Extraordinary! The Express would normally say she was benefit-scrounging scum – a malingerer on the take. Here’s Jane’s story:
CLAIMS of government action to help mental health sufferers back to work have a hollow ring for former civil servant Jane. She says she was thrown onto the scrap heap by the Department of Work and Pensions itself.
Instead of being supported during a mental breakdown she was fired on Christmas Eve and has since been in “a living nightmare”. She is now suing her former employers for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
Jane, who doesn’t want her real name used because her family don’t know she has depression, is scathing about the way Jobcentres assess those with mental health problems. She said: “If they treat their staff the way they have me, what hope is there for others?”
Jane, who worked in a Jobcentre in the North-west, was diagnosed with depression in 2010. However, she did not tell anyone about this, even when her bosses moved her to a more stressful managerial role.
She noticed she was becoming more forgetful and last November left a Boots store without paying for some goods. She was arrested and given a caution by police. The day after her arrest, she told her manager about it and her depression. “I was in a right mess and I was just scared about what had happened. I told her I felt embarrassed and suicidal,” said Jane.
If they treat their staff the way they have me, what hope is there for others?
“I couldn’t talk to my family because I thought there was a stigma. My GP said it was a cry for help.”
Two weeks later, the day before her court hearing, she was told she was being investigated for gross misconduct and for bringing the department into disrepute. She was “absolutely devastated” and shocked that she had not merely been given a final written warning that would have taken into account her previously exemplary record.
The letter informing her of her dismissal arrived on Christmas Eve.
She said: “I feel utter hopelessness. The last four months have been dreadful. Some days, I can’t even get out of bed. I’ve lost all my confidence.
“Then when I read what Iain Duncan Smith wrote in the Sunday Express last week, I was furious. Total hypocrite. It was his department that sacked me.”
In support of the Sunday Express Crusade for Better Mental Health, the Work and Pensions Secretary said the Government was helping people with mental health problems return to work.
Since losing her job Jane has been claiming Employment and Support Benefit for her depression, which is classified as a disability. After 14 weeks on benefits she went to a work capability assessment centre run by outsourcing giant Atos Healthcare and was appalled by her “hour-long interrogation”. It was conducted, she said, by someone who seemed to know little about mental health, refused to make eye contact and stared at a computer while reading out scripted questions.
Jane said: “The questions were unbelievable. They asked, ‘What do you watch on TV? What is your mental arithmetic like? Do you answer the phone when it rings?’ They were not interested in terms of how my depression had resulted in my loss of employment after 34 years.
“It’s seriously worrying that this is a Government initiative treating people disadvantaged with mental health in this way.”
A spokesman for the DWP was unable to comment on Jane’s claims but stressed the department was “committed to meeting the needs” of staff and customers.