A recent survey revealed that 6% of GPs have patients who have either attempted or committed suicide due to “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” a Work Capability Assessment.
Fourteen per cent of doctors had patients who self-harmed as a result of this fitness-to-work test.
Another recent piece revealed the fears of severely disabled people being called for WCAs and the emotional stress this causes to their carers.
Various readers agreed with the concerns raised in these two articles. Some even contacted Independent Voices to share their own experiences and fears. One such person was Lynn.
Lynn is a parent carer for her son, 40. He has had schizophrenia and an emotionally unstable personality disorder for 22 years. He has a mental age of 15 and, says Lynn, will never be able to work due to the fact he doesn’t even believe he is ill and can’t accept how much help he will need in the future.
Last year, Lynn’s son was awarded Disability Living Allowance indefinitely, but she is concerned about him being assessed for Personal Independence Payment when it replaces DLA. This process is currently due to start next year.
Lynn fears that her son would be unable to cope during an assessment for PIP. She says that he would not allow her to attend the assessment with him and as his illness is invisible, and he is unable to describe the effects it has on him, an assessment could result in him losing this benefit:
Her son is unable to use public transport by himself, as a result of a paranoia caused by his mental health difficulties, and he believes “everyone is looking at him.” So, he travels everywhere by taxi, something he wouldn’t be able to afford without DLA. This would leave him stuck in his flat, lonely and isolated, relying on his aging parent carers to provide more practical support, such as taking him shopping.
Lynn, as his mother, knows her son better than anyone. She knows that his illness has reached a point where he won’t improve significantly any time soon. Lynn says that her son’s psychiatrist has provided her with a letter, to be given to the DWP if he should be called for an assessment, explaining how the assessment process would affect his mental health. If such medical evidence is provided, says Lynn, PIP awards should be indefinite.
She believes that people like her son, who have severe and enduring mental illnesses, haven’t got a voice, and ultimately, that such people should be excluded from assessments for PIP. She has started an e-petition to the Government calling for such exclusions to be granted. Her local MP is supporting this campaign, and has asked for other people in similar situations to lobby their own MPs in person.
Lynn, now 60, has ME herself. Understandably, her son’s illness causes her a great deal of stress, which would only increase if he was called for an assessment. In such a situation, she would have to organise appealing a wrong decision, as she fears her son would be unable to cope with it.
She is, she says, going through a ‘living bereavement,’ having lost her son as he was for the first 18 years of his life.
Lynn says with certainty that PIP assessments will cause many suicides among the mentally ill.
Another reader, Christine, shared her recent experience at what she calls an ATOS medical:
Two weeks ago I attended an ATOS Medical. The advisor did not listen to me and treated me like a piece of dirt on her shoe. She completely got my diagnosis wrong and as a result I got 6 points which was not enough to carry on claiming ESA. I was sacked from my job on the 12th of July on a Capability Dismissal and not being well enough to do my job. I have Spinal Stenosis and have Osteoarthritis, plus various other medical conditions, which my GP has deemed me unfit for work by way of medical certificates. I am now going to go on Morphine as the pain is unbearable. The ATOS advisor did a report which missed out on vital and important issues that affect the way I am. I have had cancer twice and feel lucky to be alive, let alone working. I would dearly love a job where I could work and be treated as an individual. I do not have a mental issue but I am disabled enough to warrant a Blue Badge and have high rate Mobility and low rate Care on DLA. How on earth can I then be disallowed ESA?
I have been advised by the Benefits advisor to claim Job Seekers Allowance. I was appalled at the treatment I received and when I read the report was absolutely devastated.
I feel very depressed and don't know what to do now. Both my husband and I are ill.
I do not want the added stress of ATOS treating me like a cow in a cattle market.
These examples make very clear what many other disabled people and carers have been saying for quite some time now. Something needs to be done about these assessments and the entire process.
Few would like to see the statistics for suicides or attempted suicides as a result of assessments rising and being unreliable, but unless changes are made to the system, disabled people and carers fear that some of the most vulnerable in our society will have nowhere to turn.
They might just be left feeling like they have no other choice but to contemplate ending their lives.
Richard, another reader who shared his story, said:
As a severely disabled person,
These WCA tests terrify me,
I have survived on my DLA,
Enabling me to live independently at home,
If I find that because of WCA,
I lose my right to my independence,
A right indecently enshrined by Article19,
of the UN convention on human right for disabled people,
The UK ratified this act in 2008,
If I lose the benefit,
Life will not be worth living,
I will exit.