Distressed, ashamed and hopeless – the experience of being ‘fit for work’

‘Because she can’t afford the bus fare out of the £106 a fortnight she is left with, she walks to and from the library every day.’ Photograph: Alamy

Valerie, 60, has been diagnosed with depression. Her husband died in 2013 and she was signed off work by her GP and made a claim for employment and support allowance (ESA). When she received notice of a work capability assessment (fit-for-work test) six months later she was anxious, but thought she would be able to explain why she was unable to work at that time.

She became distressed in the waiting room before the assessment, but when the doctor from Maximus, the US company contracted to carry out the tests, soothed her and talked through her problems, she felt there was a human connection and understanding.

In fact, Valerie scored zero points and was found fit for work.

She was placed on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and instructed to carry out a daily online job search in order to meet the conditions. Valerie had never used the internet before and had no broadband connection or laptop. She went on an IT course, but felt out of her depth and was sanctioned for not doing enough “job-related activity”: she simply wasn’t recording things properly online. The local library where she can use the internet for free is a one and a half mile walk from her home and the return bus fare would be £4.50 a day.

Valerie receives £146.20 in JSA every fortnight and from this £40 goes on her contribution to her rent and the bedroom tax. She would have been exempt from the bedroom tax when her husband was alive because he was over 65. She received a bereavement exemption for a year and became eligible to pay it around the anniversary of his death. There are no one-bedroom properties available for her to move to, and she would prefer to stay in her home as her only friend lives on the same street. Because she can’t afford the bus fare out of the £106 a fortnight she is left with, she walks to and from the library every day.

Valerie has been applying for jobs for 12 months and has only had one interview. She tried to claim ESA again six months ago after she reached a new low and her GP gave her a medical certificate saying she was not fit for work. She was then called to another work capability assessment and was found fit for work again. She scored zero points once more and is back walking to the library five times a week, looking for work.

She hasn’t had time to grieve, which makes her depression worse, as does the fear of the job-hunting process. Her landline was cut off and she rarely puts credit on her mobile as she wants to keep up with rent, the bedroom tax and eating (eating always comes last). She worries about being late for an appointment and not being able to call and so getting sanctioned again.

Source: Distressed, ashamed and hopeless – the experience of being ‘fit for work’ | Dawn Howley | Society | The Guardian

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17 thoughts on “Distressed, ashamed and hopeless – the experience of being ‘fit for work’

  1. Helen

    Poor Valerie. If she was able to have help from someone to search Benefits and Work, an online organisation that has much information on claiming Benefits and appealing wrong decisions she may be able to see how to answer the questions these uncaring people ask. Also they have details on the point system used when being assessed.
    I wish here all the best for the future.

  2. Jeffery Davies

    The great swindle carries on all the so called monies saved returned back to these companies who inreturn give their backhanders to the tories isnt life grand when the rich trample over those sick to thieve their pennies jeff3

  3. Mr.Angry

    Totally immoral this poor poor woman, my heart goes out to her. God I hate this government with avengeance, I pray for their demise and that something terrible happens to them.

  4. rockingbass

    Disgusting …..Where is the excellent help which used to be given by Job Centres?….Why are they not paying for Valerie’s bus fare to her local library?Why are they not helping her with her computer skills?…why have they taken public computers away from Job Centres? Why are they not helping to mentor her back into work? What qualifications had the person who examined her at the Fit for Work Assessment?….Why has the GP not referred Valerie on to the local Mental health team for help with her depression?Why has the Job Centre not referred Valerie back to there doctors?…..I hope Valerie contacts Mind her GP ,Job Centre Advisor and her M P and seeks help now….and gets this sorted out……Remember if it was not for Frank Field, Tony Blair and the Labour Party Valerie would of been entitled to a State Pension at 60…not so long ago…..Our politicians should be ashamed of themselves……

  5. Dez

    Regret this is now becoming a very similar tale from many sources and reflects the Governments program of bonus generated benefit cut backs and lack of knowledge of what it is like to live in these conditions on such pathetic payments.

  6. Glynis

    Its shameful that we can treat our ageing widows like this – I too am in a similar position to Valerie I am 58 my husband died in 2013 I didnt even qualify for JSA because I had been nursing him and didnt have enough NI contributions in the 2 years preceeding his death – Where has all our husbands state pension gone – why cant we have 50% share. at the very least …….it was afterall our Joint earnings that paid for it…………

    1. Responsibility

      I would like to help please? Where does Valerie live? Town? NOBODY SHOULD GO TO A WORK CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT UNACCOMPANIED !!!! Always get a knowledgeable Friend to take you!! And APPEAL, APPEAL, APPEAL because they are generally an absolute disgrace!!! Go to Citizens Advice and get help from the CAB, who may sometimes be able to help with an Accompanier, to take a sick person to these awful assessments.

  7. Jonno

    Do you think you would benefit from some bereavement counselling? It could even lead to getting some advice or action to get you the financial help that you are probably being denied. I hope you find a solution soon

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I don’t think Valerie is reading this; the article was reblogged from the mainstream media.

  8. Barry Davies

    The WCA isn’t fit for purpose if you think of it as an actual work capacity assessment, unfortunately it is no such thing, hence people on life support, or such as my 68 year old friend who has been on DLA for 20 years are found fit to work, this means the government don’t have to spend as much money on the disabled so they can give tax cuts to the rich, which in their eyes means the WCA is working perfectly just as they designed it.

  9. Helen Jackson

    What a shameful society we live in now! The stark truth is that if this lady were a criminal, she would be well cared for in prison, with no problems with paying bills, having enough to eat or keeping warm – nor would she have to look for work. Because she is honest, she is being treated like dirt by the system – for the “crime” of being left a widow.

    That says everything about the government’s sense of values.

  10. Gary Aronsson

    This is but the beginning ,in a few years time we will be looking back on this time as the Good Old Days! What makes me livid is the bull headed refusal of so called Socialists to recognise that unrestricted mass immigration robs the British working class of the scarcity value of their labour.
    Try and picture a Britain which DIDN’T have net immigration of several hundred thousand people every year,and still rising! Without this British employers would be falling over themselves to employ anybody they could get their hands on.This lady would find well paid employment by simply poping into the first shop she came to.And for anybody who thinks that this is impossible it was the historic reality in postwar Britain.My own mother had THREE jobs in less than 25 minutes,no interviews,no crap about CV’s and qualifications.She simply went to the very next factory and was IMMEDIATELY taken on,didn’t like it so she left and went LITERALLY next door and was IMMEDIATELY employed!
    This is how Britain was after WW2 and it was the reason why our Ruling Elite instigated mass immigration,beginning with the arrival of the SS Windrush.We still have an official 1.8 million people registered as unemployed yet our government,AND the LABOUR PARTY happily applaud ever more immigration and label those who oppose it as NAZIS or BIGOTS!
    Without the importation of well over 300,000 extra workers every single year into Britain to directly compete with our own people the level of unemployment would long since have dropped to zero and people like this lady,who find it difficult to cope with the ferocious conditions of our jobs market ,would be in the wonderful position of being pursued by employers increasingly eager to snap up ANYONE even half conscious rather than go without staff.Without the constant inflow of third world peasants British employers would be happy to employ anyone regardless of experience,age or health problems! If you REALLY want to help people like this lady stop robbing them of the scarcity value of their labour,in the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king.In a nation with ZERO immigration and a growing economy ANYONE is better than no one.

  11. mrmarcpc

    Poor Valerie but she is one of many that are suffering in our country right now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon!

  12. Michelle

    Can’t always read more than a few of your posts at one time Mike, this one brought me to tears because Valerie like so many carries heavy unseen struggles, our society is so harsh yet so many don’t even recognise it.

Comments are closed.