A Thalidomide victim with a brain tumour who is blind in one eye and has trouble walking is battling against a decision by Atos that she is capable of “work related activity”.
Martine White, 50, is due to appear at a tribunal in which she will appeal against the decision which she fears could force her to take employment or face losing up to half of her benefits.
The mother of four from Burnley, Lancashire, is one of a number of victims of the morning sickness drug which left more than 500 people in Britain with severe birth defects who claim they are being unfairly treated by the Government’s controversial back-to-work assessors.
Mrs White, who has deformed arms and is facing spinal surgery which she fears could put her permanently in a wheelchair, was assessed by Atos and moved from incapacity benefit to the new employment and support allowance last year.
She was placed in the category which deemed she was capable of “work-related activity” which can require attending a “work-related interview” once a month and putting together a CV in order to continue receiving her benefits of £212.70 a fortnight.
Mrs White, whose late husband Michael was also affected by Thalidomide, has twice appealed against her assessment but has now been told to argue her case in front of a judge.
Her son Carl, who has given up work to help his mother who also has a full-time carer, said: “We got a letter last year which said you are going on work-related benefit and you will have to attend courses and the job centre to prepare for going back to work.
“It is causing so much tension that we don’t need. It is stressing my mum out to the point where she feels she has had enough. She constantly feels like she is being harassed,” he added.
Mrs White said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) already had evidence that she was incapable of work and would never be able to return to employment since giving up her job helping people with disabilities and learning difficulties.
“It is impossible. I can’t walk properly, I can’t stand, I can’t pick things up, I get dizzy with the brain tumour and I’m blind in one eye and deaf in both ears. It is depressing. What am I going to do,” she said.
Freddie Astbury of Thalidomide UK said Mrs White was not alone. “We have had this with people who have no arms or legs who need 24-hour care who are having to do the same thing and go to a tribunal. It is pathetic. It is causing a lot of stress.
“They have enough problems. Some of them are severely disabled; some are incontinent and are having to be forced into the shame of having to go through this procedure.”
A DWP spokesman said people placed in the work-related activity group were not expected to look for work or apply for jobs.
“The old incapacity benefits system condemned too many people to a life on benefits with little hope of moving back to work. Now people who can work will be given help to find a job while those who need unconditional support will get it,” he said.
The fight back against disability tests
In February 2012 Cecilia Burns, 51, from Strabane, Co Tyrone began a campaign after having her employment support allowance cut by £30 a week after undergoing an assessment even though she was still receiving treatment for breast cancer. The decision was overturned on appeal although she died six months later.
In August 2012, 150 disability rights campaigners protested outside Atos headquarters in London claiming its tests for disability allowances were damaging and distressing and had led to suicides. The company was also criticised for its role as a sponsor of the Paralympic Games.
In January 2013 former Labour minister Michael Meacher told Parliament that 1,300 people had died after being placed in the “work-related activity group”. Another 2,200 had died before the assessment came through. Another MP said a female constituent with Crohn’s disease had been told by assessors that she could return to work wearing a nappy.