Woman was too scared to leave job centre during a heart attack as she feared being sanctioned

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 workThe 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.

Susan Roberts’ despair following her PIP application being refused, which led to her suicide, was 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.

Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake. (Mongrel Media)

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.



37 thoughts on “Woman was too scared to leave job centre during a heart attack as she feared being sanctioned

  1. Dwp sais oh dear jcp sais oh dear we try to help but they ignore our helping hands oh yea its aktion t4 at its best quietly rolling along without much of a ado. Just another one who gets attacked by their interigation. Tecnecs of the jcp staff yet their boss of said union mark hasn’t much to say to its members allowing more brutal abuse of the system


    1. Tell the DWP that they should remember that WE pay their wages, maybe if we could sanction THEM for their poor behaviour they might take a different attitude.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I am finding it increasingly difficult to write about the impacts of the welfare “reforms”, it’s having an impact on my mental health because of the distressing nature of these fellow citizen’s experiences. Anyone who isn’t upset at reading the accounts of people like Salena isn’t human.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Sadly this is not an uncommon story, my first job coach was what I would call the model that others should aspire to being like, my second one was more interested in messing about with my client commitment than actually helping me when the DWP stopped my housing benefit without warning and ended costing me £3000 in lost rent which I could not afford.

    I worked for the DHSS 22 years ago for a short while and what I see now in the DWP is a complete shambles with officials apparently not knowing what they are doing, or hiding behind letters sent out with ‘for Office Manager’ and no signature or point of contact information so you can’t hold someone responsible when it goes wrong.

    The unemployed are now a smaller number than for many years and this hard and nasty approach is counterproductive. I was forced to apply for jobs which I knew I had no chance of getting or were much lower than my skills and as a result never got looked at or if I did get an interview, was met with ‘this seems rather junior for your skills.’

    This system needs replacing it costs £389 million a year to run and pays out a relatively small amount of money, the world of work has changed and the DWP has not. It is no longer fit for purpose -0 a streamlined Basic Income Payment scheme is what is needed. Universal Credit was a badly bodged disaster that should be put down.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. There must be a better way for vulnerable people to manage these experiences. No one likely to suffer damaging stress, should be interviewed alone. Why can there not be support groups, who arrange the interviews and accompany applicants, so that there is no way anyone can be intimidated or treated without care? In the movie about Daniel Blake, the girl was encouraged/defended by his action..which, resolved, to some extent, an otherwise shocking aggressive intimidating meeting. He simply reacted out of his own emotional response…but clearly, someone aware of procedures and trained to manage them WITH fragile applicants..could make a huge difference?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The whole purpose of the welfare “reforms” IS to intimidate people. In the movie, the lone parent was forced into prostitution to feed her children following her sanction, and Daniel Blake died of a heart attack, following him being turned down for ESA and having to go through appeal. Most people with serious medical conditions find the process terrifying, and find it exacerbates their condition. Myself included. My friend Karen Sherlock also died following her tribunal, she had type one diabetes and kidney problems. These are not “individual emotional responses”, they are normal and expected responses of very ill people being punished by a government for being ill and claiming support.

      CAB were originally the first port of call for people fighting adverse DWP decisions, but there are many fewer addvisors now because of Tory cuts.

      Furthermore, there is now no legal aid available for welfare issues, as the Tories have scrapped it, leaving people purposefully without support to seek redress and remedy.

      These are not one off stories, MANY have died as a consequence of the “reforms” or suffered harm. The government dismiss each case as “anecdotal” when it is presented to them – they deny culpablity.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. That’s literal torture. I want to see a day when creatures like that Job Centre Advisor are thrown in prison, along with the Tories and the rest of the gang. Long time to wait though as it seems too many members of society want their own faces eaten but I can dream.

    I just discovered my neighbour has lost all disability social security and she is now on JSA -and is an easy sanction target. She wants to appeal but it’s going to be difficult but not impossible, I think I’ll be able to get her ESA back. I am worried she may end up another (denied) DWP death statistic if I don’t do anything…

    Liked by 3 people

  5. All sounds very like the deliberate policy of Victorian work houses. Lives of the inmates were made as miserable and uncomfortable as possible, in order to make sure ..no one ever wanted to go in…and once in, ….everyone wanted to leave as soon as they possibly could..

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh my, I send my healing wishes to all that been subjected to this unbalievable scheme. I am disabled. I’m house bound mostly because of my condition. In fact ever since this new scheme started I and others have noticed that how big an impact it has been claiming any benefit. And to others sending hugs. No words can suffice how stressful this all is.
    Been on my back with a upper torso body flare. Rib cage inflammation. I was screaming with the pain. It’s taken about 3 weeks to get up and down. Without having chest pains on the same scale as a heart attack.
    I went for my medical for PIP , I spent £40. In taxis because I can’t travel by bus . As soon as the lady called my name. She looked at me. Concerned. We entered the room. I sat down. She was extremely concerned about my state of health. She asked me if I wanted to start the interview. I said Yes, I haven’t been paid since last November. I insisted that we continue. In order to my benefits sorted out as soon as possible. Throughout the interview she was concerned and asked me if I wanted her to stop. I was finding talking excruciating and breathing. I said ” No” I want this sorted asap. I was dizzy and disorientated. My speachless was slurred and at some points unable to answer straight away. Due to the pain and memory loss.
    I must say that the lady was patient and grateful that she could see how ill I was. And the environment I was in was escalating my pain.
    She did NOT go ahead with the pysical. As she felt it unfair and did not want me to do anything that would make me worse. Before I left she walked with me to to make sure someone was waiting to collect me. As I never go out during the day or night since I was assaulted, sexually assaulted and attempted Rape. Procurator Fiscle dragged me thro court. It happened before Christmas. I didn’t get to see my children as you can imagine. I was in a state of shock and fear. With no support I sat there waiting to see what his fate was and for justice relying on the courtday to punish him according to the most horrific attack I have been thro. The evidence was over welling I thankfully did not have to give evidence. He confessed to everything. Do you know what and how he was punished.
    One year of community service and contact with a social worker three times a week. The verdict has alone made my health extremely worse. I sat there alone. Waiting. The pain increasing because of the stress. I wasn’t told the sentence . I had to go home and call them myself to receive the shocking outcome that his punishment was a years community service. Which knocked the wind out of me . I was beside my self. I said to myself this can’t be possibly true. It can’t be . It was and my whole world collapsed around me. I have a central nervous system condition and PTSD.
    During the interview the lady kept asking me if she wanted me to stop. So I’m sorry this has happened to many people. It must be an absolute shock in the way they are treating people. I wasn’t fit to travel as my doctor wrote on my behalf. Waiting on a home visit would of delayed my benefit payments for up to twelve weeks . On top of not being paid.
    It’s a diabolical state of affairs. The government should be ashamed of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A sad case to hear, there seems little sympathy in the DWP, I had one job coach who was great the next one was awful, I complained but nothing was done, the DWP is a shambles it needs replacing with a Basic Income payment system which would be simple and not subject to sanction. I hope you have better fortune.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I hope you got an award?

      I’m so sorry to hear what happened to you. I’m a survivor too, but was told, by the lovely police officer (a woman) who came to talk to me about 3 weeks after I reported, that there was no proof, as I just looked drunk on CCTV (I was at a pub, but was drugged). Fair enough, it took me 3 days to be able to get out of bed and to the STI clinic/police station after being drugged (I’m on high-dose opioids for chronic pain, along w/ ~8 other prescription meds. He could have killed me by drugging me). She then finished up with, “…so there was no rape”.

      Oh. Cue massive repression of all feelings for a year while I slowly got more and more mentally-ill.

      (To be fair, they had 2 specially-trained sexual assault/domestic violence officers, who were amazing. She wasn’t one of them.)


  7. And the Dwp’s response is to tell people to tell the advisor. Well this lady did. She should sue that DWP and this barsteward Gov.
    They are wrecking peoples’ health then saying it’s good for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Please follow this link, read and share this report on Legal Aid including those on benefits will finally have a voice in law
    “We live at a time when the rule of law is under attack. Too many powerful institutions pay lip service to the concept of access to justice without having sufficient regard for what it actually means. It is, after all, fairly simple: unless everybody can get some access to the legal system at the time in their lives when they need it, trust in our institutions and in the rule of law breaks down. When that happens, society breaks down.

    The work for this report began in the autumn of 2015, after Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour party. I approached him with a proposal for a review into Legal Aid and he welcomed the idea and asked me to chair it. Working with the Fabian Society, I then assembled an impressive and expert team of commissioners. In the first year of our work, we heard and received evidence from a wide range of witnesses, before producing an interim report which gained considerable interest. The report introduced our main proposal, that there should be a statutory right to justice. This important and innovative policy is now set out in detail in this, our final report.

    During the first half of 2017, the commission heard more evidence that has considerably influenced our thinking. There is an urgent need to bring some areas of civil law back into the scope of legal aid, but more importantly we need to refocus on early legal help in order to help prevent problems developing further down the track. There are also huge administrative problems with the operation of legal aid, and levels of public legal capability are dangerously low.

    The supreme court has recently and authoritatively restated our existing rights to justice, and the importance they hold. But the crisis in our justice system shows that the rights we have now are insufficient. We believe that a new statute is needed to codify our existing entitlements, and to establish a new right to reasonable legal assistance that people can afford. That is why we call for a new Right to Justice Act, which we believe should be monitored and enforced by a new, independent commission. We hope that this new act will help lift the provision of justice above the political fray.

    I end with warm thanks to my fellow commissioners, special advisors and all the witnesses who gave up so much of their time to this enterprise. In addition, I want to thank Lord Falconer, Richard Burgon MP, Christina Rees MP, and Karl Turner MP. Above all, none of this would have been possible without three special people: Sir Henry Brooke, whose hard work and wisdom are an inspiration; and Olivia Bailey and Tobias Phibbs from the Fabian Society, without whose support this report would have never been published.”

    Willy Bach Chair of the Bach Commission


  9. In my opinion sanctions should be banned . They are putting lives at risk. I have been sanctioned before and couldn’t afford to shop and pay for the roof over my head. As a type 1 diabetic sanctions are life threatening. I also have arthritis and am currently under the hospital for trigger finger which means I can’t heavy lift or grip yet I am not entitled to any extra help and it’s wrong in every sense of the word. I also have floating debris in my knee which can get so weak at times even walking is virtually impossible, yet I am classed as fit for work. Something is very very wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

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