14 heart attacks and failing kidneys – you’ll soon be fit for work

How sick do you need to be before the DWP will admit that you are probably never going to work again?

Very sick indeed if your kidneys are failing, as two recent decisions show with brutal clarity.

Paul Mickleburgh, one of the world’s longest surviving kidney dialysis patients is hooked up to a dialysis machine for five hours, three days a week.  He’s also had cancer and pneumonia and  suffers from spontaneous internal bleeding, brittle bones a twisted bowel and agonising joint pains as a result of his renal treatment.  He’s had four failed kidney donations.

To top it all off, Paul has had 14 heart attacks in the last five years and believes his last attack was caused in part by the stress of trying to deal with the DWP.  Sadly, patients with chronic kidney disease are actually more likely to die from associated heart disease than from kidney failure itself.

In spite of this, Paul has been placed in the work-related activity group,(external link) meaning that he is someone who is expected to return to the workplace in the reasonably near future.  Paul’s request for this dreadful decision to be looked at again came back with the same result – he should be moving towards a return to work.

We hope that Paul is now appealing . . . and that his heart will stand the stress.

More desperate still is the story of Karen Sherlock, a disability activist connected to the Spartacus campaign, whose kidneys were failing and who was waiting to be put on dialysis.  In spite of her very serious condition, Karen was placed in the work-related activity group, meaning that her benefit would soon stop altogether because of the time limit on contribution-based ESA.

Karen spent many months fighting that decision.  Two weeks ago she finally won her exhausting battle with the DWP and was placed in the support group.  

This week she died of a heart attack.

According to a fellow campaigner (external link):

“She was terrified. Beside herself with fear. She lived her last months desperately scared that her family would not survive the onslaught it faced.  . . . The system failed her and she spent her last precious moments in this world fighting. For herself, for her family and for others.

“She was one of us. She was Spartacus. And now she's dead and she died in fear because the system failed her, because cruel men refused to listen and powerful men refused to act.

“She spent her last months fighting for the "security" of £96 a week and the reassurance that it couldn't be taken away.”

Last month, in a speech to Work Programme providers at the  Institute of Economic Affairs (external link), Chris Grayling the Employment minister explained why the Work Programme is not making the profits for the private sector that had been hoped for.  His explanation as to why the much prized incapacity benefit to ESA transfer claimants – for whom providers get paid £14,000 when they place them in work – are in short supply, touches directly on the fate of Karen Sherlock and others like her:

“We have more people fit for work, and moving to JSA. We have more people needing long term unconditional support than expected. And those in the middle [work-related activity] group, who would expect before too long to be mandated to the Work Programme, have proved to be sicker and further from the workplace than we expected. So it will take far more time than we predicted for them to be ready to make a return to work.”

In other words, providers will have to be patient, but eventually those £14,000 a time claimants will be handed over to them . . .  unless, like Karen Sherlock and an increasing number of other seriously sick people, they die before the bounty can be claimed.

Combined with an increasingly brutal benefits regime are cuts in funding to the very agencies who can help claimants fight the worst of these decisions.

In May of this year, the Legal Aid Bill became law. This means that legal aid for most welfare rights, housing, employment and debt issues will be withdrawn completely next year, causing a huge cut in the income of many advice agencies and law centres.

Coupled with ongoing cuts in support to the voluntary sector from local authorities, this means there will be a dramatic fall in the availability of free advice – or indeed advice of any kind - and a considerable increase in the number of advisors who are out of work or working only part-time.

Last October we asked Benefits and Work newsletter readers what they thought of the idea of a website where freelance welfare rights workers could advertise their services.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, but with concerns regarding such things as cost, privacy and the reliability and genuineness of advisors.

After much thought, we’ve now set up a website to take the idea of a freelance service forward.  At the heart of the new site is an Advisors Code of Conduct which we hope will deal with many of the concerns you expressed.  

We’d be very grateful if you could take the time to take a look at the Code and let us know your thoughts, by commenting on the Help and Advice Plus blog (external link).

If we do decide to begin the service there will be no charge for at least six months to advisors who use it, whilst we pilot it.

As always, there’s much more news in the members area than we have room for in this newsletter, including:

A protest by disabled workers and a horse outside the offices of Disability Rights UK

GPs at the British Medical Association unanimously call for the work capability assessment to be scrapped

Many thanks to everyone who has sent in news stories over the last fortnight, including: Beverley Hymers, John Pring, Jim Allison, papasmurf, Crazydiamond.

Following new guidance on the use of aids and appliances in relation to the work capability assessment, we’ve updated our guide to claiming ESA on physical health grounds.  We’re also currently working on updating the guides to claiming DLA for children, following the national roll-out of new claim packs.


Finally, as always,  a selection of good news from the forum:

Placed in ESA Support Group with no medical assessment
“Thanks to the great information on this wonderful site i was automatically placed in support group and no medical”

DLA middle rate care and low rate mobility and ESA Support Group

“Thank you all once again the guides were priceless in my case”

Migrated from IS to ESA Support Group without medical assessment
“Thank you all at benefits and work for the excellent guides”

DLA success, high rate mobility and middle rate care
“Many thanks B&W, well worth the subscription”

Placed in ESA Support Group and not called for medical assessment
“just wanted to say thank you to this site & the online guides”

Son’s DLA successfully renewed after reaching age 16

“Have used your fabulous guides and my son's DLA has been renewed for post 16”

From IB to ESA Support Group for 3 years
“I cannot thank your website enough, I studied your information guides and know that this would not have happened without your help”

Moved from IS to ESA Support Group without medical assessment
“I just wanted to say thanks for the helpful guides you offer.”

Indefinite award of high rate mobility and middle rate care DLA on renewal
“Just proves your guides really do work as all I did was follow the guide to the letter”

Transferred from IB to ESA Support Group
“Thanks Benefits and Work”

Placed in ESA Support Group for 2 years
“Thank you to benefits and work for helping me word the form in the correct way”

After 3 years of “hard struggle” placed in ESA Support Group
“a big thank you to you all for your help and advice”

0 points to Support Group on revision
“I am a bit disappointed if I am honest as I wanted to be in the WRAG group.”

Successful DLA claim for high rate mobility
“I couldn't have done it without using your guide to claiming DLA. I can't thank you enough!”

You are welcome to reproduce this newsletter on your blog, website, forum or newsletter provided it is properly attributed to www.benefitsandwork.co.uk

You can also read this newsletter online. (Open access).

Good luck,

Steve Donnison

Benefits and Work Publishing Ltd
Company registration No.  5962666

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