Gail Ward. Photo: Facebook
A woman with a rare heart condition, which can cause her to collapse unpredictably at any moment, has spoken about her battle with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to get the support she desperately needs.
Gail Ward was told that she did not qualify for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), despite living with the potentially life-threatening heart condition called Prinzmetal’s angina, a rare form of angina where attacks can occur even when she is resting. Remarkably, Gail was told by the DWP that she doesn’t qualify for PIP.
Prinzmetal’s angina can cause arteries in the heart to spasm during times of stress or cold weather, which severely limits a person’s independence and can also be life-threatening. It causes cardiac arrhythmias and can lead to heart attack if the blood flow to the heart deprives the organ of oxygen. The condition may sometimes arise when someone already has a serious form of Raynaud’s phenomemon, where the blood supply to the extremities is closed down because of cold or stress, causing a painful spasm. But it is a relatively rare condition.
Gail, who many of my readers will know, is also a respected disability rights campaigner. She had been claiming Disability Living Allowance for 20 years, but after being ordered to attend a mandatory reassessment for PIP, she was told that her support would stop because she ‘failed to meet the qualifying criteria.’
“I can be in the sitting room having a conversation and the next minute I have collapsed.
“I need to wear a pendant bracelet in case I collapse but sometimes I don’t even get to press that.
“It has such an impact on my life. If I have a severe attack I could not even put a sentence together but find that if I rest up it allows the body to repair itself.”
Gail, who also has arthritis and hip dysplasia, among other health problems, say’s that living with the condition leaves her feeling tired and drained and that this has been exacerbated by her battle with the DWP.
She appealed the DWP’s decision. After waiting 15 months for her case to be heard at a social security tribunal, Gail was told that her appeal had been successful and that her benefits would be reinstated.
Commenting on her own experience and that of other people who struggle to get the support they are entitled to, Gail said: “Disabled people are losing their mobility cars, losing disability entitlement when they are moving to PIP.
“It is a different criteria. It is basically about what you can and can’t do. It is a disability analysis, not a medical.”
In 2013, the government began to rollout PIP for adults to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). One of the purposes of PIP was to reduce spending, with the intention of costing 20% less. Therefore, the conditions to satisfy in order to be entitled to the support were made stricter.
Gail is right. The assessments are not remotely ‘medical’ in nature, and the evidence from doctors employed within the NHS, including diagnosis and details of symptoms, are often ignored. Instead, the DWP contracted assessments are geared towards “objective” snapshot accounts of how someone’s disability affects their day to day living.
It also emphasises the professional gap between NHS medical professionals and the “health professional” employed by the state to carry out these functional capacity assessments in the context of a neoliberal welfare state, and medical health professionals, whose wider work is generally not directly linked to the politically defined conditionality of welfare support.
That said, PIP is a non-means tested support to help people maintain as much independence as they can, whether in work or not. It stands to reason that someone who is too ill to work will need more support because of their loss of earnings.
Gail said: “People with severe disabilities are losing their DLA after being on it for 20 or 30 years.”
She added: “I would like the DWP to clarify why they refuse to address poor quality assessor report failings and decision maker decisions, which put disabled people at risk of financial hardship.
“I would like answers as to why the DWP stop the mobility component money from date of applying.
“I applied in July 2018 but the assessment was in October 2018, yet if a claimant is successful the mobility component is paid from decision date.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to.
“Decisions to award PIP are based on all of the evidence available to us at the time.
“Ms Ward has been awarded the enhanced rates to PIP for daily living and mobility after additional evidence was provided.
“She continued to be supported with Employment Support Allowance while awaiting the outcome of her PIP tribunal.”
This standard response doesn’t offer any explanation as to why the DWP decided that someone who they have already deemed more than once as not being well enough to work somehow failed to qualify for Personal Independence Payment.
Gail was subjected to a loss of income, her motability entitlement and high levels of stress for almost a year and a half. It’s a well known fact that stress exacerbates illness, and particularly her heart condition.
Furthermore, it is the decision of the ‘health professional’ (HP) to “determine whether any additional evidence needs to be gathered from health or other professionals supporting the claimant.”
Often at the appeal stage, it turns out HPs frequently decide not to ask for further evidence. The DWP must take all medical evidence into account when making a decision about PIP claims. Yet the DWP say: “In many cases, appeals are granted because further medical evidence is provided.”
This indicates that people are having to go to court, often waiting months for their appeal to be heard, because of deliberately under-informed, poorly evidenced DWP decisions.
Furthermore, it says in the government guidance to GPs: “Your patient should complete the forms to support their [PIP] claim using information that they have to hand, and should not ask you for information to help them do this, or to complete the forms yourself.” “
After all this time, you would expect that this problem would have been addressed, especially given that the person who suffers as a consequence is always the ill and disabled person.
Anyone would think this is part of a broader enduring government strategy to ensure as few people as possible are awarded the disability support they are entitled to. After all, it takes immense strength for someone who is very ill to fight unfair decisions at tribunal, and not everyone does so.
Many die while awaiting the outcome of their claim for PIP. Up to January 2019, more than 17,000 people died while waiting to hear whether their claim had been successful, it emerged.
Among those were people with terminal conditions, but who did not meet the government’s strict ‘six month’ rule – people can only be ‘fast tracked’ for support if they are expected to die within six months. However, doctors cannot predict the precise timing of terminally ill people’s demise. Many campaigners have been pushing for this restriction to be lifted, because it’s irrational, inhumane and unreasonable.
Ministers have been accused of “failing people at the most vulnerable point in their lives” after the figures revealed 17,070 disability claimants have died while waiting for decisions on their PIP claims since 2013.
One in four (4,330) of those who died were suffering from a form of cancer, while 270 had anxiety or depressive disorders. In more than half of cases (9,020), the main disability was not even recorded.
Last year, shadow disabilities Marsha de Cordova accused the government of allowing a “cruel and callous” PIP assessment process to create a “hostile environment for disabled people”.
She is absolutely right.
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