Published: 9 August, 2016
by TOM FOOT
A VULNERABLE woman has lost all her benefits after she arrived late for one of the government’s back-to-work medical assessments.
Elaine Dyer, from Kentish Town, rang ahead of her Work Capability Assessment (WCA) appointment in May to say she had missed her bus and was delayed.
The 59-year-old was told she would not be seen and later received a letter saying one of “the conditions” of keeping her benefits was being “on time” for assessments.
Her weekly Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – her only income – was immediately stopped and so has her housing benefit. It will not be reinstated until an appeal is heard in a process that often takes several months.
Ms Dyer said: “You wouldn’t treat a dog like that, would you? You wouldn’t take it out into the street and leave it there, with nothing to eat, and say, ‘go on then’. It’s madness. I feel like I’m back at school – they say, ‘sorry, you’re late’, that’s that, then.”
Ms Dyer was declared unfit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions following an assessment by contractor Atos in 2014. Because of a combination of physical and mental ailments, she was put into the “support group”, which is the DWP’s most vulnerable group of benefit claimants.
She said she has struggled with depression for most of her life following a severe trauma as a child and cannot walk far without stopping because of her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She said her conditions often mean she is in pain during the night and does not sleep well, meaning it is hard for her to reach some early-morning appointments.
Under government welfare reforms, introduced by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, disabled and long-term sick residents are assessed by the DWP’s contractor Maximus, to see whether they can are fit for work. Recent Maximus decisions reported in the New Journal include a man with just one functioning arm being told to find a job, and another man being ordered to return to work after suffering four heart attacks in a year.
Being taken off ESA leads to housing benefit and council tax relief being stopped and Ms Dyer said she had fallen into arrears.
Claire Glasman, who is helping Ms Dyer with her case at the Kentish Town women’s group Winvisible, said Camden council “could be doing more” to protect people who are left with nothing through this “cruel system”.
A DWP spokesman said: “We notify claimants in advance of their Work Capability Assessments; if they fail to attend their benefit may be affected.
“If a claimant has good cause for being unable to attend an assessment, a further appointment will be arranged.”