Published: 20th May, 2011
by PETER GRUNER
A SERIOUSLY disabled man was put through the “humiliating” experience of having to beg for financial support under controversial new rules imposed by the coalition government.
Former housing worker Patrick Lynch, 52, who uses a wheelchair, said that, despite having to prove at an hour-long assessment that he could not walk, he was later refused benefits and declared fit to work.
It was only after his MP, Emily Thornberry, the shadow Health and Social Care Minister, took up his case that government employment agency Jobcentreplus finally agreed to pay for his support.
Now, following Ms Thornberry’s intervention, and in a move with wider national implications, the agency has apologised to Mr Lynch and agreed to change its procedures.
In an article in the Tribune, Employment Minister Chris Grayling pledged that the new rules would not force people back to work if they were unable to do so.
Mr Lynch, from Moreland Mews, off Liverpool Road, Angel, worked for housing charity Centrepoint for 20 years until last year.
He suffers from a slowly developing illness, syringomyelia, caused by a cyst between the brain stem and spinal cord. With little movement or strength in his limbs, he has a carer for 18 hours a week, helping him dress and prepare meals.
Mr Lynch was in hospital for six months last year following a life- saving operation to improve his condition.
He was assessed by a GP at the Archway offices of Atos, a private firm used by the government to determine whether or not people are fit for work. Atos has been the target of demonstrations by campaigners who claim its methods are unfair.
Mr Lynch said: “The GP tried to be friendly but I suspect he wasn’t enjoying the interview any more than I was.
“I was asked to stand up, walk and pick something off the floor. I can do all these things to a degree without support but it’s very painful and I get extremely tired.
“Significantly, the doctor didn’t know a lot about my condition. I brought my medical notes but he obviously didn’t have time to read them and I had to leave them for him.”
Ms Thornberry said the agency had sent Mr Lynch confusing and contradictory letters.
“I complained and they have apologised and agreed to change their procedures,” she said.
“The government seem to be working to a target to reduce the number of people receiving benefits. But they are not looking at individual cases and that worries me. Clearly, Mr Lynch’s case illustrates how bad it can get if people just look at targets.”
In a letter to Ms Thornberry, JobCentrePlus district manager Rilesh Jadeja apologised for stress caused to Mr Lynch, adding that he would be entitled to compensation.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “If someone disagrees with a decision made, they can ask for it to be looked at again. In the majority of cases the original decision is upheld but when it isn’t often it is the result of new evidence being supplied by the customer.”