-bent on breaking me, dealing with my disabilities or facing the abuse anymore. Everyone has a limit and I had reached mine and gone beyond my levels of tolerance. I was beaten down so much I didn’t even recognise myself anymore.

Today I received a letter in the post from the DWP, saying that ALL letters of proof I had sent in had been accepted and I that I will not be required to have a medical assessment for benefits. I am not entirely clear why they made a complete U-turn, but they are now satisfied that they have enough evidence which shows I am blind and that all my other disabilities are real and genuine, along with my original medical notes. It came with a heavy price: it also cost me my life. This should not happen but it does. Not just to me but thousands of others. I am lucky they finally accepted all my proof but so many cases are not so lucky. A lot have their benefits stopped despite being genuinely sick and/or disabled and unable to work. Some are plunged into poverty and destitution while they fight to have benefit decisions overturned. Some even pay with their lives.

I made it clear and left instructions that if I died I wanted it made public and sent to the newspapers, some of which were at least partly responsible for what happened to me due to shameful propaganda they print about benefits and benefit claimants. The fact I felt the need to put this into motion in the first place shows how wrong everything is right now with our society and this system of assessing disabled people.

A system which instills fear and anxiety into the hearts of sick and disabled people and treats them with contempt has no place in our society. To employ staff who are purposely rude and who seem to enjoy threatening you constantly to stop your money should not be accepted. We used to be a society that treated disabled people with respect but over the past years that respect has been replaced with contempt and scepticism and constant labelling of disabled people as faker’s and fraudsters. The DWP’s own figures show that benefit fraud is tiny at only o.7%.

How many more have to go through what I had to before something is done to stop this? How many people need to die before someone realises what is happening is wrong? When is someone going to act like a human being in Parliament and stand up for what is decent and right?

I fear I have a very long wait.

posted on ‘Welfare News Service, 12th October 2013:

Blind man leaves job over sight: told he’s fit to work

Richard Alcock, a 62-year-old former civil servant from Bury, was registered blind at 18 months old. He walked with a stick and read using braille, but he still worked for 28 years for local government. Unfortunately as computers became ubiquitous in the office, he was unable to continue to work – so 12 years ago he took early retirement and relied on benefits.

Now he has been assessed as fit for work.

Fit for work

He told the Bury Times that he had been assessed as part of new welfare reforms. The tests found he could lift one arm above his head, stay in the same place for an hour, control his bladder, and stay conscious. And as a result they concluded he was well enough to work. He had his £350 a month Employment Support Allowance withdrawal.

The Daily Mail reported that details were sent to him by letter in small print – despite the fact he required a braille version. He has to wait for a carer to come to read it to him – a carer that he is worried that he won’t be able to afford in future. He will now appeal the decision.


The company tasked with making these assessments has been under fire recently. Atos was slammed by the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, last week. He said that too many tests were done poorly. This came after the firm was criticised by MPs in July. They responded to complaints by checking 400 reports, and concluded there had been an ‘unacceptable reduction’ in the quality of written reports.

Atos said at the time in a statement: “Our priority is the quality of our work and, following the recent audit, we quickly put in place a plan to improve the quality of written reports produced following an assessment. The professional and compassionate service we provide to claimants and the well-being of our people remain our primary consideration.”

Victims of the system

However, there’s no denying that there have been some odd decisions.

In July Elenore Tatton, a 39-year-old mother from Dedridge in Livingstone, was ruled fit to work. She had suffered a brain tumour at the age of 15, and the complications meant she was never able to work. After her assessment, Atos started the process to get her into work. She died three weeks later from the brain tumour.

Atos told AOL: “Atos Healthcare assessors take their responsibilities very seriously and endeavour to treat people with compassion and professionalism through a process we know can cause significant anxiety.”

read more here:|DL_4_link