Paige Garratt was just 22 when she was diagnosed with advanced, stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs.
Last month, i published a story about how a benefits assessor visited her during her chemotherapy treatment and decided she was ‘not sick enough’ for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She had lost all of her hair and was so ill during the home visit she couldn’t raise her head off the sofa.
Here, Paige shares an open letter to the Prime Minister:
Dear Theresa May,
I cried when I opened the letter that said I wasn’t entitled to some help when I was extremely sick.
It’s hard to find the words to describe the panic and despair you feel having been diagnosed with cancer. It’s utterly, utterly, terrifying.
Can you imagine having to deal with everything cancer brings, then a stranger decides you’re not ‘sick enough’ for some financial help from the Government?
It’s physically exhausting to go through round after round of chemotherapy and your body feels ravaged. There’s the nausea, brain fog, sleep problems and hair loss.
Then there’s the worries over the possible permanent damage – it was such a knock to be warned the treatment may rob me of my fertility at aged 22. It could have also affected my heart and lungs.
On top of that, you can’t go to work so you’re on basic statutory sick pay. But the bills still need paying, plus there’s the cost of the trips to the hospital (three times a week for my chemotherapy).
The heating bills went up too and I needed new warmer clothing as the chemo gave me the chills. Knowing I wasn’t getting any support meant I had to force myself to go back to work when I still felt extremely ill – I shouldn’t have had to do this.
Can you imagine having to deal with everything cancer brings, including the stress of how you’ll pay your bills, then a stranger decides you’re not ‘sick enough’ for some financial help from the Government?
The very last thing cancer patients should be worrying about is finances – but that’s what your ‘austerity measures’ are doing to us.
The whole process of claiming was lengthy. It took two months to get a response to my initial application – and another month for the home visit to take place – and by this time I had used up all my savings.
Yet the benefits assessor decided I didn’t need any help with caring for myself while battling cancer and chemotherapy.
Then why did my mum have to take three months of work to take care of me, as I was unable to do basic things such as feed and wash myself some days?
On the home visit, the chemo had made my head so heavy I couldn’t hold it up without using my hands, so I had it rested on the arm of the sofa the whole time.
How could the person who assessed me genuinely not see that I was broken? She wrote down that my mental health did not seem to be affected. She didn’t even ask me how I was feeling.
The assessors are not blind – as human beings they must see when genuinely needy people are struggling. There’s just one reason they are making these decisions – because of your ‘austerity measures’.
I was made to feel like I was lying, a fraud.
I am not. I am a hard working person who was working not one but two jobs, so that I could support myself and save up for a house deposit when I was struck by cancer.
Your Government says it wants to come down on the benefit scroungers who abuse the system. I am not one of them – your cut backs are hurting genuine people in need.
Because I had to spend all my savings I have to start from the bottom financially. How is this fair? I have paid my taxes to your Government and I deserve help when I need it. We all do.
The response to the story about me was overwhelming. A leading doctor said my case showed “our country has reached a new low of callousness”.
One person on Twitter suggested I hadn’t been clever enough to play the system. Why should cancer patients and other people with serious illnesses have to think like that on top of everything they’re dealing with?
How do you think it makes someone like me feel, when I read that private firms Independent Assessment Services (formerly known as Atos) and Capita raked in in more than £250 million for carrying out these gruelling medical assessments – a £40m increase in funding despite widespread concerns with the system?
Mrs May, why are you rewarding them for making desperately ill people destitute?
I went back to work at the bakery too soon, trying to manage two hours a day but standing on my feet all day completely knocked me. Then with my CLIC sargent social worker’s help, I managed to successfully appeal the decision and was awarded PIP in May this year.
This was around seven months after I had first been diagnosed. People with cancer need the financial help when they’re off work sick and struggling.
The way I was treated by your Government added extra stress during the darkest days of my life.
People are dying because of benefit cut backs. Mrs May, will you reply to my question to you: Are you going to carry on treating sick and disabled people this way?
Paige finished her chemotherapy in March this year and a scan has shown she is in remission.
She said “The whole experience of PIP has been so negative and de-humanising. I was made to feel like I’m doing something wrong for being ill.”
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson gave the usual crib sheet drivel as a response: “We are committed to supporting people with disabilities and health conditions. We support 1.88 million people through PIP and 1.97 million people through DLA. We have never spent more on benefits for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, totalling over £50bn a year – up £7bn since 2010. Under PIP, 30% of claimants receive the highest rate of support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.
“But we constantly seek to improve the quality of PIP assessments. We have commissioned to independent reviews of PIP, and most recently announced that we will pilot video recording of assessments, improving confidence in the assessment process. We will continue to reassess the quality of the process to ensure that it works well for everyone.”
Included in the amount spent on ‘benefits for disabled people’ is the extortionate and ever-rising cost of paying for inept, profiteering private companies to deliver the completely unfit for purpose assessments.
The DWP seem to think they are personally paying for ill and disabled people’s support. However, most have worked and contributed tax to the social security system, and should be able to reasonably expect support in their time of need. Yet all too often people are de-humanised, and treated without dignity, respect and compassion when they turn to the state provision they have contributed to, when they become vulnerable because of ill health.
The government has clearly mismanaged our public funds, because week after week I see people who are seriously ill and need crucial support being refused their lifeline by the state.
After five years and a lot of critical feedback from people going through the PIP process and from charities and allied associates, academics and shadow ministers, you would expect that it would ‘work well for everyone’ by now.
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