The Minister for Disabled People has offered an “unreserved apology” after a woman was sent a series of letters demanding she attempt to find work and attend job training, despite being in a coma for the past two months.
Speaking during a Commons backbench debate, Mike Penning admitted processes had clearly “gone wrong”.
Responding to Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk raising his constituent Sheila Holt’s case during the debate, Mr Penning said: “I apologise, unreservedly, to the family as the minister responsible.
“It's about time politicians did stand up and apologise when things went wrong. It clearly has gone wrong and the family have every right to be aggrieved and I hope she makes a full recovery, as much as she can.”
Following the apology, Ms Holt’s father explained that it was the stress of losing her benefits as a result of welfare reform that left her fighting for her life in the first place.
Ms Holt has suffered from severe bipolar disorder all her life and had attempted suicide three times. The last time she had been able to work was when she was 16.
Despite this, Ken Holt claims Seetec, a contractor carrying out work capability assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions, started writing to her. The DWP stopped her income support and she was forced to go on a job-seeking course for eight days.
After each day she became more and more agitated until she “cracked” her father said, and was hospitalised following a “manic episode”.
On 17 December, while in hospital she had a heart attack and is still in a coma after suffering brain damage. Letters to her from Seetec however continued.
Mr Danczuk read one of the letters out during the debate, which was on the effects of welfare reform on sick and disabled people: “It said, 'Dear Ms Holt, you are now approaching the end of the first stage of your intensive job focused activity.
“'We hope that all the activity or training intervention completed so far has not only supported you to achieve your aspirations but has moved you closer to the job market.
“'You will shortly enter the second stage of your intensive job-focused activity. Sessions and workshops may vary depending on the centre you attend'.
“This letter was sent to my constituent Sheila Holt on January 30. I'm sad to inform the House that Sheila will not be attending the second stage of her intensive job-focused activity because she has been in a coma since December.
“I should inform the House that members of Sheila's family repeatedly informed the DWP and Seetec about this fact that she wasn't well but they continued to get harassed by those organisations.”
He added: “Let's make this important point - before the election when the Prime Minister toured the TV studios he often talked about broken Britain. Well I have to say that if this is the Prime Minister's idea of fixing broken Britain, hounding disabled people who suffer from mental breakdowns, harassing their distressed relatives, then I prefer the broken Britain that existed before.”
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