The information and detail regarding the background to this letter can be found here.
Dear Ms. Rolnik,
United Kingdom: Coalition Government Welfare ‘Reform’
This is in response to your request for feedback on the above, with particular regard to the Employment Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment as I have direct personal experience of both.
May I first express my gratitude to you for enabling this formal communication. The present inability of the ordinary people of the UK to affect any real understanding within Government concerning the human impact of their present policies is a source of considerable alarm and to finally be invited to share the detail of our experiences is a rare source of hope for me. May I also express my sincere regret at the deeply disrespectful and aggressive behaviour of UK Government representatives towards you personally. I hope you will understand, however, if I also say that this behaviour is quite typical towards those who disagree with the coalition’s viewpoint, particularly when this disagreement is expressed by women. Whilst I would not wish anyone to be treated in such a manner, that you now have direct personal experience of this can only underpin the emotional intelligence of the situation that I and so many British women now find ourselves in.
I have been a recipient of Employment Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit since 2001 when first my physical health deteriorated so badly I was unable to work. This was followed by a severe deterioration in my mental health from which I have yet to recover. Prior to this I had worked my entire adult life with the exception of a year, in 1984 (when I suffered a similar psychological breakdown), up to and including running my own business for twelve years.
Following my mental health deterioration, in 2003 I committed a crime (my first) so serious that it resulted in a seven year sentence which included nearly five years of prison. I mention this because any and all decisions made regarding my ESA claims included this information and inevitably would have informed the decision-makers involved. It would be reasonable to conclude, in these circumstances, that any standards against which I was measured were likely to be more strictly enforced, with particular attention being paid to potential fraud on my part. It is the UK coalition government’s contention that ESA applicants are seeking to defraud the public and it is therefore useful to know that some decisions will have been made using stricter standards that might otherwise have been applied. Between 2008 and 2012, all my ESA applications were based on mental health issues up to and including active suicidal ideation.
Sometime in 2006, I experienced my first Work Capability Assessment via Atos with a male GP. The assessment, as structured, took little or no account of my mental health issues, focussing mainly on physical impairment. Since my claim was due to mental health impairment, needless to say I failed my assessment. I appealed and my appeal was upheld at Tribunal. During this hearing, my legal representative drew the panel’s attention to the WCA GP said “He would certify a chair fit for work”.
In 2007/8, I was called to a second WCA by Atos. On this occasion, my mental health had deteriorated so severely that, with the support of my GP, this assessment occurred at my home. The outcome is unknown because I was recalled to prison by the Probation Service soon after.
In 2010, on my final release from prison and the end of my sentence, my mental health (including suicidal ideation) still rendered me unfit for work and I renewed my claim for ESA. In 2011, I was subject to my third Work Capability Assessment. Given that the measures applied still related to physical impairment, I failed again and appealed. In full awareness of my history, the Appeal Panel continued to uphold my claim.
In November 2012 I experienced a heart attack, so when I was called to a fourth WCA in February 2013, my GP was successful in halting the process on the grounds that it could place my life at risk. Atos closed my file and the DWP accepted my claim for a period of six months. During this period – March-September 2013 – my mental health, which had been recovering, deteriorated so severely that my suicidal ideation has now returned and has now become almost impossible to manage. The personal detail of this can be found in my internet blogs here, here, here and here.
At the time of writing, Atos is in receipt of my most recent ESA/WCA form but I have yet to receive a response. It is nevertheless the case that my GP, my Mental Health support worker and I are all seriously concerned about my present suicidal ideation, which is based on the following:-
The WCA assessment still fails to enable me to fully share my mental health problems. Whilst the WCA failure to incorporate mental health issues has been known for years and has been the subject of numerous representations to government, the assessment continues to favour physical impairment measures. The likelihood, therefore, of my failing this next WCA are extremely high.
When I fail my WCA, I will have to appeal this decision in order to pursue my claim for ESA. In the past, this meant that my income would be reduced to the ESA minimum until such time as my appeal was decided. Now, however, the government has introduced a further stage of consideration by the DWP where my claim will be reassessed by that government department.
Despite many representations, the government has determined that I should receive no income whatsoever during this reassessment process and has placed no time limits on how long this might be expected to take. The government suggests that, if I need income during this period, I can claim Job Seekers Allowance. This ‘solution’ requires the following:
- That I am fit for work which, clearly, I am not.
- That my application for JSA will be accepted by the DWP, as I have to declare that I am fit for work. To make such a declaration would be untrue and the DWP, quite reasonably, sanctions all benefit applicants who make false claims.
- To apply for JSA, I am required to relinquish my claim to ESA. If my application for JSA is rejected on the grounds that my claim that I am fit for work is untrue, I must then reapply for ESA. This means that I will acquire a ‘record’ with the DWP for making false claims. It is also without doubt that I will receive no income at all whilst the matter is being settled. In the absence of any income, the likelihood of my destitution – loss of home and social supports – becomes extremely high.
In addition to the above changes, the government has also now removed my access to legal aid. This means that I face dealing with the above alone, unsupported and legally unable to challenge any of the above unless I do it myself at a time when I am experiencing severe mental health problems, am deprived of income, without legal assistance and where, if I were well enough to cope, any practical resources to do this are completely absent.
The combination of these most recent revisions, coupled with the circumstances I am placed in, lead me to believe that the desired government outcome in this situation is my death, either by attrition or by my own hand, which exacerbates my suicidal ideation to the point of action. I am deprived of a ‘fair trial’, legal resources/representation and any form of income whilst, at the same time, being ‘invited’ to behave fraudulently as a result of fearing complete destitution. It would be fair to say, given the present state of my mental health, that I experience the above as psychological torture which contributes to my suicidal ideation because, from my perspective, the only avenue I can see available to me to stop this is to die. If you can see any alternatives to this solution, I would be most interested in hearing them.
These are the facts of my personal situation but the problems do not end there.
The UK coalition government has a record of treating people in my position with the same levels of disrespect and aggression as has been shown to you. To justify their actions, the UK coalition government, aided by the UK mass-media, have engaged in a ‘campaign’ of misinformation and propaganda against those in my position. Coalition government ministers can be shown to have repeatedly and consistently misrepresented statistics in order to promote the false belief that claims like mine are fraudulent, suggesting instead that I am workshy and a social parasite. This has resulted in a marked increase in prejudice towards those in my position. When such views have been successfully challenged in the courts, the coalition government refuses to accept these decisions up to and including retrospectively changing the law to make their refusal lawful. Those who do actively represent people like me have been referred to as ‘extremists’ in the House of Commons in order to justify government refusals to meet with us. I experience this as a total unwillingness by government to consider the consequential impact of the ideological changes they have imposed, which further exacerbates my suicidal ideation and my belief that the only satisfactory outcome to the matter is my death. The levels of disrespect and aggression towards people like me are reflected in your own treatment by the UK government, the only difference being that you can leave and I cannot.
Again, if you can see any alternative viewpoint that might assist me to overcome my mental health problems so that I might actually recover and return to ‘work’, please do let me know because, at this present time and under my immediate circumstances, death really does seem to be the only way my government will permit me to contribute to my community. I blog about it because it is the only means of free self expression left to me. Given recent revelations of UK government internet surveillance and the various calls for censorship presently occurring, I am not confident that my present access to both factual information and free expression will continue.
There is one last point I would like to raise with you – the issue of gender discrimination. This is not the place to go into the UK government’s treatment of women but there exists considerable evidence to suggest that ordinary British women and children, already subject to existing discrimination, are bearing the brunt of these austerity cuts to welfare. The evidence of poverty, food poverty, destitution and other hardships falling on this group is now incontrovertible. The law is applied particularly harshly to us whilst those who are wealthy, and mainly men, enjoy the benefit of the doubt under law. If there is a way that these issues can be addressed within your organisation, I would be most grateful if action could be taken to ensure British law is applied equally to all.
From my own perspective, it seems that the UK government is making war against us and actively removing any and all legal safeguards that might protect us under the International Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, it feels as though we are no longer considered human in the minds of those elected to represent us. As one woman to another, if you can help us please do so because the death toll is already in the thousands. Whilst this situation continues unchanged, it can only get worse. I am passed the point where I can point to any particular human right being breached. Could I indicate towards in entire Declaration of Human Rights and ask you to decide which ones are no longer being applied in the UK?
Thank you so much for taking the trouble to listen to me. I really can’t express how grateful I am.
For information, I will be posting this letter on my blog as a way of modelling one way of writing to you, for those with less experience than myself. I hope this doesn’t present you with any problems. I will also be forwarding this email to my MP for his information too.
Thank you again for your interest and invitation – I really cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity.