I'm currently on Incapacity Benefit, having been awarded this in May 2008 after my ongoing downhill struggle to cope with Rheumatoid Arthritis that was diagnosed in 2004 rendered me unable to keep doing my job, which up until about 2007 I had been able to manage doing.
I applied for Incapacity benefit, sent in an IB50, the DWP followed the PCA procedure, took the medical statements of my doctor and rheumatology registrar, applied their accepted criteria, and agreed that I was not only unfit to do the job that I had, but medically incapable of doing any reasonable employment.
Just like the rest of us on IB, in fact.
I was sent an ESA50 form sometime earlier this year from ATOS healthcare, which informed me that I was being transferred to the new ESA benefit.
I read the letter, which basically states that you need to fill in this enclosed medical questionnaire, in full, with medical details concerning your case and responses to the questions therein, sign it, and return it to ATOS by a certain date, or you may loose benefit.
I read the ESA50, answered the questions it puts to you, filled it in over the course of 3 weeks undergoing great pain while doing it, and sent it away in the post. I rang ATOS to confirm that yes, the ESA50 had been received in good time.
I never heard from ATOS healthcare subsequently. No face to face medical assessment, no phonecalls, nothing.
In late June I received a letter from the DWP stating that, in the short version, I was basically considered as being capable for some kind of work, and I had been put into the Work Related Activity Group, where my entitlement to contribution-based ESA would terminate in 365 days, or before then if I failed to attend "work focussed interviews" with an advisor etc etc etc.
I rang the DWP to ask about how this decision had been reached. They told me that based on the Approved Medical Professional's assessment; I had been placed in the WRAG. I explained that I had never had any contact from ATOS healthcare after the ESA50 was returned.
The young lady at the DWP benefits center said that was most unusual, so I asked for the reasons behind this decision, and a copy of the report from ATOS healthcare to the DWP, plus a copy of the Leaflet about what to do if you think our decision is wrong. She said she’d put it in the post.
In the meantime, I decided to have a look at exactly what information ATOS had requested from my GP, and/or my consultant Rheumatologist. After a couple of phone calls, it transpires that they hadn't contacted either of them. In point of fact neither my GP, nor the Legal Records Department at the hospital had been contacted by anyone for information since January of this year.
In due course, I got a letter containing the a copy of the ATOS healthcare report to the DWP, essentially consisting of the following:
A one line statement, giving the medical opinion of a State Registered Nurse, who said “I advise that a return to work could be considered within 18 months” and that this advice was based on “available evidence from the ESA50, Med3 and previous report” plus a long list of other statements that “evidence suggests/does not suggest that the client can/cannot convey a message/press a button/turn a page of a book/feed himself/chew/swallow independently” etcetera.
As you can imagine at this point, I smelled a rat…
I went back to take a damn good look at the ESA50 questionnaire.
I drew a rather unpleasant conclusion…
Under the (thin) guise of collecting information about the status of my medical condition, which has been scanned over by a minimally qualified State Registered nurse (whose registry runs out in 2013 by the way), it basically transpires that what it says is this :
If the person who filled in and signed this form for themselves can basically:
• Use a pen
• Pick up a £1 coin
• Use a telephone to make a call
• Lift up an empty cardboard box
• Hobble 50 yards with a stick without stopping
• Move himself from one seat to another
• Not drool pee or crap on himself
• Not walk into a woodchipper by mistake…
• Set an alarm clock
• Plus a whole lot more stuff …
• … or indeed basically any combination of the above
• … including fill in and sign this ESA50 form…
… which my own retired 78 year old father, who has an artifical hip, is faster on his feet than *I* am, and totally pain-free, can do as well…
Then this ESA50 document in its own right is all the secretary of state needs to say:
“You’re capable of doing some kind of work, don’t ask me what, and don’t ask me how. I’m the secretary of state, your benefit will terminate in 365 days, go to the jobcentre and count yourself lucky I don’t put you in jail for perjury, while your previously medically proven entitlement has been erased by my Legalised Bottle of Government Tippex, and your permanent benefits now ticks inexorably away.
We aren’t even necessarily going to call you in for a face to face medical, get to the jobcentre and pray you can find work you might actually be capable of, if it’s even there.
Because the ESA50 asserts you can limp at least 50 meters.
Cordially yours, The Secretary of State”
Nothing about the described ESA214 procedures in the DWP documentation says you *will* be seen by a medic (or for that matter, anyone else) for assessment before the DWP make a decision that ipso-facto terminates your entitlement to state benefit for alleged incapacity either right now, at any other time, or in a maximum 12 months, based on the opinion of the secretary of state and a nurse you never met.
Unless you want to appeal this, in which case we might even terminate your benefit right away, if we reckon you are not actually lying about any of this stuff, including your ability to wipe your own arse.
You might then actually be seen by some kind of medical professional from ATOS healthcare, who may undertake some kind of “medical assessment” just like the one you had above, which we describe in ES214, but have not in actuality even applied yet.
In the meantime, hobble to the jobcentre, because the test in the ESA50 says you can, backed up by this (ESA85/A), which has been rubberstamped by a State Registered Nurse, that says
“Dear Sec State : based on the evidence we have so far, Mr X isn’t Pregnant, Mentally unstable, Mentally Incompetent, Dying, In Hospital, Suffering from cancer, or otherwise in such a condition that it’s manifestly dangerous, to him or anyone else, to get him to limp down the jobcentre. Signed, ‘A Registered Nurse’ ”
This is all very well and good, and shows due legal process, which the Government have created …. Ah. See it yet?
Unfortunately for the Tory Party’s future chances of me voting for them, which is now nil until I actually do die, it also translates into:
“The government have put a clock on everyone’s entitlement to state support for medical reasons, legit or otherwise, based on a test that a retired man of 73 could pass, rubberstamped by the secretary of state and a state registered nurse that says the above” *spit*
“The secretary of state thinks you are a liar. Piss off to the jobcentre and either try to find work, or prove that you can’t by the Government’s actual definition of a medical process, not your own healthcare team’s or anyone else’s including your own, or even the one the DWP had applied for the last 5 years to your case.”
I don’t have a problem with an actual real medical check by somebody properly qualified to judge, as long as they are going to be objectively fair to me.
But according to Sec State, I’ve actually already had that. It’s the ESA50.
What do you think? You agree with him?
I worry how I’m going to prove to them, beyond reasonable doubt, that I’m genuinely not capable for any real job; I’ve been honest all along so far, but I’m not obviously crippled on sight, or a mindless fool, or a liar … but I am genuinely ill, and I worry that they’re going to brand me a fraud and toss me off benefits I thought I was legitimately entitled to for genuine medical reasons.
Because I’d already proved that last part *before* the medical questionnaire from ATOS arrived…