Tag Archives: blind

Victory for Hazel Macrae – DWP u-turns on decision that blind disabled woman is fit for work

Hazel MacRae from Byker, who has won her case against the DWP [Image: Newcastle Chronicle].

Well done, everyone who kicked up a fuss about the unfair and farcical decision to find Hazel MacRae fit for work.

The DWP has reversed its decision in an unusually hasty about-face. Was the publicity getting a bit rough, guys?

The joy of it is that people still aren’t letting this go. Check out some of the comments on the Chronicle story detailing the happy news:

Here’s Longsufferingfan: “This is not an unusual occurrence, about 60% + of people who are rejected win on appeal. the System is set up to reject people and hope that they don’t appeal. It needs overhauling but so far the Govt are happy with the way it is performing as it works in their favour!”

And Ruiseart adds: “This woman is just one of many, many thousands of people who the government has directed the DWP and the assessment companies to declare “fit for work” in an attempt to save money on the welfare bill.

“Examining the figures shows that had they left every person they declared “fit” alone, and not tried to deny their disabilities, they would have spent £millions LESS!

“The whole assessment regime is designed to fail the people the DWP is supposed to be helping and it should be scrapped and the people behind it should be hauled up before a court and charged with MULTIPLE MURDER!”

Feel free to add your own observations, here or on the Chronicle‘s site.

Blind and epileptic Hazel MacRae has won her appeal after a public outcry was sparked when she was deemed ‘fit for work’.

The 62-year-old received the good news on Wednesday after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) performed a u-turn.

Hazel’s fight made headlines across the country after the Chronicle revealed how she had been classed as fit for work despite being blind since birth and suffering with epilepsy, Type 2 Diabetes and osteoarthritis.

But that decision has now been reversed, and Hazel, of Walker, could not be happier.

She said: “I can’t thank the Chronicle enough for their help . The support I have been getting is fantastic.”

Source: Victory: Blind Hazel Macrae wins her fight after she was deemed fit for work by DWP – Chronicle Live


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The tide is turning as blind benefit claimant’s tale provokes backlash against DWP

Hazel MacRae from Walker, who has been told she is fit to work despite being blind, epileptic and suffering from osteoarthritis [Image: Newcastle Chronicle].

The Tories are going to have to find a new narrative, as it seems the “workshy” angle has stopped working.

Readers of at least one local newspaper reacted angrily to the Department for Work and Pensions’ decision to make a blind woman, who has diabetes, epilepsy and osteoarthritis, look for work.

This Site’s own Facebook page has received a few pertinent comments after I put the story up on Vox Political.

Susan Fairweather wrote: “In a decent society not only would this lady get all benefits she is entitled to but she would have extra funding to improve her quality of life – such as entitlement to a guide dog without having to rely on charity and waiting for years. What type of job could she do, realistically? These ‘assessors’ are criminals.”

Jackie Motti added: “ANOTHER unfair and tragically unnecessary case of abuse and discrimination which will make this poor lady’s health worse…. shameful (for normal people with hearts…. Tories don’t have them) bless everyone in this position and hopefully this bloody awful government will collapse very soon! The real SCROUNGERS are banks, landlords, tax avoiders and the like …. and the bloody MPS themselves!”

Here’s Kathleen Garrett: “Disgraceful and inhumane. The tories have manipulated the system and the people of Britain into believing it’s our poor and vulnerable that are to blame for austerity. They have distracted us from the real culprits. The rich and the downright greedy who don’t pay any taxes into our system but take from it. Shame on us.”

Simon Balfre wrote: “The Conservative Party and the media have created this insane idea that welfare recipients are a drain on the economy.

“Do welfare recipients hold onto their money and keep it out of circulation? Of course they don’t, they can’t afford to. Every penny of the pittance they receive goes back out again.

“It’s the obscenely wealthy who siphon off millions into off shore tax havens, and find all manner of ways to avoid paying tax, who are the real drain on the economy.

“And I’m not the only one who has figured this out.”

He’s not – This Writer has been saying it on This Site for a considerable period of time!

But Tracey Kay warned: “There are still too many people who think benefits are a lifestyle choice. Who would like to be targeted incessantly for the crime of having a disability or illness? It can happen to any of us at any time and the way the tories are ‘reforming’ the system there will soon be no safety net left for any of us.”

A decision to deem a blind, house-bound 62-year-old ‘fit for work’ has been branded “absolutely shameful” by Chronicle readers.

Hazel Macrae, who also suffers from epilepsy, Type 2 Diabetes and osteoarthritis, was claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – until she was told she has “limited capacity for work”.

Her benefits were slashed by £15 and she was told she would be trained to find a job – even though she can’t leave the house by herself and isn’t able to make a cup of tea.

Brian Lewis said: “I’m all for disabled people making the best of a poor situation but the DWP need to get a grip and use some common sense here, what realistically can Hazel do for a sustainable job?”

Sandra Weaver said: “Absolutely shameful. As if the poor woman hasn’t got enough to worry about. Who are these people making these decisions? It’s disgusting.”

Sheilagh Barlow said: “Where is the DWP’s accountability? They cause so many people great distress that it’s totally unacceptable.

“The staff aren’t trained, they only train them to use a computer so when they don’t put in the correct information they get the wrong answer out!”

Many laid the blame firmly at the feet of the current Conservative government.

Daniel Gallagher said: “Look how people are targeting the “lazy work shy” instead of looking at the multi national corporations that don’t pay tax or the banks that got us into this mess in the first place.”

He added: “The Tories want us to blame each other but in actual fact the blame lies firmly at their feet.”

And some spoke of their own struggles appealing against similar decisions.

Natasha Barrett said: “The assessment process is a complete joke. The appeals process is very long and drawn out.

“I hope this lady doesn’t have to wait a year as I did. It also hurts to think that people don’t believe you when there is medical evidence from highly qualified consultants etc to back it up. Very, very sad to read.”

In spite of everything, the DWP still managed to be defiant in the service of its Tory masters. This is staggering ignorance:

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said many blind people and those over 60 can be supported back into work with training.

Source: ‘Absolutely shameful’: Readers react as blind, housebound 62-year-old deemed ‘fit for work’ – Chronicle Live


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While the Tories tinker with benefits, this is the reality for claimants

Hazel MacRae from Walker who has been told she is fit to work despite being blind, epileptic and suffering from osteoarthritis [Image: Newcastle Chronicle].

The future will be bleak for Hazel MacRae. While the Tories vow they are doing everything to make their murderous ‘benefit’ system fair, they are taking money away from her and trying to force her to find a job she can’t do.

Will she be able to survive on the reduced amount now available to her? The Tories don’t care.

Will she be able to find a job? Absolutely not, because firms simply would not spend money on adaptations for a disabled person who is unlikely to last very long in a job. The Tories don’t care.

Will she be stricken by the usual problems that afflict benefit claimants who are attacked by the Tory system – despair, mental ill-health, suicidal tendencies? Probably. The Tories don’t care.

If she doesn’t survive, the Tories will deny responsibility and enjoy the benefit saving. They consider her to be a “useless eater” and are probably looking forward to her becoming another statistic for their policy of chequebook euthanasia.

It’s all about money with the Tories, you see. They want it all, and don’t care who they take it from or how badly they will be harmed.

Blind since birth and stricken by a string of disabilities but told she is fit to work – this is the reality of Government benefit cuts.

Hazel Macrae, who also suffers from epilepsy, Type 2 Diabetes and osteoarthritis, was claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and was told she’d have to undertake a back to work assessment.

The 62-year-old filled in a questionnaire explaining she’s unable to leave her home without the help of her partner or son because she is afraid of falling, can’t use a pen or pencil, telephone, and would be unable to “move safely” in a workplace.

She was also required to meet with a health professional in Gosforth to undergo a face-to-face assessment where she was asked a series of questions about her daily activities.

Echoing the award-winning Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake – which was shot in Newcastle – Miss Macrae has been told she has “limited capability for work” and her ESA has been moved from the Support Group to Work Related Activity Group, and reduced by £15 per fortnight.

She said: “They think they can support me back into work but I can’t do it. There are no jobs that I can do.

“They have said that I can use my hands and I’m expected to apply for all jobs going… I can’t even make a cup of tea myself because of the boiling water.”

Source: Blind from birth, epileptic and unable to leave home alone – but Government says she’s fit to work – Chronicle Live


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Blind man sanctioned because he couldn’t read DWP letter – as Tory minister talks out anti-sanctions Bill

Damian Hinds, defending a sanctions regime that removed disability benefit from a man because he was incapable of reading the instructions the DWP sent him [Image: BBC].

Damian Hinds, defending a sanctions regime that removed disability benefit from a man because he was incapable of reading the instructions the DWP sent him [Image: BBC].

Oh, Britain. Look what you elected.

Yesterday we found out the following:

A severely disabled man had his benefits cut because he didn’t respond to a letter even though he is blind.

Alan Moody, 60, was declared unfit to work by his GP 10 years ago after being diagnosed with cerebellar atazia – a rare genetic brain condition.

Despite this, Alan – from Stanley, Co Durham – was summoned to a Department for Work and Pensions’ work capability assessment to qualify to receive Employment and Support Allowance of around £450 a month.

One of the effects of his condition is blindness and because of this he did not read the letter sent to him by the DWP.

As a result of his non-reply the DWP took the decision… to stop paying the allowance.

On the very same day we learned about the sanction system’s spectacular failure, a DWP minister was telling Parliament there was nothing wrong with it.

Work and Pensions Minister Damian Hinds, answering the second reading debate on the Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill, talked it out, meaning there was no time for a vote and the Bill was not allowed to progress:

Evidence does show that sanctions have a positive effect, he says.

The government ensures that claimants are made aware of the availability of hardship payments, and that these are made within three days, he says.

Mr Hinds says the existing legislation refers to “causes” rather than “reasonable causes” so that discretion can be used to assess whether a person has failed to comply with a condition of their benefits.

As he launches into a line by line response to the bill, the Deputy Speaker calls the debate to order.

Debate on the bill ceases at this point, and although Ms Black asks debate to resume in February, it is unlikely there will be any private members’ time left to return to the bill.

The Bill had been tabled by the SNP’s Mhairi Black, and was supported by Labour – whose Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams spoke in support of it.

She said the sanctions system was a “nonsense” and a “punitive regime”.

Others acquitted themselves much more poorly, like Tory David Nuttall, who allegedly shouted out that benefit claimants were “terrified they might get a job”, then proved less-than-courageous himself by refusing to defend the claim after being challenged over it.

Put it together and any fool can see that the Conservative Government is a national embarrassment that defends incompetence and punishes the worthy. Why did you elect it, Britain?

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Were MPs right to approve three-person babies?

150203threepersonbabies

MPs have voted in favour of the creation of babies with DNA from two women and one man.

The technique would be used to prevent mitochondrial disease, which may lead to brain damage, muscle wasting, heart failure and blindness.

It uses a modified version of IVF to combine the DNA of the two parents with the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman.

This results in babies with 0.1% of their DNA from the second woman and is a permanent change that would be passed down through the generations.

MPs were given a free vote, because this was a matter of conscience rather than political allegiance, and supported the introduction of the technique by 328 votes in favour, with 128 against, taking into account support from British Nobel Prize-winning scientists and 40 leading scientists from 14 countries.

150203threepersonbabies2

However, the Catholic and Anglican Churches in England said the idea was not safe or ethical, not least because it involved the destruction of embryos.

This writer has doubts about it, too. Knee-jerk reaction was that this is eugenics – genetically engineering “better” human beings. But why should that be a bad thing if it doesn’t involve the deaths of people who were arbitrarily deemed inferior (as was the case with the Nazis)?

It is also interfering with nature – and do we really know what the results are going to be? There are unanswered questions.

That being said, if the technique exists, does anybody have the right to stop another person from using it – if the alternative is to have a child with disabilities and the attendant implications on quality-of-life?

Let’s have a poll.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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For the doubters: Iain Duncan Smith forced blind man to beg

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDHmXfdt2kU&feature=player_embedded]

This video shows Members of the Scottish Parliament hearing how a blind former health worker was reduced to begging as a result of the UK government’s welfare changes (I still refuse to call them reforms).

It is the gentleman’s personal account, in a letter being read to MSPs.

I’m publishing it here because I have received a couple of comments from another gentleman, putting forward the belief that the vast majority of those on disability benefits are scroungers. It’s a view that, polls suggest, is still held by a majority of the British public.

That view needs to be countered.

The video is nearly 10 minutes long. I urge those of you who might not want to spend that amount of time watching it to have patience; the information is good and it is worth hearing.

It’s only through finding out about what’s going on that people will ever be motivated to do something about it.

Otherwise, the vast majority of disabled people in the UK can look forward to a future as beggars.

Welfare reform: will the Lords hold their nerve?

Today (February 14), the House of Lords will be debating the Welfare Reform Bill from 2.30pm. This is the Bill they sent back to the Commons with seven amendments, which MPs reversed out of hand. The government went on to state it would us ‘financial privilege’ rules to push the legislation through Parliament in its original form – an entirely undemocratic move that has led many to question the legality of the government’s tactics, and some to call for the Queen to deny Royal Assent to the Bill, on the grounds that it will not have been passed “in good faith”.

I think we all know by now that the aim of this Bill is to harm disabled people. The government has tried to create a myth about them being “benefit scroungers”, sponging off the State, but that has not succeeded with anyone other than readers of the Daily Mail. Ministers just want to take money away from those who are least able to defend themselves. Shame on them.

The question now is whether the Lords are prepared to stand up to the Coalition. Will they oppose the derisory attitude of their counterparts in the Commons, or will they just roll over and let democracy die out? How do they feel about the fact that their amendments were overturned? What do they think about the ‘financial privilege’ furore?

I suppose we’ll find out this afternoon, starting at 2.30pm.

For those of you with a deeper interest in the issues, I urge you to read Sue Marsh’s Diary of a Benefits Scrounger, but I will leave you with a quotation from today’s column: “At some point we must say “enough”. At some point, we have to accept that we have a broken system, broken procedures and that “majority rule” is not enough. If we have no checks and balances, no way to influence outcomes or mitigate harm, then the Commons is effectively a dictatorship – once elected free to wreak havoc wherever they see fit. Nothing in a manifesto, no hint of things to come, just a majority, cobbled together to deny process.”

I warned last week that we are seeing the signs of a dictatorship here. Do you really want to live under tyranny?

Welfare Reform Bill: a request for information

In April last year I wrote to my MP, Roger Williams (Liberal Democrat) regarding the Welfare Reform Bill and changes to Disability Living Allowance. He had sent me a letter from Maria Miller (a DWP minister, I believe), claiming that it should reassure me. It didn’t.

Now, as the government is ramrodding this vile Bill through Parliament using a procedure that is not valid (as far as any of us can tell), I’d like to resurrect some of the issues I raised with him then, and ask whether any of them have changed in the 10 months since.

If any readers have answers for me, or stories about their own experiences, please send them to me via the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of the page.

‘According to the letter,’ I wrote, ‘there will be an “objective assessment of an individual’s need”, developed alongside “a group of independent specialists in disability, social care and health, which includes disabled people”. Who are these independent specialists? To which organisations do they belong? Are any of them members of groups which have previously criticised the assessment of Incapacity Benefit claimants, on which the DLA assessment will be based? This letter does not provide that information.’

Does anyone know, today, who these people might be?

‘The letter states: “I can assure you that it (the allegedly-objective assessment of an individual’s need) will not only take into account physical impairments, but also mental, intellectual, sensory and cognitive ones. We also recognise the importance of ensuring that it effectively takes account of variable and fluctuating impairments.”

‘Before continuing, I would like to point out that taking information into account is not the same as making a decision based on it, and this comment cannot, therefore, be taken as an assurance of fairness.

‘As I understand it, the assessment will be carried out with the help of a computer, as has been the case with Incapacity Benefit since the new assessment for that benefit was introduced. Is this really the best way of analysing a person’s fitness for work? I don’t think so, and neither do charities working with the disabled, who have described it as a “blunt and unsophisticated tool”.

‘Let’s stay with the Incapacity assessment for a while. I think it is useful to use it as a way of gauging how the new DLA assessment will work because the latter will be based on the former. Since its preliminary rollout in 2008, we have all heard how people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work. In addition, people with mental health problems have complained their condition has not been taken seriously, and people with complex illnesses report that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems. “Ensuring that it effectively takes account of variable and fluctuating impairments”? It doesn’t seem likely, in my opinion. Certainly not “effectively”.

‘A revised, even more stringent version of the assessment means blind claimants who can get around safely with a guide dog will be forced onto jobseekers allowance, as will deaf claimants who can read and write. Taking into account sensory impairments? Do you think this claim is justified?’

Is this still true?

‘To continue receiving benefit, a person must score 15 points. However:

‘*Claimants who can’t walk but who can use a manual wheelchair will no longer score points;’

Still accurate?

‘*References to hands have been removed from the picking up activity specifically in order to make it harder for amputees to score points;’

Is this still the case?

‘and *Some activities have simply been cut from the test altogether. For example, the activity of ‘Bending and kneeling’, for which 30 points are currently available, is to be completely removed for ‘health and safety reasons’ as people should not ‘bend forward when lifting’.’

Is this still the case? It seems strange to cut something from a test for health and safety reasons when at-work threats to a person’s health and safety are precisely the reason they are taking the test!

‘Half of all the scoring descriptors for mental health and learning difficulties have also been axed, making it much harder to get benefit for people with conditions such as depression or anxiety.’

Still true?

‘At the end of each session, the computer program generates a 25-page report summarising the person’s general state of health, and fitness for work. People with severe health problems who have been given zero points say that they have told their assessors what was wrong with them, and been met with a “computer-says-no” response.’

Still true?

‘Receipt of DLA means many claimants can also get free improvements to their homes from Social Services,’ I wrote. ‘How are disabled people supposed to get these improvements if they are downgraded to Jobseeker’s Allowance, which provides a lower amount that will be entirely spent on subsistence?’

I added that there is a level of vindictiveness in the assessment system, also.

‘The Guardian has reported on one man who was given only nine points in his first WCA, but went to tribunal, where the judge found him eligible for the higher level of benefit. Shortly after the tribunal he was called for another assessment, and this time was awarded zero points. At the time the article was printed, he was waiting to appeal a second time.

‘Part of the assessment has assessors extracting information sideways from claimants. People are asked: ‘Do you watch EastEnders or Coronation Street?’ If they say yes, then that’s interpreted as meaning they can sit in a chair for 30 minutes, and that they can concentrate for 30 minutes, and the assessor can then put this on their profile as indicating they are able to work. Ability to watch a TV show does not equal ability to work.

‘Assessors observe the claimants’ demeanour during the test. One report, explaining why a woman with mental health problems had been found ineligible for the benefit, states as justification that she “did not appear to be trembling . . . sweating . . . or make rocking movements”. The DWP manual states “rocking may indicate anxiety”. It may indeed, but this is not – and should not be interpreted as – the only possible indication of anxiety.

‘Let’s get back to the letter,’ I wrote. ‘It states: “Currently there are 11 possible different rates at which DLA can be paid, which makes it complex to administer. We are proposing two rates of benefit payable for each component. This will simplify the overall structure and make it easier to understand.” Hold on a moment! So what this means is the current system involves a bit of thought on the part of administrators that, reading between the lines, the current government is not prepared to support. Simplifying the structure would mean fewer different rates of payment – so there’s a saving to be made there – and also there will be a need for fewer people to administrate the system – so there’s another saving to be made.

‘This is all about money, isn’t it? Mr Grayling can carry on that there are no targets until he’s blue in the face, but the facts are telling a different story.’

I’m willing to bet that none of the above has changed, but I’d like to read comments from people who are more familiar with the system than I am.

I’d like to leave you with this thought: In 1930s Germany, the Nazis had the Jews. In today’s UK, the Coalition has the disabled. How long will it be before someone dies?

Or has that happened already?