Salena Hannah (Photo: Adam Sorenson)
A woman who suffered a heart attack during a job centre in-work progression interview has said she was too scared to get up and leave to get medical help as she was afraid of losing her benefits. Salena Hannah, who works part-time, says that she had the attack during her appointment, but was ignored by the “callous” job centre interviewer.
She explained: “I had been suffering with chest pains for about two weeks and took a couple of sprays of GTN spray, to help with my angina, before I walked in to meet my interviewer.
“My job is under 16 hours, so I am forced to attend regular meetings, or my benefits might be stopped.
“I was feeling some really bad pains in my chest and I told her at least two or three times that I was in agony, but she was just so callous, she just kept ignoring me.
“I said I needed to go to the NHS walk-in centre immediately, but it fell on deaf ears. I was living in fear of being sanctioned and just felt trapped. I didn’t think I could leave or I would be sanctioned.”
Salena says she was forced to endure a 40-minute interview, while sweating profusely and suffering chest pains.
As soon as she left the interview, she went straight to a nearby NHS walk-in centre, where medics immediately called an ambulance and took her to hospital.
Blood tests revealed she had suffered a heart attack and she had to have surgery to have two stents inserted into her arteries.
Although Salina was discharged after three days in hospital, she suffered serious chest pains an hour after she got home, and had to return to hospital, where doctors inserted three more stents.
Salina is now recovering at home but is struggling for breath and feels constantly weak.
She said: “I was just dreading getting sanctioned. I just would not be able to afford to live if that happened, so pain or no pain, I had to endure that meeting.
“It is unbelievable how cruel the sanction scheme can be to people like me. It is almost like they are trained to be unfeeling.
Is that what Britain is coming to these days under a Tory Government?”
Salena, a mum of four, is bringing up her two grandsons aged 14 and 10 on her own. Had she been sanctioned, she would not have been able to provide for their basic needs.
At the time of her heart attack, she was working in a chip shop and was in receipt of JSA and housing benefit.
Last year, the The National Audit Office launched a scathing attack on the benefit sanctions system, saying that punishing people for “non-compliance” with welfare conditionality does more harm than good and costs more to enforce than it saves. There is no evidence that the pointlessly cruel welfare sanctions work at all.
The report said that withholding benefits, which is now very commonplace, plunges claimants into hardship, hunger and depression. It also seriously jeopardises their health, since sanctions leave people without the means to meet the costs of food, fuel and often, shelter – and these are fundamental survival needs.
Dr Wanda Wyporska, director of The Equality Trust, said: “It’s disgusting to see how some of the most vulnerable people in society are treated.
“Our social security system is being slowly eroded and further cuts will see the poorest families hit even harder.”
Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB, said: “You have to wonder if all compassion has been completely ripped from our system by continued austerity and cuts to frontline services.”
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “We would always encourage claimants who suddenly fall ill to seek medical attention, or to speak to a member of staff for assistance.”
The Department, however, is not focused not on helping individuals but on cutting welfare expenditure while hitting targets for doing so.
In February, employer relationship manager at Jobcentre Plus in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, who is based at the branch featured in the film I, Daniel Blake, said: “I, Daniel Blake is a representation … I hope people don’t think the film is a documentary, because it’s a story that doesn’t represent the reality we work in.”
“My team and I try to treat people as individuals, and we care about the work we do,” he told the Guardian. “There will be times when we get it wrong, but I don’t believe we are ever as wrong as how we are portrayed in this film.
“I remember talking about the film in the canteen. We were concerned about how it might affect our relationship with the people we were trying to help find work. How would they react to it?”
Ken Loach, however, defended the authenticity and realism of the film’s content. “I challenge anyone to find a single word in that film that isn’t true,” he said.
I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a joiner who has had a heart attack, and is no longer able to work. However, he becomes caught up in the nightmare bureacracy of the welfare state, is passed as “fit for work” at his work capability assessment, and is told he has to look for work. He suffers a second fatal heart attack just before his tribunal, as a consequence of the sustained psychological distress and strain he experiences because of the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms”.
Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, said the film was “monstrously unfair” – though he added he had not seen it.
I wonder if Green considers his department’s lies “monstrously unfair”. For example, in August 2015, the DWP admitted to using fictional stories from made-up claimants on leaflets, despicably advertising the “positive impact” of benefit sanctions, following a Freedom of Information request from Welfare Weekly, claiming that they were for “illustrative purposes only” and admitting that it was “quite wrong” to pass these off as genuine quotes.
Later that month figures were released which showed that between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,650 people died shortly after their Work Capability Assessment told them that they should be finding work. The DWP had fought hard for the figures not to be released, with chief minister Iain Duncan Smith at one point telling Parliament that they did not exist.
Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health by Oxford University and Liverpool University, showed there were an additional 590 suicides between 2010 and 2013 in areas where Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were carried out. The researchers say that the DWP had introduced the policy of moving people off benefits without understanding the consequences. The research showed a correlation between worsening mental health and the assessments. The DWP of course denied the evidenced correlation between suicides and the WCA.
I, Daniel Blake has been criticised by some media commentators, such as Toby Young (the Daily Mail) and the Sunday Times film critic Camilla Long who said it did not “ring true”. However, Hayley Squires, who plays a single mother in the film, said it showed “the absolute truth of what’s happening to millions of British people in this country” and accused Young and Long of “irresponsible journalism”.
The government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime can cause “damage to the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants and can lead to hunger, debt and destitution”, according to a damning new report, which debunks Tory myths that benefit sanctions – denying people who are already struggling the only means by which to support themselves and their families – “incentivise people into work.”
In a report titled Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford – One Year on, it was concluded that, far from than “incentivising” people to move into work, the sanctions regime actually serves as a demotivator and barrier, preventing people from engaging in appropriate training, volunteering and employment-related activities.
Furthermore, the sudden loss of income caused by removing benefits – through the imposition of a punitive sanctions regime – often damages people’s mental health, creates tensions within family relationships and may cause individuals to turn to crime in order to meet their basic survival needs.
Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett said: “People on benefits are already struggling to afford food, heating and essential costs. They can’t save so they have no financial safety net. They live in dread of being sanctioned which isn’t the right frame of mind for job hunting, volunteering or going back into education.” Or for looking for more hours of work.
The cruel and inhumane way that Salena Hannah was treated by a job centre “advisor”, and the fear and dread that she felt at the prospect of being sanctioned, is real.
David Clapson’s awful death, which was the result of grotesque government policies, is real.
David Sugg, who was so afraid of the catastrophic health impacts that the strain of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) may have had on him, left a letter for the local coroner, to be opened in the event of his sudden death. He feared the assessment would kill him. That is real.
George Vranjkovic’s extreme anxiety, agitation and fear facing the WCA, which he knows is designed to try and cut costs and take lifeline support from sick and disabled people, is real. He lost his lifeline support for six months previously. His panic attack the night before the WCA is real.
A man who was forced to give up work with heart problems had his benefits stopped for failing to complete a WCA – after suffering a heart attack during the examination. That is real.
Sheila Holt, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was sectioned after being taken off Income Support. Days later she had a heart attack and fell into the coma. Nonetheless, she was sent a letter by Atos to ask why she was not working. That really happened.
I co-run a support group on Facebook for sick and disabled people claiming disability benefits. I know from the accounts and everyday experience of many others just how stressful the assessment process is. It’s a terrible and shameful state of affairs when people who are already struggling with severe health problems are made even more vulnerable because of callous cost-cutting government policies. That is real.
It needs to change. That is real.
We are all, potentially, Daniel Blakes. That is real.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.
But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.