The revolving door of disability assessments and appeal is still killing people who are chronically ill

 

Sandra Burns

Sandra Burns

Social security was originally designed to ensure that everyone was protected from the worst ravages of unfettered capitalism. To say that we have regressed as a society since then is an understatement. 

‘Behavioural economics’ are currently embedded within our current welfare system. This is a technocratic solution to essentially politically created problems. It addresses social problems by simply shifting the blame and responsibility from state to individual. This has led to an increasingly punitive social security system, aimed at pushing people into employment, regardless of whether or not they are able to work. ‘Nudge’ is increasingly being used by an authoritarian Conservative government to ensure citizens behaviours are aligned with neoliberal ideology and policy outcomes.

People who are chronically ill are suffering terribly because of the government’s anti-welfare ideolology. Yet most of us have paid tax and National Insurance to ensure that we have access to social security if or when we need it, only to find that the hostile environment created by by the government has made claiming support an ordeal. 

Back in 2013, I wrote about the terrible impact of  stressful, continuous work capability assessments on disabled people, particularly those with chronic illness. It’s long been understood that stress exacerbates the symptoms of illness. 

Many people have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just three or four months later that another assessment is required.

The uncertainty and loss of even the most basic financial security to meet the bare necessities to survive that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many. It’s appalling that in a first world so-called liberal democracy, sick and disabled people are being punished for being ill and disabled by a system that was originally intended to support them in meeting their most basic living costs.

Five years on, nothing has changed. People are still dying because of a system that is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. The government are not listening to us. 

I write all too regularly about disabled citizens who have been treated brutally because of Conservative policies, many who have died as a consequence of a system that is intentionally designed to punish people for their need. 

I’m saddened to report that disabled woman has died from a heart attack after she was repeatedly refused vital financial support following disability assessments carried out by a private benefits firm, Atos, over a five year period. 

Sandra Burns, who lived in Luton, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs at her home on 16 April. She was surrounded by letters from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and overdue utility bills, having suffered what is believed to be a massive heart attack. 

Sandra’s brother, Ian, told Luton Today: “She was found dead at the foot of her stairs, apparently of a massive heart attack. 

“She was surrounded by letters informing her that the gas, electricity, water, telephone and television were all in danger of being cut off.” 

“This debt and anxiety lay all around her on the floor”.  

Ian also said that the stress of the process had a degenerative impact on Sandra. He says that the work assessments were “punitive” and that they “ignored the comments of her GP”.

“These appeals would take six to eight months. Every single time, she won the appeal and got a backdated payment. But in that period, she would get into debt and lose her credit rating. 

“And then she’d get back on an even keel until the next year, when the same thing would happen,” he added.

Sandra, who was 57, had worked in retail for 30 years before severe back pain caused by five fused vertebrae in her spine forced her to give up working. She had failed a number of work capability assessments over a five year period but had successfully challenged each decision at appeal. 

The disability assessments were carried out at the time by Atos, on behalf of the DWP, who withdrew from a contract to carry out assessments for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) following widespread failures and mounting criticism. 

Each time she failed an assessment, Sandra found herself looking at a growing mountain of debts while she fought to have the harsh decisions overturned at appeal.

In a letter sent to the DWP before her death, Sandra wrote: “I am old school and would still be working if I could do it. Do you think I would be silly enough to do this? I have always worked.”

Why do they think it’s ok to treat me like this? It’s not acceptable”.

Her Brother Ian said the difficulties of living with a chronic health condition, coupled with having to repeatedly fight for the benefits she desperately needed, caused her health to deteriorate. 

He says that Atos “based their assessment on the fact she could walk the five or six steps of the stairwell to the interview room”.

“She could walk small distances and couldn’t stand for long”, he said.

Every time ATOS assessed her, they judged her fit for work.”

“She described how one man said, ‘I’ve been watching you walk from the waiting room and as far as I’m concerned, you’re fit for work’.”  

Ian Burns, who lives in Denmark, said his sister had become reclusive during the last year of her life, adding that he had last spoke to her on 3 April.

Having not heard from his sister for some time, Ian asked a friend and neighbour to check up on her. 

He said: “They knocked on the door and went around the back. Through the kitchen window, they could see piles of dishes.

“The police came quarter of an hour later. They got through the back door and found her at the bottom of the stairs.”

Ian came to his sister’s home the following day. “I came the next day … all around the sofa was a pile of letters and debts.

“It was terrible heartbreak and I just feel it could have all been avoided… everyone is treated as cheats or maybe the DWP have an agenda.

“Whatever it is, it’s putting people like Sandra under incredible amounts of stress.”

A DWP spokesman, offering the usual discordant platitudes, said: “Our thoughts are with Ms Burns’ family. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support they’re entitled to. 

“Assessments are carried out by qualified healthcare professionals who look at how someone’s disability or health condition impacts them on a day-to-day basis.”

Disabled people protesting about the punitive disability assessments in Parliament

 

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article and need support, please contact the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK).

Related

What you need to know about Atos assessments

Thousands of disability benefit assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ by the Government’s own quality audits

Atos’s PR company director wants me to phone him about one of my articles

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths among Sick and Disabled People

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Disability Income Guarantee abolished under Universal Credit rules – a sly and cruel cut

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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12 thoughts on “The revolving door of disability assessments and appeal is still killing people who are chronically ill

  1. aktion t4 rolling along without much of a ado. they now they all now whot it is doing to those peoples who are disabled sick mental ill culling the stock through benefits denials yet on it goes getting rid of those it thinks has of a burden yet many have put into that tax pot yet they wont or dislike giving it out while these highly trained hcp who work for these companies getting bonuses even for giving less points yet their union the nurses one isn’t going to do much about these chalitans has they want their dues each yr is more importantly than you or they no they all bloody know but do anything about nah its culling us each week. jeff3

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ” This is a gem from the archive – here’s new Work and Pensions Secretary of State Esther McVey guide to personal development, “changing your dream into reality”. It’s so 1996. ”

    That’s the problem , she ; like many, many others , are still stuck in the era – send people to be brainwashed on ‘ meaningless courses ‘ to quote Pauline Campbell Jones of The League of Gentlemen’s Royston Vasey Jobcentre

    It’s a absolutely awful , hammed up video ! – it’s like something off a ITV Digital Station daytime commercial break advert , where do all we send the £29.99 to ? , to realize our dreams ! – that’s usually for items that end up in the garage / shed or on the car boot sale .

    Her mentor , I will discount the *alleged rumours ! , IDS , Iain Duncan Smith hasn’t changed much from the 90s either – the only change is the loony religious loony right and the Centre for ‘ Social Justice ‘ , the ‘ Reforming ‘ Victorian Patrician Vicar

    She isn’t that good , despite what the Tory cheer leaders for her on Conservative Home would have people believe

    Under inevitable pressure she sounds like a strident tub thumping scouse trade union official – the mindset is the same , only it’s militancy with a totally different twist – a bit like the late Baroness Barmy

    The other ‘ tact ‘ is to talk slowly – just like a Children’s TV presenter ! – very patronizing , condescending and arrogant – no wonder Lucinda Berger said one of her speeches was one of the worst in the commons that she’d ever heard .

    Very emotionally immature , in the sense that she’s never really grown up , possible ‘ Daddy Issues ‘ ? – her father Jimmy McVey has *apparently built up the demolition business by *allegedly not paying people , sub contractors etc or at least being very tardy . Funnily enough Trump is known for the same business model .

    Can’t imagine any man eventually coming to his senses and deciding to run a mile away from this , in reality , over ambitious career girl , The Peter Principle perhaps ?

    McVey Senior is no stranger to non too complimentary coverage in the Liverpool Echo . There was also a apparent rent arrangement for the London flat , though she claims to have been cleared of any impropriety . Her MP Expenses are certainly sky high – a culture of entitlement ?

    The Tory party seem to have a production line of these horrors – not so jolly hockey sticks , over grown head girls and school bullies that haven’t left the playground

    She’d have gullible people believe that she was doing the Wirral a favour by being their MP , narcissism and vanity per chance ? – instead of opting for a safe seat in the South , I believe she demanded a recount , her lackeys according the Echo were very intimidating at the Wirral West recount . A vindictive streak too – saying she’ll be back , ‘ damn them for their impudence – we know what is best for the servants ! ‘

    ‘ People get better , you know and I’ll come for them ‘ – OK , if you play devils advocate , if you are ! , going to ‘ trip people up ‘ and ‘ chase ‘ them back into work , for ‘ playing on ‘ conditions – it’d be better if it was done professionally instead of absolutely , abject amateurishness emanating from the DWP and the usual suspects contractors such as Atos , Capita and Maximus

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry should have read * interesting rent arrangement – the Morning Star ran the story but seemingly took it down

    CORRECTED

    ” This is a gem from the archive – here’s new Work and Pensions Secretary of State Esther McVey guide to personal development, “changing your dream into reality”. It’s so 1996. ”

    That’s the problem , she ; like many, many others , are still stuck in the era – send people to be brainwashed on ‘ meaningless courses ‘ to quote Pauline Campbell Jones of The League of Gentlemen’s Royston Vasey Jobcentre

    It’s a absolutely awful , hammed up video ! – it’s like something off a ITV Digital Station daytime commercial break advert , where do all we send the £29.99 to ? , to realize our dreams ! – that’s usually for items that end up in the garage / shed or on the car boot sale .

    Her mentor , I will discount the *alleged rumours ! , IDS , Iain Duncan Smith hasn’t changed much from the 90s either – the only change is the loony religious loony right and the Centre for ‘ Social Justice ‘ , the ‘ Reforming ‘ Victorian Patrician Vicar

    She isn’t that good , despite what the Tory cheer leaders for her on Conservative Home would have people believe

    Under inevitable pressure she sounds like a strident tub thumping scouse trade union official – the mindset is the same , only it’s militancy with a totally different twist – a bit like the late Baroness Barmy

    The other ‘ tact ‘ is to talk slowly – just like a Children’s TV presenter ! – very patronizing , condescending and arrogant – no wonder Lucinda Berger said one of her speeches was one of the worst in the commons that she’d ever heard .

    Very emotionally immature , in the sense that she’s never really grown up , possible ‘ Daddy Issues ‘ ? – her father Jimmy McVey has *apparently built up the demolition business by *allegedly not paying people , sub contractors etc or at least being very tardy . Funnily enough Trump is known for the same business model .

    Can’t imagine any man eventually coming to his senses and deciding to run a mile away from this , in reality , over ambitious career girl , The Peter Principle perhaps ?

    McVey Senior is no stranger to non too complimentary coverage in the Liverpool Echo . There was also a apparent ‘ interesting ‘ rent arrangement for the London flat , though she claims to have been cleared of any impropriety . Her MP Expenses are certainly sky high – a culture of entitlement ?

    The Tory party seem to have a production line of these horrors – not so jolly hockey sticks , over grown head girls and school bullies that haven’t left the playground

    She’d have gullible people believe that she was doing the Wirral a favour by being their MP , narcissism and vanity per chance ? – instead of opting for a safe seat in the South , I believe she demanded a recount , her lackeys according the Echo were very intimidating at the Wirral West recount . A vindictive streak too – saying she’ll be back , ‘ damn them for their impudence – we know what is best for the servants ! ‘

    ‘ People get better , you know and I’ll come for them ‘ – OK , if you play devils advocate , if you are ! , going to ‘ trip people up ‘ and ‘ chase ‘ them back into work , for ‘ playing on ‘ conditions – it’d be better if it was done professionally instead of absolutely , abject amateurishness emanating from the DWP and the usual suspects contractors such as Atos , Capita and Maximus

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I realised long ago that there is a group or class of people in this country and others I suppose, who have an aversion to work that borders on religious extremism. They will gladly tell others what to do but they will not do it themselves under any circumstances. You often find them in managements jobs. They are Victorian schoolteachers, authoritarians who delight in punishing those who cannot retaliate.

    Unfortunately we have a government made-up entirely of such people. One only has to look at Theresa May’s record of achievement to see that this is true. They don’t do any work themselves and therefore they don’t understand what work is about. They don’t understand hard-up out of work because they have never experienced it themselves. They think that a good kick up the arse solves all the problems involving workers and hence we have austerity.

    They don’t understand that there are two economies, they are only interested in the one we see on TV news – about stock markets and bankers. The other economy is about people who work and who make value added goods from metal and plastic and farmers who grow things from seed and their service industries. This economy tends to be very stable unless the bankers step in and destroy it like they did in 2007-8. And so we of the second economy are all experiencing a good arse kicking that includes in some cases undeserved suffering and deaths. Who put these idiots into power?

    Liked by 3 people

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