Flash Says…

Beryl’s story: Collapsed lung? You still can’t have ESA

Posted on: 2011-03-11

[This article was published at Where’s the Benefit, where I am one of the team.]

Beryl is a woman in her 50s, who has worked all her life and feels she’s always done an honest life’s work. She works as a piano tuner – a very physical job, but one she loves and had every intention of continuing until retirement. That is, until she fell ill, in May 2010. At that point, she hoped that the system would provide for her…

Beryl went to A&E in May 2010 barely able to breathe and was told she had dry pleurisy and a collapsed lung. She struggled for every step, fighting to put one foot in front of the other, as she could barely get enough oxygen into her body. Yet when she applied for ESA and attended a medical in this state, she was passed fit for work. The Atos doctor did not even notice that Beryl was presenting with a collapsed lung.

Not being awarded a benefit to which she was entitled, while clearly unable to work, put Beryl into a difficult situation. From having been able to afford what she needed, Beryl had to adjust, juggling household money in order to keep her business afloat, paying bills for things such as a Yellow Pages advert taken out in good faith, but with several months yet to pay.

“It’s not the money,” she told me, “it’s that they don’t believe you. Every time you speak to people on the phone they say ‘I’m sorry to bother you, I can hear that you’re ill’ but the powers that be have decided that I’m fit to work.”

Beryl appealed. She wrote to her MP, and sent a bundle of supporting evidence to the Job Centre, including letters from her GP and her consultant stating that she could barely walk or breathe, and that it would be at least a year before Beryl could hope to have recovered, if indeed she would recover at all. The appeal was heard in December 2010. However, they did not consider any of the new evidence – it was a mere rubberstamp exercise, to confirm the original decision. Although Beryl was too weak to leave the house, now relying on neighbours to bring food and help her to manage, the Job Centre decided she was fit and able to return to work.

Fortunately, Beryl was awarded Disability Living Allowance and a Blue Badge which has helped her to some extent; she won these on the same evidence presented for her ESA application. She has also applied for a tribunal for her ESA, which means that she has to be paid until the tribunal is heard, but she will still have to go through the stress of a hearing to prove entitlement, something Beryl is dreading.

The MP has written asking the Department of Work and Pensions to investigate, and for a copy of their files, but has had no reply.

Beryl is still very unwell. Although she now has a diagnosis, there are no guarantees as to what level her health can be restored – she may be disabled for the rest of her life, and will certainly remain seriously ill for the near future. However, she is still being chased by the Job Centre, because as far as they’re concerned there’s nothing wrong with her.

A lovely lady works all her life, builds up a successful business, pays her taxes – and then the system lets her down when she needs it most. Ten months from when she fell ill Beryl still hasn’t been awarded ESA, but as she can barely manage to make a cup of tea she certainly couldn’t return to work. This is the system we trust to support us when we need it most. The system, quite frankly, is screwed.


8 Responses to "Beryl’s story: Collapsed lung? You still can’t have ESA"

What a disgusting story. Poor Beryl :-(. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common.

I am deeply moved and shocked by this story. Thank you for sharing. These are the people that 5quidforlife want to help. It is appalling and makes me angry that it’s necessary. “Beryl, thinking about you, thanks for sharing – and hope that your health will improve.”

I wish Beryl all the best, and I empathise with her plight! I know someone who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, as well as being virtually unable to walk due to bad back. Having worked all their life, paid their taxes when the crunch came, the DWP (ATOS awarded zero points) said no! The appeal took over a year, and when they went to the tribunal the GP (who was disabled as well) and the judge couldn’t understand why they were there due to the fact they could see what the issues were and awarded them the appeal and said they got 23 points (only 15 are needed to qualify) But when they asked for DLA just before the appeal they were turned down due to the zero points, but upon re-applying after the won appeal they were awarded this, and then appealing that decision, they made a swift turnaround and raised the level, so they now get the severe disability premium as well. Unfortunately, they have not been put in the support category, so have to send forms to ATOS regularly to confirm they are still unfit for work, when they are not going to get better, but much worse, it seems staggering to me how stupid they can be, especially when the ATOS staff are paid over £30k for a nurse, who doesn’t even realise someone is ill! My friend heard that a blind person was refused, as they “looked” at the nurse when answering questions, so they didn’t believe they were blind!

Beryl, stick with it, and you will win!

This is disgusting but unfortunatly all too commen. A woman I work with recently told me about the death of her partners farther. He had epilepsy and terminal cancer, yet he was told he was fit for work. His wife had been caring for him but not getting any help. Yet this man had worked up till he became ill. It makes me furious to think that these people are being treated in such an appalling manner.

This is a comment from Beryl:

Thank you all so much for your kind words and support – It’s nice to know there are people out there who care what is happening to ordinary people in the real world! Jobcentre Plus sent me a letter on 23rd December 2010, saying the case would go to a Tribunal, giving me 14 days to respond, despite the Christmas and New Year shut-down. I spent what I felt would probably be my last Christmas, with my family and the people I love, having to deal with not only being so ill, but also the stress of an impending Tribunal. I am pleased to report I won the Tribunal Hearing, which was held in my absence recently. Not sure how many points were awarded as I wasn’t told, but must have been significantly over the 15 required, or they would have asked me to attend. Atos allowed me zero points. STILL NO APOLOGY FROM ATOS OR JOBCENTRE PLUS ! I am still struggling with breathing and mobility problems, nearly a year on since I was first ill. I can only walk a few yards before I feel I cannot get enough air into my lungs, which is frightening for me and whoever is with me, but the support I have had from friends, neighbours, and even people who have never met me who are leaving kind words for me, is a great comfort. I hope no-one else has to go through what happened to me, I would not wish this nightmare on anyone. It’s hard enough being so ill, without someone telling you there is nothing wrong with you so you can go back to work! You cannot imagine what that does to a person mentally, and for a while, death looked an easy option. I am blessed with a wonderful family, 2 loving sons, and friends who care deeply about me, so I was able to overcome negative thoughts, but I have no doubt that someone not as strong or as fortunate as me, may well be tempted to finish it. The work capability assessment clearly does not work if it allows a Doctor to find me capable of work, when I had pleurisy and a collapsed lower left lung at the assessment in August 2010. This is documented in X-rays taken during May and September 2010, and lung specialist letters of October 2010, which Jobcentre had. In February 2011, a gastroscopy showed I have helicobacter pylori, which is a parasite, in the stomach, gastric-oesophageal reflux, and a barium swallow showed fluid draining straight into my airways, plus a hiaitus hernia. I am still under the care of a respiratory specialist, and have an appointment with a stomach specialist in May, but my respiratory specialist is not able to say if my lungs will ever improve, or to what extent, so I may be like this for ever. I can only hope this does not happen to anyone else. Thank you to all who sent me good wishes – Beryl

Well, sorry to have to report that a few months on from the Tribunal decision in March 2011 that I did have limited capability for work, the Atos team are now chasing me again. I have more forms to fill in, might have to attend another medical, with the threat of them stopping my benefit again. Their letter arrived the day I returned from The London Hospital with tubes up my nose, going down my throat into my stomach, to measure the acid content.
What a waste of public funds.

That’s why you can’t always rely on the system. It’s full of imperfections and loopholes. I do feel sorry for Beryl’s case but you’ve got to address the cause and not the symptom.

Poor Beryl has done everything required to support her right to benefits and they still turn her down.

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