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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 November 2012

Suffering unworkable benefit assessments

A south London bus driver

Mandi, from Lewisham in south east London, is in constant pain and has been unable to work for seven years. Her misfortune is something that could happen to any of us and why we need a dependable welfare state. She feels the worst thing is "the way I've been looked down upon - because I don't have a visible disability".

For 12 years Mandi had been a bus driver at south London garages. A busy single parent, she worked plenty of overtime for the money to bring up her son.

Mandi lost her job and her driving licence in January 2006 after being off work several months with back pain and had no choice but to claim benefits. "It was a constant struggle to try and make ends meet."

She was placed on incapacity benefit and was told to apply for Disability Living Allowance. She found out in March 2006 that she would have to have both hips replaced. Still in her mid-forties at the time, Mandi was relatively young for these operations.

Since then arthritis (osteopenia) in all joints, particularly in her hands and knees, is causing suffering and pain which still continues to grow relentlessly. Mandi can't grip properly and has scalded herself even trying to use a kettle.

Due to the government's big crackdown on benefits, Mandi had to travel to Croydon for a medical. On attending the appointment with a friend in August she found there was no doctor available to see her!

It had been difficult to get there by public transport so the receptionist suggested a home visit. After several phone calls, ATOS - the private company handed work assessment contracts by the government - declined a home visit. The examination was rearranged for October.

Between these appointments Mandi learned that 25 "doctors" employed by ATOS were suspended pending checks on their qualifications. This made Mandi wary of the whole procedure. She gathered together all the paperwork she could find for her October 2011 medical.

"I showed the nurse at the interview my blue badge and my freedom pass and she was surprised I was already registered disabled. I showed the scars from several arthroscopies (keyhole surgery) on each knee and she asked "so what are you doing here?'" Good question! "Finally I was declared unfit for work."

But about a month later: "Jobcentre Plus summoned me. At the interview I was told I'd be contacted by SeeTec who would give me an advisor with a view to putting me on a work related programme. If I failed to attend they had power to stop a percentage of my money."

SeeTec expect to see Mandi every fortnight. "At their interviews the advisor tells me to search local newspapers for a job. I say I can't afford newspapers. I am told to get friends and family to help. I'd love to work and say I am willing to do a job if she can find one that I can do on my medication and doesn't need any hands! The only job I can think of is the celebrities who get interviewed on TV."

"In May this year the DWP said ATOS were satisfied with the 56 page book/form I had filled in and no further medical was required until April next year."

But Mandi received a letter from the DWP on 5 November saying her benefit had 'expired'.

"I was on the National Insurance contribution ESA - apparently there are two types - and you can only stay on it for 365 days, but they didn't warn me in advance."

Mandi has now filled in forms for income based support, with evidence from her GP, and is waiting for a response from the DWP.

"The government need to change how people are treated. I now know the system inside out, but if you're an old person, ill or just haven't got the fight, then you'll get trodden on."

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In The Socialist 21 November 2012:


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