I am a 54 year old woman who has had Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis for around 6 years. It involves increasing pain and loss of mobility and, as there is no remission, only progression, it takes me all of my energies to manage.
After the legion of neurological symptoms forced me to give up work I have had to endure the trauma of an Employment and Support Allowance “medical assessment” by ATOS Healthcare (a French private contractor), I have struggled to attend the mandatory Work Related Activity Group, which was not a safe place in my worsening condition.
I waited months for an appeal and won, but live in fear of the brown Department of Work & Pensions envelope that indicates that the whole sorry process will start again, as appears to be the case for many who win their appeals.
If the Welfare Reform Bill is agreed this week, I face the same stress and anxiety in yet another assessment, to test for an already proven condition, in order to retain high rate mobility Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in its new guise as Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
I live in a mutual housing community we formed over 30 years ago. I fear for my security and safety, due to what appears to be a government generated atmosphere of contempt that I face daily in the newspapers, where benefit claimants are labelled as feckless scroungers.
I feel that I have contributed very honestly and honourably to society and have a great deal more to offer, but dislike intensely that people with severe conditions are subjected to a regime of rudimentary and capricious testing and harsh conditionality which will increase poverty, homelessness and potential mortality — all based on a fallacious notion that “work is always good for you”. We all know that some cannot work and that it would be unreasonable to demand that they do so, and for many work is contra-indicated to condition stability.
I’m too ill to be coerced, bullied or frightened into compliance by a flawed and maladministered welfare system.
I also feel that much worse is in store if we are subjected to a deeply questionable American style insurance-based regime. Those who are currently ill or disabled cannot access this insurance and will become a sacrificial generation, caught between the dissolution of the Welfare State and the implementation of birth-to-death private health and income protection insurances.
Lord Freud, who is speaking on behalf of this Bill, should be reminded to look to history, and consider times when human rights and human equalities have ever been subject to market forces. Fiscal expediency may seem to deliver a solution, but an option which abandons British citizens to a company based in another jurisdiction and without the controls of the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing or Care Quality Commission? Maybe he should look again at the basis of his philosophy.
My late father, a coroner and solicitor, would have been horrified to learn that his daughter had been abandoned by the state in her time of need. Even more so when the access to advice and legal assistance has been all but removed.