Monday, 4 April 2011

ESA and the Work Capability Assessment

Today marks the day when the government's scheme to transfer all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants onto Employment and Support Allowance begins.
One and half million people will get their letters calling them into Atos offices for the Work Capability Assessment - the test designed to assess whether someone is genuinely in need of support or if they are fit for work.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling has said that genuine claimants have nothing to fear, that the only people who need to worry are the fakers who just prefer a life on benefits to one of work.

He's wrong. The fakers have nothing to fear; they have options. They are able to go out and work or comply with the regulations to claim Jobseekers Allowance. It's the genuine who are afraid because they have no options. If they could work they would do. No-one wants to be ill. No-one puts up with the 'scrounger' label or the suspicious looks if they don't have to.

Everyone who claims any of the disability benefits know about the WCA. Those on IB or in the work related activity group of ESA have been terrified of it for months. And rightly so - it's a terrible assessment that even the government's own advisory board as well as the man who designed it, have said is not fit for purpose.
They've heard the stories about those who've been denied benefit despite their illnesses. They've read the story of Paul Reekie, who committed suicide when his benefits were stopped.
Now they wait to see how their own claims will turn out.

I've been through two WCAs myself. The first was when I came down with my symptoms of MS, though I didn't have a formal diagnosis at that point. I was summoned to the Atos centre, waiting for what seemed an interminable amount of time, then was called in to see the doctor.
I was scared to start with and my fears were not allayed by he fact that I couldn't understand a word of what the doctor - from Eastern Europe - was saying. Nor could she understand me. She put me through a series of tests, none of which I could do, then sent me on way. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes at most.

The following week I received the report she had sent to the DWP. I was shocked at what she had written - it was lies from top to bottom. Every test she had done she'd put me as passed even though I hadn't. She had omitted things I had told her and gone against everything that had happened in that room.
In short, she said there was nothing wrong with me.
This was despite being barely able to walk, being unable to feel my pelvic muscles which led to lots of bathroom visits and being so tired I could barely think straight. I couldn't bend down, I couldn't kneel down, I certainly couldn't touch my toes.

I sent the form, along with detailed rebuttals of everything that was wrong, off to the DWP. The following day I received a letter saying I wasn't entitled to benefits because I was fit for work. I then had to ring them up and tell them I'd appealed at which point they said my benefit would be continued until the appeal was heard. I was on tenterhooks, worrying over what would happen about it, if they would listen to me or uphold the Atos doctor's decision.

The next letter I received was one telling me the appeal had been successful and my benefit would continue. I can't tell you how relieved I was.

Last year I underwent the WCA again when I left hospital following my formal diagnosis with MS.
I received a letter from Atos telling me to call and make an appointment - if I didn't, one would be made for me. So I rang and spoke to a very bored and slightly dismissive man who gave me an appointment who gave me an appointment for a date that they decided.
When I arrived, I was shown into the waiting room by a security guard, and greeted by a receptionist who looked at me like I was something foul on the bottom of her shoe.
I waited for about half an hour, all the while getting more and more uncomfortable as I felt the judging stares coming from the staff. If anything is designed to put you off it's that. So far, it was worse than my previous experience.

When I was finally called in I met a very nice lady doctor who seemed to understand about MS. She didn't attempt to make me do anything she knew I couldn't and was very reassuring. Very different from the first assessment so I had hopes that it would be ok.
Well, she didn't lie. But that's about it. Despite having shown some knowledge of MS she placed me in the work related activity group, meaning that with the right support I could work.
Because of course the right support will mean that I no longer struggle to get dressed in the mornings. Or take a shower. Or cook meals. Or walk anywhere. Or need to rest after putting a load of washing on. Or want to cry when the pain in my head gets too bad. And it will get better because of course MS is curable.

I didn't have the strength or the energy to try and appeal though. Not to mention I was scared that they might stop it completely. So I left it as it was. I see an advisor every few weeks, meaning a taxi journey to the jobcentre where I wince with pain as I struggle with the sensory overload of neon lights and too many people.

And in the summer I get to go through it all over again.

Now then Mr Grayling, are you still going to tell me I have nothing to worry about?

Cross posted at Rage against the Coalition


  1. This process terrifies me. I have a serious mental health condition that is variable. I expect to be found fit for work. I really wish I was fit for work. I wish an employer could see my strengths and not the fact that every so often I'll end up having a psychotic break and seeing things/hearing things.

  2. I amabsolutely petrified every time the postman comes - This has made me so ill i hurt everywhere. howcould i work when it is like a marathon to just get to the end of a day. it is 8pm now and i am soon to go to bed, I have already spent a great part of the day having to rest - what employer would allow me to do this

    They are going to kiill me. I am so scared. I am a human being yet they treat me like worse than an animal

    I am patrified of whether i will even be here a year from now because of how hey make me feel so desperate

  3. Dreading this. Going in a minute to see if it arrived in the today's post. :/

    I don't mind working (I'm on the IB Permitted Work scheme at present), but since my condition fluctuates I'm never going to be able to work full-time or even half-time. I wish I could... I'm so scared that I'm going to say one wrong thing in the interview, or get a hostile interviewer, and that'll be it.

  4. Thanks for posting. I just wanted to comment to say that I am currently waiting for my tribunal date (currently waiting 10 months and counting) after the WCA 'found' me fit for work apparently.

    My case for appeal will be based on my ongoing mental health problems which I have been living with for the last four years and also the fact that the ATOS doctor who saw me was a PHYSIOTHERAPIST.
    That's right, to apparently assess mental health!

    Don't trust ATOS, please appeal!

  5. I'm still really curious about the missing million. Last year official numbers in receipt of Incapacity Benefit were 2.6 million, however only 1.5 million are now being tested. Does that mean an entire 1.1 million of those on IB are within retirement age?!

  6. It is a terrifying process and an unpleasant one,just another bad way of trying to save money and trying to keep the the figures in touch!!

  7. DeusExMac - they're not assessing anyone who'll be pensionable before 2014. Apparently older age means you would never lie, commit fraud, or cheat on a form. That'll be why pension credit fraud is so low *cough*

    Last Anon - money does not need to be saved, there's more than enough. Millions given as a bribe to Pakistan (after Cameron implied they were all terrorists), billions in 'forgiven' tax for corps. like Vodafone, and £50 a week pension increase for the 'poor' old people, free prescriptions of all but England etc etc.

    This campaign is about nothing more than demonising, and further marginalising the sick and disabled of Britain. Don't be fooled, money has nothing to do with it.

  8. Can i suggest that all people who fail and know themselves that they cant work post their medical report online obviously name ni number taken out so that we can build up or own profile as to what is going on

  9. 1.1 million are within 3 years of retirement and are being allowed to quietly go away. So although the 2.6 million figure was used to justify the excess of the benefit system, nearly half that figure are not to be included.
    I'm personally terrified, I jump everytime the posty comes. I'm lucky it's just a physical condtion I have at the moment (though I have had debillitating depression, anxiety and pannic attacks in the past). I'm not sure what employer would take me on, when I have to spend most of the time lying down, simply sitting is painful and exhausting as one of my problem areas are my hips and pelvis. Not everyone has the capital and ability to be an entrupeneur - and how you'd be expected to totally manage when a conditon is unpredictable and can leave you bedridden for weeks is beyond me.
    I actually couldn't care less what group they put me in, what I am most afraid of is loosing the money I use to swim. My ability to sit has increased from 30 minutes to two hours. I'm making significant progress, if they take away my financial stability and my opportunity to swim I'll jut vegitate in a bed and deteriorate, it's hard enough to build muscle and fitness in this situation, loosing any would devastate my life. This is what's at stake for me, not a benefit, not a bit of extra cash, but the chance of improvement, the chance I might work again, the chance I might have some life. I'm not alone in that either, for most of us it's not about the money, it's about the huge improvement it makes to some area of our lives, better diet, complemetry therapy, for those with mental health problems in some cases it pays for the only treatment they get! I'm already complying on my own with the requirement to bring myself closer to the workplace, with the opportunity who wouldn't. Closer to the workplace surely means the other areas of your life first, no one can work if they can't wash, eat, dress, sleep, socialise - yes socialise, we're humans not robots and emotional needs are as real and important as basic physical ones. If the rhetoric was investigated and taken seriously then there would be an admittance it's not just about work, it's about function and quality of life, increase these things and those who can work will.

  10. My assessment was similar. The nurse who assessed me paid no attention to anything I said and put "usually OK" for every question. My appeal letter came through last week, which said something along the lines of "I see no reason to change the original decision".

    So now I'm waiting for a tribunal. They don't expect to hear my case before September. I'd rather get it out of the way now.

    Theresa, you put this absolutely beautifully. It's easy to forget the quality-of-life aspect, as politicians only want to talk about "helping people back into work". If I had to work now, I would have no quality of life. I would barely have the energy to get through the working day let alone have anything left iover.

  11. It took me three years to finally win a DLA appeal - three years and three tribunals. But I did win it eventually. I was threatened with losing my present claim if I continued 'which you obviously aren't entitled to' and told by the second tribunal that its doctor 'had the right' to be present at the third (not true. It's a breach of natural justice and there is case case law to dispute this.)

    I now have to appeal against HMRC's decision not to backdate my tax credit appeal (which would have been higher for this period - expect that the DWP dragged its feet and got the original decisions wrong.)

    It's just part of the system and designed to wear us down. And of course it does. Just because I kept fighting them (and continue to fight in the case of HMRC) doesn't mean I didn't feel like giving up. Often I had a really good cry. Days where I just wanted to sit in the dark and forget about it all.

    But then the stubborn part of me kicked in. The system spent far more fighting my claim than it ever paid me.

  12. My dear husband after 18 months of illness and many visits to hospital has finally been diagnosed at the age of 55 with young onset Alzheimer's disease. We have been living off out savings from nearly 2 years and because money is getting very difficult and my wage alone is not enough to support us we have had to enter the dreaded benefit system. My husband has moderate Alzheimers and has been declared by the Hospital Consultant unfit to work and unable to drive a card. After been on ESA for a couple of months they made him go for a medical assessment. We saw a doctor with heavy Eastern European accent whom my husband had extreme difficulty understanding. She asked him a few stupid questions, noted that he was well looked after (obviously by mean because I am his wife and care for him) asked him what year, month, day it was to which my husband could not answer, asked him to spell the "word" backwards which he could not, read the letter I gave her from the consultant declaring my husband's condition, then dismissed us. Since that dreaded day my husband has now been told that he has been placed in a Work Related Activity Group and is now expected to seek employment. DESPITE HAVING A SEVERE MENTAL CONDITION AND A DEGENERATIVE BRAIN DISEASE FROM WHICH THERE IS NO CURE! We have been to hell and back just trying to deal with the benefits system, at every turn they have turned the screw and made it so hard to get anywhere. Am I the only person under the misconception that the Welfare State was set up to help people at the greatest time of need? This certainly is not the case now, my husband has a real disability but the DWP choose to ignore this fact and cause nothing but pain and distress.

    I have written to the DWP, to Iain Duncan Smith but nobody seems to care!

    Thoroughly worn out and dispirited. (ps I voted Conservative - never, ever again.
    14 April 2011

  13. I just wanted to empathise with you all - I work for a provider under the Flexible New Deal (soon to be Work Programme) and during my time doing this I have seen more than 30% of "fit for work" JSA claimants who are not to be rude, unemployable. With the struggles that genuine fit and healthy people are having finding employment - anyone who has a barrier stands little to no chance - it beggars belief that the work programme will be mandatory for transfers off IB to JSA (ie those who are deemed fit for work) from month 3!!

  14. Retiring next year I may not be subjected to WCA but I only found out through reading this blog. The threat of WCA together with the almost certain loss of my DLA has terrified me since it was first announced.

    I have had severe RA since 1984 but worked on until 1995. In 2003 I had hydrocephalus as a result of the anti rheumatoid drugs which had been overprescribed to keep me working. In 2007 I had a brain stem stroke which nearly took me out. Perhaps it would have been better if it had. My life is in tatters,I can barely walk or stand unaided. I cannot travel any distance or bear bright light. I am not obese or a druggie or an alchoholic. I haven't drunk alchohol since 2000. Now we have Scumeron telling us that 70,000 people are on IB because theyre obese etc, (0.0015% of the population) and this is being used to justify the WCA. Normally sensible people are falling for it. I already feel like a scrounger despite having worked since I was 14, and not pushing a pen either.I feel very sorry for those who have to endure this but, please don't blame those of us who gave our best years to rebuild this country's infrastructure after the war.

  15. my daughter 20 has her tribunal next week me and her care worker psychois early intervention will represent her as she does not want to go she scored 0 at atos medical i went with her i feel the questions asked set her up to fail she has a possible diagnosis manic type schizo affective disorder and is on antipsychotic drugs she is possibly bi polar and is better on medication but her mood is very variable sometimes invincible then depressed i am her carer she has never had a job and never went to college past drug use alcohol abuse self harm stopped but 10 years of it in past never went to school more than 3 days a week has never had a good sleep pattern as a child attended bowel and bladder clinics and camh she was expelled from school for truancy and facial peircings has always had anxiety part medical part psychological can anyone help me

  16. ... my husband and I have alway looked after ourselves. He worked and I have stayed at home having a history of Stress Related Epilepsy and Osteoarthritis. He was made redundant three years ago and we have lived off of whatever savings we had until he eventually had to sign on for JSA. But it hasn't stopped there; because I wasn't working they said I wasn't entitled to that option anymore. Now I'm going through absolute hell. I have this test to go coming up and am getting so stressed about it. The medication I have been on for years at a steady level is now all over the place. My nerves and petit mal symptoms have returned after years of being free of them. What next a major convulsion? My Son died recently from epilepsy - don't let anyone tell you it isn't a serious medical problem. A Caring Country? I think NOT. I didn't ask for any benefits from the system - ever - so why am I having to be through this hell I'm living in now.

  17. I had my letter 2 days ago & I havent slept since, my doctor has told me not to worry because of the conditions that I have I am unable to work, but reading the above it does not seem to matter, I have worked since the age of 14 part time & full time since I was 18( sometimes holding down 3 jobs at one time to make ends meet), I am 38 now & was retired due to ill health 2 years ago, I have 2 benign brain tumors , 1 of which has doubled in size this year, I have little to no control over my bladder or bowels, I can not walk to my local shop due to feet & back pain,I am due to have 4 operations this year alone, each of which I am left with an open wound that needs packing daily & I am unable to get out of bed, I live with contant pain, am on the strongest pain relief available, am sick every single day & spend most nights unable to sleep, I have become very depressed due to the condition that I have found myself in, do the goverment think that I want to be like this just to get the little bit of money that I get?? I was earning £2000 more a month that I get now I find it hard to pay my bills, if they take this away from me I will see no point in living anymore, but what do they care 1 less "scrounger" to deal with, well the tax & NI contributions that I have paid in my working life more that cover the "burden" that I now am, but do they care NO!! I would do anything to have my former life back,my self esteem, my indepedence, my friends, my job,my pride! but I have to live with the fact I may never get any of my past life back & now thanks to the Welfare cuts looks like I have an even bleaker life ahead.

  18. i agree my husband applied for dla his doc said he was unfit to work be off wok 12 months had number of operations but was turned down for dla they thought he wasnt disabled enough

  19. I`ve shot myself in the foot because I didn`t immediately appeal the atos desicion - I went for jobseekers thinking I could do my bit - And now I`m signed off by my GP because my polyarthritis does actually limit what I can do . There is no work for the fit , let alone a 60 year old arthritic guy. I get No benifits at all because my wife has a disability pension from the NHS where she worked and nearly broke her back doing her job - we have too much money coming in from that pension . She`s on morphine patches to keep her going . I hate this joke goverment more than I did Thatcher when she nearly had us out of our home when we were first married - BUT I`ll not let the bastards get me . I`m going to become a traveller and stuff the lot of them LOL !

  20. Some important information..If you have depression contact 'mind' tell them the way you are being treated they will help you.. Also call' turn 2 us' 08088022000 they are very good and will also help...check out if Atos 'hcp' are registered 0845 300 4472. Before going to any so called medicals write out your health problems identify yourself on the paper do this in front of a witness ,write a paragraph explaining that should your health become worse as a direct /even indirect result of the so called medical then that person will have legal action taken against them...after them or you reading this ask them to sign it again in front of a witness, always have someone with you at all times..Dont worry if when getting a report back that says no points or loads of lies. just write the word false with red pen through it...above all else please dont let them make you feel much worse than you already are,dont feel bad that you are ill and or disabled,,you didnt ask to be...I hear today that callous cameron has started to pick on people with cancer apparently while having chemotheraphy...I think that all this is going to go full circle and come back and bite him on his cruel a---e...mark my words.

  21. my daughter won appeal did not even have to go got phoned morning of appeal i was going on her behalf with care worker maybe being unable to go helps also had letter from psychiatrist backing up bi polar and anxiety so please everyone keep appealing you at least get paid during appeal the stupid thing is now they give her more money she was happy with what she was getting and free prescriptions and glasses and dental treatment all of these we were paying for as a family plus supporting her financially before she claimed nothing at all

  22. I've been on Incapacity benefit for a number of years. I had a medical around 3 years ago and they said I was fit for work. I appealed and won. Today I had to attend an ESA medical.
    I could tell that I will be once more deemed fit for work. I am so confused. I have trawled the net looking for info and all I find is confusion. It sounds like I will have to attend work related interviews. But I never go out alone. I have anxiety and depression and go out accompanied to well know places infrequently, but they say I can work. It makes no sense. I would love to work and have said I will work from home but still they say I have to attend work related interviews. It just makes me feel even more useless and pathetic trying to explain this to them.

  23. I am suffering from severe depression and anxiety and arthritis. I am in chronic pain all of the time, been on ESA for 5 months still no medical as of yet. On the forms I sent to ATOS I stated that I will be recording the medical and prior to the medical I require the name and BMI number of the doctor who carries it out and also, that if they cause me any pain whatsoever I will hold them completely responsible meaning that I will sue the arse off of them, I stressed that the recording is for myself and that it's up to them if they wish to record it too as it is my right to do so. These lying cheating bastards must be stopped. I have never had so much stress caused just claiming what I am entitled to... Come on, my doctor has signed me off for God's sake!!! The system really sucks... RECORD THE MEDICAL If you have to go there, TELL THEM PREVIOUSLY ON the ATOS form YOU WILL BE DOING SO. It is your right to record it for your own safety. I may be ill but I am not bloody stupid!!! Good Luck!!!

  24. Hi all,
    If after the medical they find me fit for work,when I appeal will they still make me look for work,or is that suspended until my appeal.I am bewildered by it all.


    1. Hi Chris,

      First of all when you appeal you are put back on the assessment rate of employment support allowance. This should happen as soon as they receive your GL24 appeal form, available to download or from any jobcentre plus. Do this as soon as you know that you have failed. During this time, awaiting a tribunal (usually about 6 months) you do not have to look for work but must send in sick notes from your GP. Try and get as much info as possible about the medical itself, try the consumer action group forums, there's loads of info there, you may not fail the medical but be prepared. Just to clarify you won't have to look for work awaiting your appeal and you will still get money.

      Hope this helps (i have just failed my medical, only got 6 points and am now appealing).

      all the best,