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Paige Garratt may very well be the one that got away, as far as the Department for Work and Pensions is concerned.
Diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma – advanced cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs – the 22-year-old from Flintshire found herself fighting for her life.
Her fight was made much more difficult by the DWP – which, as regular readers of This Site will know, exists to make life as difficult as possible for the sick and vulnerable.
Advised that she would be entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the benefit that we are told is intended to help people with a long-term health condition or disability with the extra cost of living- Ms Garratt was hoping the money would pay for travel costs as she was having to visit the hospital three times a week.
But the assessor sent by the DWP decided that she was not sick enough to receive the benefit.
At the time of her interview, Ms Garratt was couchbound after a chemotherapy round, bald and so lethargic that she had to rest her head on the sofa arm or in her hands, but the assessor said she was physically able to take care of herself – and this person seemed to believe that her mental health was fine, even though she never asked any questions about it.
The conclusion regarding mental health is unsurprising because the PIP assessment never pays any attention to a claimant’s mental well-being. The revelation that no questions were asked about Ms Garratt’s mentality is surprising; I have attended several PIP interviews and it was discussed at length in those. But the decision letters made no reference to those discussions and PIP claimants certainly do not get any points if they are mentally ill.
More worrying still is the lack of attention paid to Ms Garratt’s physical condition. It seems the PIP assessment, a series of tick-box questions with yes/no answers – one example asks whether a claimant can prepare food alone – does not work for people with cancer.
And most worrying of all is the claim that Ms Garratt was not lethargic, when she could not even lift her head. That’s a flat lie – the kind of lie the DWP keeps claiming its assessors don’t make any more.
Put it all together and it seems clear that the intent was to deny Ms Garratt the benefits she was owed, thereby adding to the mental stress and physical incapacity caused by her illness.
Other claimants have been known to die after receiving this kind of treatment – although the DWP insists we are not to suggest that any fatalities are caused by its chequebook euthanasia-style behaviour.
Fortunately for Ms Garratt, the DWP’s best efforts proved to be in vain. Helped by a social worker, she successfully appealed against the decision and was awarded PIP in May this year – two months after she finished her chemotherapy.
A scan has shown she is now cancer-free, so I wonder how long she will be allowed to continue drawing the benefit.
And the DWP? It came out with the usual load of old flannel. “We have never spent more on benefits for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, totalling over £50bn a year – up £7bn since 2010.” This is a lie.
Still, the announcement that the DWP will pilot video recording of assessments may well lead to improved confidence in the process.
For now, Ms Garratt should consider herself lucky to be alive – in spite of the Department for Work and Pensions.
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