As I mentioned in my last post, I am now going to talk about my most recent WCA and how flawed it was in favour of the DWP
The stress and anxiety of the WCA doesn’t just start on the day that your assessment is. It starts the moment you open the letter that says that you need to fill in the WCA questionnaire.
It’s an awful feeling. You know it’s coming. You know it’s been about a year since you last had one. You know it’s due. Still, it’s no less of a shock when it drops through the letter box.
You then have to spend about an hour plus filling in the stupid form. It asks about your prescriptions, your physical capabilities and your mental capabilities. You have to muster up enough thought to be able to put into words why you are claiming and how the condition affects you day to day (I am coming at this from a mental health standpoint). If you don’t have someone that can help you, then it really does take its toll. I had my wife Jamie to help me and it was still stressful.
All this stress and anxiety could be avoided if they just contacted your GP or psychiatrist beforehand and allowed them to present the information that they ask for. Your GP or psychiatrist could then answer all the questions in a way that would be satisfactory to the DWP. This would then eliminate the need to be super stressed out and anxious the whole time you are filling in the form. Of course, that is sensible so wouldn’t happen as no government department is THAT sensible.
I filled in the form and then continued to stress out that I couldn’t include any medical evidence from my primary and secondary care team. I stressed out that they would see what I had written and not believe what I had written and then tell me that I am no longer entitled to the benefit. I also stressed out the whole time waiting for Atos to call me in for an assessment. This whole process for me took about 5 weeks. That is 5 weeks of all this extra stress and anxiety that I could have done without.
The letter comes through the door ‘inviting’ you to attend an assessment and the anxiety and stress is piled on even more. You then have to think about how you get there, who you take with you, whether you put on a show, get dressed smartly for it. All this is weighing on your mind on the day the letter arrives until the time the assessment is over.
Assessment time comes around and the stress and anxiety becomes more unbearable, but bear it you must as this is one of the evil and barbaric necessities of the WCA. As I contemplated what to do on the day, I showered and turned up looking somewhat decent and I brought my wife along with me. I am so glad I did that.
My assessment lasted about 20-30 minutes. I think this is a somewhat normal time-frame for the assessments. In the assessment the healthcare professional seemed much more interested in my carpal tunnel syndrome and how that affected my day to day life than my mental health conditions which play a greater role in my everyday life. I answered all her questions, and she didn’t really ask my wife any – which if she did she would know that I wasn’t fit for work.
I was a little relieved when the assessment was over and I could come back home and be indoors and somewhere I felt was safe and familiar. That relief doesn’t last long though, you then have to start to worry and stress out and get anxious over what the healthcare professional put in her report to the DWP. This stress is there until you find out the decision made by the DWP.
I don’t remember the time-frame of when I got notification about the decision in comparison to the assessment attendance (I think it was about 3 weeks – don’t quote me on it though!). The notification was made via a telephone call from the DWP. I did note that the lady on the other end of the phone seemed quite smug when she told me that I didn’t get enough points. I think I got 5, but certainly no more than 8, points. I was totally overwhelmed at the decision, I began to wonder how I would cope with everything. I was overwhelmed enough to break down on the phone and I had to hand it to Jamie. The lady wasn’t interested in hearing what Jamie had to say either. Jamie told me that the brute from the DWP only told her of the decision.
I began to stress out about how we would cope. The decision has far more impact than just not being able to claim ESA. I would then have to apply for Jobseekers’ Allowance. They stopped the ESA completely. This, in turn, made my housing benefit and council tax benefit be stopped. How were we going to pay the rent, how would we heat the house, how would we afford food, how would we pay all of our other bills. As I say, not just an impact on ESA, but on everything else. My mental health deteriorated to the point I was at in 2010. How could this be fair. How could they decide that I was fit for work after everything that was said in the assessment! I was beginning to wonder if it would be better for everyone if I wasn’t around anymore. Jamie could then go back home and not have to worry about food, heat, bills, somewhere to live. This is how ill it makes you. They just don’t have any idea!
I got the decision and a copy of the report through the post and after we read it, it all made sense. The
silly stupid woman from Atos made very little mention of the mental health issues I told her about. Just making a note that all I had was a reduced facial expression. Where was everything else I had told her. Where was the notes about me having 8 months off sick from work (I worked a total of about 22 months minus the 8 months off sick, so 14 months in total in the job) due to mental health issues? Where were the notes that I have suicidal thoughts and attempted it? Where were the notes about the anxiety? The cyclothymia? The borderline personality traits? It wasn’t there. She left that out. She made more emphasis on the carpal tunnel and that is where I gained most of my points from.
Jamie read the report and was as livid as I was. We took the decision to lodge an appeal. By this time, ALL benefits (barring Disability Living Allowance) had been stopped. I had to beg the council to reinstate my claim on the grounds of no money – to no avail. They would only reinstate it if I proved that I was lodging an appeal against the decision – which took a couple of weeks to get the letter back acknowledging my appeal! They reinstated this after getting the letter. I was then put onto the assessment phase of ESA (which was a £33 a week drop in money). We then had to decide what was more important: eating or being warm and having hot water. We couldn’t afford both!
After 6 months of lodging the appeal, it was upheld in my favour and they backdated the £33 for only 13 weeks (They backdate only from week 13 of being back in assessment phase). Why should I be penalised for a poor report by Atos and a poor decision by the DWP. It stinks of disability discrimination!
All of this doesn’t take into account the fact that I have to attend a work programme through Seetec (Another useless company. See here). You have to muster up the energy and try and stifle the anxiety so that you can attend these useless and worthless appointments!
Here’s the best bit. Within 6 weeks of my appeal being upheld, I get another questionnaire to fill in. Time to go through it all again.
This must be stopped! It is unfair to make the decisions the way that they have. The disabled and vulnerable are the ones being targeted in these austere times. It isn’t just a financial cut that happens – it’s everything else that goes along with it!
Please, please, please sign the petition to get the WCA/ESA reforms stopped.
Here is the link to the petition again: ESA/WCA ePetition
Also, please please please contact your MP and get them to stand against these reforms.