Spartacus Stories

Here is a collection of Stories written by many different disabled people about the impact that DLA has on their lives. It also includes stories of fear about the proposed changes to personal independence payment.

Admin: benefitscroungingscum, Lucia and Lucy
to add your story email us at spartacusstories @ g mail . com (without the spaces) (your posts are there, just being scheduled throughout the day) (can you add how you want your 'name' to appear ta)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Davids story #spartacusreport #spartacusstories

I don't get DLA, my walking difficulties mean I may well be eligible, but
after the ordeal that was my Work Capability Assessment for ESA, I simply
can't face putting myself through another assessment, and in fact I am
struggling with my ESA renewal for the same reason.

We hear ministers bleating that DLA is unassessed, and yes, a lot of people
are on lifetime awards, but really, when was the last time a missing limb
grew back? If DLA is unassessed, why do my friends who do receive it fear
their renewals so much? Might it be that certain ministers are being
conservative with the truth?

They tell us that PIP will have more rigorous assessments than DLA, let me
tell you about my ESA Work Capability Assessment, and you decide if that is
what you want to put DLA recipients through (and remember, unlike ESA which
is an out of work benefit, DLA recipients include children and pensioners).

I became unemployed just after ESA and the WCA were introduced, but
initially elected to claim JSA, in large part because of the stories already
coming out about the way the WCA system was failing disabled people. But ESA
wasn't that easy to avoid and it rapidly became clear that JCP were utterly
incapable of dealing with someone who was either disabled or highly
qualified, and god help you if you were both. The end result was a complaint
to ministerial level, abject apologies from JCP, and a request that I
transfer onto ESA.

My first WCA assessment was scheduled for May 6th, 2010 at the local ATOS
Assessment Centre, and what an ill-omened day that turned out to be! The
building is located in the centre of town and has no on-site disabled
parking, so is utterly unfit for purpose before you even get to the door.
There is a public disabled car park some 150m away, but that regularly
requires a wait of over 30 minutes to find a space in it and like many
disabled people I cannot walk even 50m without experiencing significant
pain. The next nearest disabled parking is 350m away. If you can manage to
get to the building access at the door is via intercom, so how someone deaf
and/or without speech is supposed to manage is a mystery. The DDA and the
Equality Act both require service providers to make provisions based on the
likely needs of their clientele, so a building whose entire clientele is
disabled should make a significantly greater degree of access provision than
most, yet the vast majority of ATOS assessment centres, even new ones, fail
to meet even the most basic standards of accessibility.

I had informed ATOS in advance via the ESA50 form that I would require
adjustable seating because of the difficulty in sitting that results from my
disability, which is in fact the core of my problems regarding working, so
pretty much fundamental to the whole assessment process. None had been
provided. The tattily-dressed individual who checked my ID led me into a
waiting room filled with cheap, non-adjustable seating completely
inappropriate to the needs of a client population containing a high
proportion of people with musculo-skeletal and pain and fatigue based
disorders. Within seconds of trying the seating I had realised that I was
completely unable to sit on it in any comfort, only by rolling sideways onto
my hip was I able to tolerate it at all. By the time I was called through,
something over 10 minutes later (despite apparently being the only client in
the building), I was in considerable distress, which only deepened when I
reached the examination room and found that the seating there was actually
worse. It was at this point that I discovered the tattily-dressed individual
was actually the doctor who was supposed to assess me, not the caretaker as
I had first assumed. I pointed out that I had told ATOS I needed an
adjustable seat and his reaction was 'Oh, you'll just have to book another
appointment'. He then admitted that this was not the first time this problem
had occurred, that they had asked for adjustable seating to be supplied and
that they had been told by their regional management to 'make do with what
you have'.

I returned home having wasted my time and experienced major amounts of pain
as a result. That pain triggered a massive flare-up in my condition and I
spent the following week on the floor of my bathroom as I was wracked by one
muscle-spasm after another, not knowing even what day it was. I eventually
managed to get to my GP, who doubled the strength of my opiate painkillers,
which brought the flare-up under control, but at the cost of my wandering
around in a daze for several months. The loss of control in this kind of
flare-up is extremely distressing both physically and mentally and I was
completely unable to deal with mail during this period, simply the thought
of a letter from ATOS or DWP being sufficient to send my pain levels
sky-rocketing. Ultimately it took me six months to completely catch up with
my mail, at which point I discovered a letter from ATOS dated a week after
my initial WCA date and calling me for another WCA a few days later, which
needless to say I had not attended, being barely conscious at the time.

In late-August 2010 I received a letter from DWP stating that my ESA
payments had been stopped, from the week before my initial appointment,
owing to my failure to attend the WCA. I called the office the letter had
originated with and the person I spoke to was perhaps the only DWP employee
ever to have impressed me with competence and common sense. She immediately
accepted my inability to attend a WCA I was not aware of and noted that ATOS
had made no mention of their failure to provide a required reasonable
adjustment, but had simply stated that I had not completed the initial WCA.
When ATOS set out to deliberately portray their own error as a failing by
the victim of that error, and a failing with fiscal consequences, then there
is no way to interpret their actions as anything less than actively and
deliberately dishonest.

Thanks to an unusual outbreak of common sense at DWP, my claim was
eventually reinstated and a further WCA was arranged for mid-October, again
at the local assessment centre. This time I was met at the door with an
adjustable chair. Unfortunately I could not even raise the seat of the chair
to an appropriate level, nor did the seat angle adjust, the only hope I have
of a usable position if the seat isn't high enough. Again I was reduced to
rolling sideways onto my hip. This time the delay was not 10 minutes, it was
something over 45 minutes. By the time I was called through (with the
receptionist bringing the useless adjustable seat through after me) I was
physically shaking. It was a different doctor to my first appointment, but
again he was scruffily dressed in a tatty anorak. It is impossible to
conclude that this reflects anything other than a profound lack of respect
for their clientele on the part of ATOS medical staff.

My pain-management consultant has told me that is almost impossible to get
doctors who are not specialists in pain-management to comprehend just how
disabling pain is, and I was therefore concerned about how much of a
background the assessor had in chronic-pain based disabilities,
unfortunately his manner instantly convinced me that any question would be
interpreted negatively and I did not feel able to make my point. As the
session started I rapidly became aware that I was in so much pain that I was
not answering effectively and was making a case for myself that was not as
strong as it should have been. It also became rapidly apparent that the
doctor was profoundly irritated by my refusal to give yes or no answers. He
may have found it irritating, but any understanding of my condition required
that he listen to the details and I would not be swayed on this, though
undoubtedly many people who are less able to express themselves will have
been browbeaten into less than complete answers by his manner. It was also
extremely apparent that he was reading from a computer-based script, his
eyes fixed on the screen, and less than pleased with answers that did not
fit the format its questions mandated. As a result of this there was an
almost complete refusal to make eye contact, destroying any sense that he
was truly engaging with me.

More disturbingly, he chose to take umbrage at certain of my points. I do
not expect automatic complete agreement, but I do not expect to be told that
I am wrong to have tried to search out information on the assessment
process, particularly when his subsequent conduct proved the correctness of
that information, nor do I expect to be criticised for the way I have
described the effects of my disability on my walking, particularly when
later events demonstrated that I was being absolutely accurate.

Some 20-odd minutes into the assessment I reached my limits on my pain
tolerance, either I had to stand, or vomit. I spent the rest of the
assessment balanced on one leg and crutches and it was only at this point, a
cynic would say at the point he started to fear being found negligent in my
treatment, that the doctor finally broke script and started to treat me as
an individual. He asked several times whether I was able to continue, but by
that point I just wanted the WCA over with, I certainly wasn't about to put
myself through the process for a third time. He completed the physical part
of the assessment, but even then he criticised me for being unable to bend
my leg so he could tap my knee with his hammer.

WCA thankfully over, I made it back to my car on one leg and crutches, and,
even though it is a bare 5 minutes drive home, my pain levels were so high,
never mind the opiate painkillers, never mind the TENS machine, that I had
to give serious thought to pulling over. I spent the rest of the day in bed,
the first hour physically shaking.

In late-November 2010 I finally received the notification that I had been
placed into the Work Related Activities Group, which is where I believe I
should be, together with back-payment of all the ESA payments I had been due
since May, but the process had taken 10 months and caused me a considerable
amount of pain and physical distress, actually worsening my disability. The
treatment I received has convinced me that ATOS have a complete and utter
contempt for the needs of their clients that adds up to institutional
disability discrimination and that their medical assessors are happily
compliant in this. Sadly DWP is little better, my experience has been that
the system only works when you complain.

I got through the system because I am too bloody-minded to give in when
people erect barriers in front of me and because I am too articulate and
persistent to easily dismiss; but many people aren't as bloody-minded,
aren't as articulate, aren't as persistent and the system will be far more
of a nightmare for them than it was for me. And as I say, I am struggling to
deal with the fact I need to do it all again.

There are several million people in receipt of DLA, some of them are
children, some of them are elderly, some of them are vulnerable. Is this
really what we want to subject them too?

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