Photographer with multiple sclerosis branded 'fit to work' by DWP despite not being able to walk, sleep or balance

Simon Cook, 57, likens plight to a 'real life Daniel Blake'

John Bett
Wednesday 14 February 2018 10:14
Photographer Simon Cook who has been diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis but deemed fit to work full time by the DWP
Photographer Simon Cook who has been diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis but deemed fit to work full time by the DWP

A photographer claims he is a “real life Daniel Blake” after being told he's fit to work despite suffering multiple sclerosis (MS) that leaves him unable to walk, sleep or balance.

Simon Cook, 57, has spent the past 30 years working as a photographer but in 2016 he suddenly began to have problems and was diagnosed with MS.

While the father-of-three wants to work, he says his condition has made it virtually impossible.

Yet instead of being "helped back to work" or given benefits to live on, he's been told by the DWP to stop trying to work as a photographer, seek Jobseekers' Allowance and find something else to do.

He is now having to turn away the little work he was able to do while he waits six months for an appeal.

And he says his fight is making him more ill, driving him towards poverty and he doesn't think he's alone.

Simon has now compared his plight to the storyline in the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, in which a 59-year-old widowed carpenter has a heart attack, leaving him unable to work, but British authorities deny his benefits and tell him to return to his job.

He said: “Since the release of Ken Loach's film, I Daniel Blake, we are all now aware of the frustrations of a system unfit for purpose and run by uncaring, unthinking jobsworths.

“If we had met for the first time a couple of years ago, you would have seen a youthful, energetic man in his mid-fifties: fit, busy and capable.

“A father of three and keen cyclist, with a multitude of interests, a full-time job and an active social life.

“Today, I walk with a stick, feel permanently exhausted, and - friends and family tell me - have visibly aged.

“But if the rapid and overwhelming attack on my physical health might be likened to taking a bad fall, the treatment I am receiving at the hands of the benefits system is akin to being kicked in the teeth when I'm down.”

Simon, of Penzance, Cornwall, says he started to experience problems with his health in Autumn 2016 and was diagnosed a short while after.

In addition to mobility issues, Simon says he also suffers general exhaustion - known as MS fatigue.

He added: “Since the shock of diagnosis, I have felt little self-pity regarding my health and have actually prided myself in resolving to pick up the pieces, get on with it, and make the best of a condition with no cure.

“The last thing I expected was to find the DWP actively making decisions designed to leave me facing permanent unemployment.

“As anyone with experience of this neurological disease will know, it's a life-changer - particularly in terms of being able to earn a living.

“I've always worked. After a spell in agriculture as a young man, I retrained and have been a professional photographer for more than 30 years. It is a job I love and enjoy and wish I was capable of continuing with today.”

Shortly after his diagnosis, Simon was advised to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) but was told to continue receiving the £73.10 a week he would need to undertake a medical assessment to judge his ability to work full time.

This is conducted on a points system with anyone scoring less than 15 points deemed fully fit for work.

He added: “In November 2017 - more than a year since becoming ill - I attended the appointment. However, I was surprised to discover it was not a doctor I was going to see, but a physiotherapist. When asked, he said he had attended a training course and could carry out an assessment ”as well as any doctor“.

“He was cordial, asked a few questions, and allowed me to explain the life-changing nature of my illness. He took a few notes, photocopied the medical evidence I provided from my neurologist and MS team, and the assessment was soon over.

“I confidently thought the consultation was a mere formality, and waited to hear the result. But in January of this year - two months after the appointment - and still having heard nothing from the DWP, I visited the benefits office.

“Later, the DWP called me at home to say no one had yet looked at the physiotherapist's report.

“The following I day I had another call from the DWP telling me my assessment had been reviewed, that I had scored zero points, and was therefore deemed fully fit for work.

“As a consequence, my ESA was stopped and I needed to sign on for unemployment benefit and look for work.

“I was left genuinely speechless by this verdict.

“Having paid tax and national insurance for all these years, I believed in the contract agreed by citizen and state: that in normal times we contribute to the system and in times of need we will be cared for.

“In 2018, that arrangement is failing people all over the country. And it is failing me.”

The DWP have been contacted for comment.


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