An RAF veteran who suffers from diabetes and depression and is in remission from cancer has been told he will have his benefits removed if he is not actively looking for work.
Martin Oxborrow, 60, served in the Falklands and in Ethiopia, but was forced to stop flying after he developed crippling anxiety attacks.
He became seriously depressed – but worse was to come a few years later when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
But now he has been told that under brutal new benefits cuts, he will not be eligible for the incapacity benefit he has claimed for 15 years – unless he can prove he is seeking a job.
The former pilot, from Rhydlewis near Llandysul in Ceredigion, was a C130 Hercules Captain, in charge of delivery flights across the globe for 17 years.
But before he left the RAF however he suffered crippling anxiety and depression, developing a fear of flying.
He had to be grounded, and was eventually discharged in 1997, and has since been on incapacity benefit.
On his 60th birthday in May this year he received a letter saying his Employment and Support Allowance was being changed by the Department of Work and Pensions – meaning he would be placed in a “work group”.
The new designation would mean he was forced to look for work – and was even offered a course of “surf therapy” by a local Disability Employment Officer at one of his appointments.
Martin, who lives with wife Gabby, said:
“It’s not the fact that they are taking £300 a month from me, it’s the fact that they are ignoring my illness.
“How can I find a job when I sometimes spend days on end not being able to get out of bed?
“There are 18-year-olds and graduates with first-class honours out there who are struggling to get work. I am on medication which means that I can’t drive to appointments, or a job even.
“As soon as I left the RAF, I applied for incapacity benefit – I was somewhat less financially sound on a pension having earned some £40,000 per annum in my last years.
“Over the next 15 years, I was examined by many GPs, and went through many DWP ‘All Work Tests’.
“I was always advised that I was unfit for work and should not even attend interviews. I went through many forms of therapy and counselling but my condition seemed to remain basically the same.”
His appealed against the ruling that he had to start searching for employment, but a tribunal did not go his way.
“It’s just like banging your head against a brick wall, it’s so frustrating you just want to pick up the phone and talk to someone and tell them ‘I’m ill!’
“I attended an ATOS (eligibility test for those on benefits) in Carmarthen, I’m not sure that the woman who dealt with me had and psychiatric background, but whereas the forms you had to fill in before were about 27 pages, now they are only about eight or nine with nothing about mental health issues.”
Martin’s depression got so bad at one point that his wife was worried he may commit suicide.
“Gabby used to go off to work and wonder if I’d be alive when she came back. I’ve never wanted to kill myself but I have thought about it.”
And unfortunately for Martin and his family, the depression wasn’t the only thing they had to cope with.
In 2005 he underwent chemotherapy for an aggressive form on Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.”
“I don’t think we are looking after our ex-servicemen properly.
“I’ve heard stories about other men in a similar situation as me, one chap had a stroke, on is in a wheelchair and are expected to go back to work.
“And that’s not what David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith wants.
“When I heard David Cameron say that ex-servicemen would not be affected I called Gabby and we breathed a sigh of relief. But that’s a lie.
“My wife says the stress of this has set me back 10 years.”
Martin is currently in the process of appealing again, and will receive the £300 per month until the matter is settled.
He also receives an income from his RAF pension and a war pension which is awarded for a 30% disability.
A DWP spokeswoman said:
“We owe all those who have served their country our deep gratitude and we want to ensure they get all the right help and support they need.
“Through Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) we help people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable of doing so, while giving unconditional support to those who need it. If someone is placed in the work related activity group we understand they have significant barriers to employment but they may be able to take up some kind of work in the future.
“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face to face assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist. We encourage people to provide as much medical evidence as possible.”