Archive for the ‘ dwp ’ Category

PIP Application Advice

I know a lot of folks that are either apply for, reapplying for and being transferred on to PIP. Heck, I’m soon going to be in the latter category. A question that often comes up is “How best can I apply?”, or “What should I write?”. Here’s my advice and I hope you find at least some of it useful.

Once you have you PIP form the best way is obviously to contact your local CAB and see if they can help you. They’ve done millions of these and know it inside and out.

Unfortunately the CAB isn’t always an option for many of us. Then we need to find ways to do it alone. In these situations I think it’s important to try to put yourself in the position of a DWP decision maker;

  • they are under pressure not to find too many eligible
  • they have to read a lot of these in a day
  • they are probably tired, stressed, and a bit numb to these applications
  • they’ve probably seen it all before

It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. If you can make it easy for them to give you points then hopefully they will

There is a simple formula I use to do these and it is as follows;

Firstly…

Look at the tables that show you what the criteria is for each section. You can find them in a handy table in this PDF from the Citizens Advice Bureau by clicking here. Or I will provide a list of the current points at the bottom of this post for those that would prefer it.

Once you have read those, look again at the wording and consider the following:

Does it apply to you?

Continue reading

DLA Applications and Appeals

I know that DLA is vanishing very soon but there are still lots of people who are still applying & appealing the benefit.

If you are then you might well find this free guide from the Disability Law Centre extremely helpful. It details in plain English exactly what they are looking for to award DLA. If you are answering the initial questions then bear these criteria in mind when you write your answers

So, if you believe that you qualify for Lower Rate Care you need to meet at least one of the following two statements;

1. To get the low rate you have to need care and attention in connection
with your bodily functions for ‘a significant portion of the day’ (usually at least
an hour); or
You are unable prepare and cook a main meal for yourself. This is known as
the ‘Cooking Test’. 

If in your form you don’t clearly express that you are unable to prepare AND cook a main meal for yourself then you won’t be eligible. Or if when explaining how many minutes care you need for various tasks they don’t add up to at least an hour you quite probably won’t be found to meet the requirements either.
Of course it’s no guarantee that it will go through straight away, they may miss something, say your evidence to support your claims was inconclusive, you didn’t score highly enough on a Atos assessment or a whole host of other things. 
You can though use the information in this guide to really help you write a strong appeal. If when you appeal you follow a simple format where you quote the criteria you think you meet to start with like this;
“I believe I meet the criteria for the Low Rate Care Component because I cannot reliably/ I cannot prepare and cook a main meal for myself.”
Then you really should finish off by tying that statement to the relevant evidence such as;
“I get extremely disorientated when trying to cook which makes it impossible for me to complete either the preparation or cooking of food. My doctor/consultant/OT/social worker explains this in the letter I have included/did include with my initial application as evidence.”
If it doesn’t work as part of a written appeal then hopefully a tribunal will listen.
If anyone else has any good resources then please list them in the comments section.

The Dreaded Pink Form 2013

This week I received a copy of the “Dreaded Pink Form”, also known as the ESA50 or Limited Capability for Work Questionnaire. I get one every 12 months and as it stands I will be getting one every 12 months until I’m claiming a pension or I’m dead. It’s so the DWP can assess my fitness for work and decide if I should still get ESA. As my condition is only expected to degenerate this isn’t something I personally feel is necessary. I could understand maybe once every 5 years if they want to keep checking but every 12 months? It’s a waste of government money, my time and damaging to my mental health. Still, as all the major political parties think it is necessary I’ve got no choice but to acquiesce and protest about it.

Picture of the ESA50 form. You can click on it to enlarge.

The first time I filled in a ESA50 I was invited to attend a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) where health proffessionals working for a IT company called Atos assessed my fitness to work. Much to the surprise of everyone I knew, my doctors and the job centre they found me fit to work. They then used that decision to turn down my application for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). It took 18 months to get the decisions over turned. During that time my disability and the high cost of living with it didn’t go away, I just wasn’t entitled to any support to help me live with it. I fell into debt and depression. Fortunately for me the appeals tribunals were both less than 15mins from start to finish because of the  abundance of evidence on my side. As a result of having to live through that nightmare I’m always very apprehensive about these forms because I know what could happen if something is misinterpreted.

It may sound a bit paranoid to suggest that they would try to purposefully trip up claimants, but as I think I can show that is precisely what this form does. It makes it very difficult to describe your condition and/or disability in a way that tallies with the criteria.
Take question 1, it asks how far you can move around without difficulty. The possible answers are; 50m, 100m, 200m or more and “It varies”. Can you see the problem with that? What do you tick if you can’t move more than 20m with difficulty? What do you tick if you can’t move more than 1m? Do you choose the 50m category and look like you can move further or do you choose it varies and then hope they don’t use the fact you said it varies to suggest the issue isn’t a permanent one? 
It’s especially telling as one of the criteria to enter the support group is not being able to move 50m. By making it so that people in that situation don’t have an easy “less than 50m” box to tick then people will be forced to tick a box that doesn’t describe their situation adequately and could contribute to a decision not to award appropriate support. I ticked the 50m box last year even though I can manage a maximum of 30m with severe pain and associated vomiting or 1-2m without. I explained that in the box below and included a letter form my GP which said precisely that. They didn’t place me in the support group until I wrote an appeal because it wasn’t “clear” from my form that I couldn’t walk 50m without pain.

A picture of question 1 in the ESA50 form. You can click on it to enlarge.

It’s not a one off either. Add to these questions the extra pressure added in by other changes to the process which include using imaginary wheelchairs and ignoring the overlap between cognitive/mental & physical health in this years ESA50’s it all becomes extremely stressful.

The good thing to come ou of this pink form is it’s reminded me that there is still a huge battle to be won with regards to ESA, and that where we may not win it all – at least not straight away – we can try to make some ground by trying to get the DWP to improve little bits of it’s system. For example, changing it’s questions so they are fairer and tally with the criteria being tested against.

I’m going to put my thinking cap on and try to work out how best to challenge the DWP on this score. Hopefully I’ll be back with some ideas!

BBC Ouch Podcast

I took part in a BBC Ouch podcast along with the lovely Hannah Ensor of Stickman Crip’s fame (who has a great taste in blog themes by the way). We chatted about welfare and social media and if you’d like to have a listen you can find it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ouch/2013/04/ouch_disability_talk_show_96_s.html 

Is Resistance Futile?

The 1st of April has been referred to as Black Monday by many campaigners  Over the next couple of weeks we will see many of the changes outlined in the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) come into effect;

  • the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit starts being rolled out, 
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being abolished and replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP), 
  • Legal Aid stopped being available for welfare matters, 
  • Benefits will only be uprated by 1% for the first time, 
  • Council Tax Benefit is now being controlled by local authorities and many are reducing the assistance given, 
  • the Benefit Cap hit’s in limiting all benefit payments (including housing benefit & child benefit) to £500 per week 
But… the 50p tax rate is being abolished so millionaires get a tax break. PHEW. Not all bad then.
All in all it can feel pretty bleak. Stuff like this can easily lead to people feeling; depressed, like they don’t have a voice, like no one is listening, apathetic, like fighting is pointless, angry, frustrated and bitter. All those feelings are totally valid reactions to what is happening. A point I would like to make is that these kind of policies are in part designed to make people feel that way. Like there is no point struggling against them any more, that (to borrow a Star Trek quote) resistance is futile.
I say sod that. 
We have come a massive way in the last decade and our campaigning power is still building. Social media and the internet brought us all together, many of us who up until then had felt isolated and alone. We shared stories, offered support, nattered about spoon theory and developed friendships. We talked about our experiences with welfare, prejudice, access to health, access to housing and access to work & employment. We started to see that we were not alone when Atos & the DWP declared us to be fit for work against all medical reason. We were not alone in struggling to access transport. Many of us started to see first hand that there are injustices in the world that effect us all. Then we got angry about it. That anger fulled a desire to challenge and change society. Unhappy with the representation that had been given by politicians and charities a new surge of grassroots activism developed.  
Now when reforms happen that will effect us thousands of disabled people swing into action to make sure the largely non-disabled media remembers us. We write reports. We read and analyse reports. We lobby MPs and local councillors. We talk on the TV and radio, not asking for pity but calling for society to be better. We look beyond our own backyard and talk internationally. We blog, we tweet, we raise awareness, we campaign, we talk, we act. 
I went to a mini-conference run by the Labour party in Birmingham. I asked a question which included some criticism of Atos and the whole ESA process and people gave me a round of applause. When I said “Atos” you could hear a collective “Ugh, they are terrible” style groan from the audience. I wasn’t in a room of disability rights activists, I was in a room full of people from all walks of life yet they knew what Atos was and what it means. That’s amazing! In 2009 if I said Atos to a room full of strangers hardly any ever knew what I was talking about, now most do. We did that! Our awareness raising is clearly working. In 2009 there were no stories in the news about the effects of anything from hate crime to ESA on disabled people, now there is. We did that! In 2009 I rarely heard other civil rights groups, like feminists for example, talking about intersectional disability matters, now they do. Our rising profile has done that. 
Fighting for societal change is a long game and takes time. Sadly the chances that one petition or one campaign will dramatically alter the socio-political landscape are pretty slim. That said, lots of petitions, lot’s of campaigns  not giving up and not going away can. So without further ado, for those who want to keep fighting I’ve got some ideas for you. I’ve tried to include a range of things that are accessible to most people.

Chronic Pain & the PIP Mobility Component

I see a lot of posts and people talking about people who “won’t get PIP” over the course of a day. One example often used is the person who can drag themselves with lots of pain & exhaustion for a few metres on a good day (however rare they are) before needing to use a wheelchair who will lose their higher rate DLA.

Messages like that cause a lot of worry for many people who are reading them. They are scary. They make me worry I’ve missed something when I read them. Over the last month I’ve been told by plenty of people that they believe conditions that often fluctuate or allow for limited mobility before needing to use a wheelchair like arthritis, EDS and fibromyalgia won’t qualify for the higher rate PIP mobility component. Having just read the new DWP guidance I really don’t believe that is true.

Hopefully this little bit of news can go a little way to easing some of those worries. When “safely, reliably & in a timely manner” are taken into account suddenly it becomes quite clear that the criteria isn’t meant to be that harsh.

Example 1

Phil has long term problems with rheumatoid arthritis and has very limited walking abilities. He needs a wheelchair for more than 50% of the days when outdoors and can only walk a few metres before being in pain and discomfort. He is assessed as 

 “Can move or stand 1m but not more than 20m, either aided or unaided”

 and scores 12 points on the assessment. He is therefore awarded enhanced rate mobility component.

I am well aware that everything depends on how this guidance is used by assessors but even so, this example will be a powerful tool when appealing decisions. This isn’t a defence of the abolition of DLA or the founding principles of PIP. Just an attempt to reassure some of the very distressed people I’ve spoken to.

Imaginary Wheelchairs & Other ESA Changes

As you may or may not know on the 28th January they are making some more changes to ESA assessments. Both of the proposed changes are dangerous and counter productive (unless you want to produce a super-flawed, biased and unfair system). They go a little something like this;

Imaginary Aids, Adaptations & Treatments

In a nutshell, they will be changing the system so that if a person could do something with appropriate aids/adaptations or has a condition that sometimes benefits from a specific treatment (even if they don’t have access to them) they can be judged as if they do. They also do not have to ask your opinion about it.

An example would be; a person who attends a meeting and explains that because of a condition, let’s choose chronic pain, they cannot walk 50m. The assessor decides that they think that with a wheelchair they could do it. The assessor then says nothing to the claimant and notes it on the assessment form. The person is then found fit for work or placed in the WRAG rather than the support group on the basis of an imaginary wheelchair. Of course, they don’t then give the person access to a wheelchair. They just seem to expect them to magic one out of thin air. Bitter experience has taught me that the NHS doesn’t give wheelchairs to a lot of people who would benefit from them. It’s also taught me that getting a NHS wheelchair doesn’t mean you can use it. If your home is at the bottom of a hill, has steps in and out, doesn’t have wide enough halls or door ways or any other number of issues are at play the chair is just a (often) ugly reminder that you can’t get out. Getting your home adapted for a wheelchair is very difficult at the best of times, heaven forbid you privately rent and your landlord doesn’t want you to ramp the front garden. All this doesn’t take into account our imaginary claimants ability to propel a wheelchair either. It would be laughable if it wasn’t a real threat.

The same goes for treatments. Did you turn down CBT for Fibromyalgia? If they think it would have made it better then they can “imagine” how you may have been if you’d had it and assess you accordingly.

Ignoring the Intersections Between Physical & Mental Health

The ESA50 (the pink form claimants get sent asking them to detail their conditions) is split into two sections; Part 1 (‘Physical Disabilities’) and Part 2 (‘Mental, cognitive and intellectual function assessment’). At the moment people who experience problems such as poor bladder control because of a mental or cognitive disability will explain that in part 1. Now they are proposing to make it so that only the effects of “a specific bodily disease or disablement” will be considered in part 1, whilst Part 2 will only consider the effects of “a specific mental illness or disablement”.

This is a massive issue as many conditions have both mental/cognitive and physical components. It’s also problematic because many physical health problems exacerbate mental health conditions and vice-a-versa. 

How to help


Sue Marsh over at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger has issued a rallying cry and offers some great advice about what you can do to help fight these changes (link to her post). 

You can email your MP by going to this webpage and searching for them by your constituency and send them a link to this report. If you don’t want to email them then you can tweet them with a link to the report saying something like “Dear [MP name] please read this report about damaging changes to ESA http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ESAbriefing  #esaSOS”.

You can try to spread the word by tweeting, emailing & facebooking others (friends, family, reporters, councillors , and asking them to spread the report too.

Job Hunting – Part Two

I said I’d write a follow up when I had more news and now I do!

I did apply to a service designed to help disabled people into work but discovered to my dismay that they wanted a complex referral from social services. Not having any idea how to sort it out and quite frankly not having the energy to do so I have not gotten around to sorting that out.

I have kept one eye on the governments Job Search website but to no-avail. The closest I’ve come to a really flexible job that would fit around my health issues was the mistakenly advertised “Babe Chat” position. I’m not anti-sex workers, but it’s not something I feel comfortable doing. I also don’t imagine for one second I’m exactly the kind of person that Loaded TV were hoping to recruit *grins*

I did start checking charity websites and looking at jobs within the Tribunal Service as well as considering applying to be a magistrate. Sadly I don’t meet the health requirements to be a magistrate, and the tribunal service isn’t recruiting until March 2013. Luckily I did spot a vacancy with a mental health charity, working about 10 hours a month, helping with quality assurance work. I applied back in November and was fortunate enough to get a telephone interview in early December. Just before Christmas I got an email inviting me to start training in Spring! I’m pretty darn chuffed, but given the wait before starting and the current economic situation I’m trying not to get my hopes to high – just in case it gets rescinded. 
I’m going to leave the job hunt there for the moment as I have been fortunate enough to find an opportunity that appears to suit my health condition as well as being physically & mentally accessible. I imagine I will have more to add when I have a start date and I find myself needing to deal with the DWP. 

WOW Petition Launch

Today at 8pm the fabulous comedienne, writer and vocal supporter of the disability rights movement Francesca Martinez launched the crowd sourced WOW Petition designed to help resist the ‘War On Welfare’. It is a UK government e-petition which ideally needs to get over 100,000 signatures. It’s going to need publicising and shouting about but I’m sure as a community we can do it. Heck, it’s been live for two and a half hours and it’s already been trending on twitter and received over 1,400 signatures!

It calls for: 

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.
An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.
 

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.

If you want to sign it click here. Once you have signed it then you will need to remember to check your inbox and click the confirmation email to make it count.

Where Have You Been?

I’ve been rather absent from the world over the last month because life has gotten in the way of activism which in some ways is a shame but mostly it’s to be expected from time to time. Preparing to move house and health issues have eaten up my time and energy. Even with that going on there have been a couple of high points so  I thought I’d post an update.

ESA


I thought I’d start on a positive note. I’ve had some great news, I appealed a DWP decision to place me in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group) for ESA (Employment Support Allowance) on the basis I am virtually unable to walk (or unable to walk without severe pain & discomfort). I sent in a letter quoting the criteria for the support group I believed I met, told them exactly which doctors letter confirmed it and waited to hear if it would be enough. It turns out it was! Now I’m in the support group and able to do as much voluntary work as I can manage. 


To me it doesn’t feel any different to being the the WRAG if I’m honest. My local Igneus branch (the company paid by the DWP to get sick/disabled people into work) didn’t think I stood a chance in hell of being employed when I was in the WRAG so they just left me alone to carry on doing little bits of voluntary work here and there. I am well aware some other people are not as fortunate.

Health


My personal health has not taken any dramatic turns for the worse over the last month but I have been caught in a rather naff flare up. 


For those not familiar with the term, a flare up is pretty common when you have a chronic condition. They happen when something causes the condition to get really bad for a few days or sometimes weeks. It’s not that the condition has taken a turn for the worse, it’s just that it goes through a bad patch. After a flare up it’s common to feel ‘set back’. A week in bed or a few days of not eating can leave you feeling weaker than before. A mental health flare up can leave you feeling rather rattled or exhausted for a while afterwards. 


In my case I had a pretty nasty infection for over a week then as I was recovering my bowel became twisted which has caused a lot of pain and discomfort. I’m used to having a twisted bowel, it happens at least twice a month and usually resolves within 8 hours of the pain getting to that unbearable point. Unfortunately this episode has been going on for 4 days now and is wearing me (and my Oramorph supply) down. Luckily the twisting seems to have only partially blocked it so far so I’m not going into hospital but I’m still in a lot of pain with it.


As a result I’ve spent the last 3 weeks in rather ill health which has really negatively impacted on my ability to do much more than moan about how unwell I feel. 

Netroots UK


I went to Netroots UK at the end of June to try and get some ideas for my activism. I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of wonderful Welfare Warriors and to have a chance to chat to some other people I’ve admired for quite some time. 

I left feeling inspired to keep pushing my local and political work as well as assisting with national campaigns where I can. I’ve spoken to a few people about getting involved in some exciting projects once I’ve finished moving house, if any of them get off the ground I’ll keep you posted.


Moving

I’m still moving house which is taking longer than initially expected because of my bout of extra-ill health and the house needing a bit more work than we originally thought it would. Still, we have done a lot of work and it’s paying off. It all looks far better now and should only get better as we continue. I’m very excited about getting in now, luckily it should only mean waiting 3 weeks now!

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