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Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn't have to?

Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?

Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.

The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.

This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”

Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”

Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.

She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:

“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”

Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.

“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”

The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.

We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?

“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”

Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.

“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”

This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.

Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.

“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”

Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?

And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!

Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.

“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.

“Hopefully this answers your queries.”

How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!

“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.

“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”

Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And – again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?

Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?

It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.

She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).

Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?

None at all.

Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.

But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?

None at all.

Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?

I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:

None at all.

There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.

*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.