Sunday, 12 June 2016

Hearing The Voices Of Others.

via Facebook

The following status is rather long and for that I apologise but, I would urge you to take the time to read it. I have stalled making this letter I wrote to various MP's public as I did not want, in anyway to impact on Andy Grant PIP assessment however there are no such constraints on me!!! Please feel free to share this with as many people as you wish to as the more people who are made aware of the callous nature of this process the better..............................
For those who have never met him, let me introduce you to Andy, my wonderful Partner of sixteen years and amazing father to our two beautiful children. He is the most exceptional man I know; funny, caring, generous, determined, handsome, abundant in patience, he understands me like no other person, accepts me flaws and all and is our family's protector. He also happens to be disabled. I tell you this bit last as this does not define him. He goes about his daily life with little or no complaint, despite being in constant pain with a permanently dislocated hip, agony with his lower back and pain and discomfort in many joints and muscles throughout his body, not to mention the 'bubble' we have created to live in to ignore the constant stares, giggling and sometimes photographing and filming when in public because he happens to look a bit different. He is unable to walk long distances, can not stand for long periods of time among many other limitations.
For the last twenty-three years, Andy has qualified for High Rate Disability Living Allowance meaning he is eligible for a Motability car. This is not Andy sponging or scrounging off the state, it was a non-means tested benefit, in part put in place to contribute to the extra costs faced by disabled people. His Motability car is his lifeline, "my legs" as he describes it. By the 31st May 2016, Andy was told he had to return his car, rendering him housebound. This is following the 'reassessment' of his abilities and needs brought on by the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
The process for Andy started in October 2015 when he had to return a convoluted application form, forcing him to lay bare every element of his life and try and put into writing the impact his disability has on his daily living. For someone who has always been determined not to be labelled as 'handicapped', this was a truly embarrassing and humiliating process. He accepted however, this was a means to an end. Then came his wait for a face-to-face 'medical'. On the first occasion this was cancelled two hours before he was due to attend, following numerous sleepless night leading up to it. For the last six months Andy has faced the daily stress and anxiety of not knowing what his future would be.
On 21st April 2016 the dreaded brown envelope landed on our doormat. In it contained the words which, relatively simple, have changed Andy's world......."I have decided you're entitled to .....Standard rate". He was no longer deemed disabled enough to qualify for 'Enhanced rate' and therefore a Motablity car. It has broken my heart to watch my once, confident husband reduced to tears, being left feeling like, to use his words, a "useless cripple" and trying each day to shelter our children from the impact this was having on him. The DWP's assessment (with input from ATOS), among other things, was that he was able to walk 20metres but no more than 50 metres "reliably and repeatedly", not only was this incorrect, but did not take into account the complex and diverse nature of his disability. In trawling the internet and watching numerous documentaries on the subject, this element appears to be the crux of most people's assessment and seems to be the main deciding factor as to whether Enhanced or Standard rate is awarded or not.
On receiving and digesting the content of the report from ATOS, completed after his 'medical', we both had had serious concerns about the quality of the Health Professional’s report, her understanding of Andy's condition and in particular the impact on his mobility, as well as how the assessment itself was conducted. Aside from the typographical errors, there were also inconsistencies, inaccuracies and assumptions made by the assessor which we felt impacedt on the reports validity. For Andy to have to read this document was a further kick in the teeth that, despite being honest and transparent with the Health Professional, at times they did not appear to have taken any notice of what he had said and it had been merely a paper exercise.
The Government appear completely confused. In their State of the Nation Report on Poverty, Worklessness and Welfare Dependency in the UK (3rd June 2010) they wrote, " There is a high degree of persistence among claimants of many low income and out of work benefits; For example around 2.2 million people, including 1.1 million people of working age have been claiming Disability Living Allowance for over five years". This completely ignores the fact that DLA is not, nor has it ever been, a low-income or out of work benefit. "Persistent" you say......disability by its very nature is this. Andy isn't suddenly going to sprout 'normal' length legs, his Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita can not be cured, or his hip replaced satisfactorily enough to increase his mobility. He can't just get rid of his disability.
I hope she will not mind, but to quote Michelle Maher from the WOWcampaign, "Sick and disabled people are being punished for something they had no part of, caught in an ideological attack by the Tory party determined to (remove) all forms of support". These cuts are forcing disabled people to be locked away from society, a return to the old days of dependency, isolation and totally degrading. Do we really want to live in a society where difference is not supported, where equality is no longer valued and where in order to function in society you have to be deemed perfectly able? Andy's car is not a 'luxury item'; it is part of what helps him be an equal member of society with the same opportunities as others.
Today, eight months on, and far sooner that he had been expecting, Andy received the outcome of his mandatory reconsideration. That on reassessment, he was 'disabled' enough to receive the Enhanced Rate. This should feel like a victory, a relief of months and months of stress and anxiety for him, but actually it feels almost like an anti-climax...........the point being that he should never have had to go through this hideous experience in the first place. He can, please excuse the sarcasm, 'look forward' to going through this whole process again in another five years. Andy knows how fortunate he is to have had a positive outcome to his reconsideration and is acutely aware that there are thousands of disabled people who continue to battle the system. Perhaps a reflection of his thoughtful and considerate personality, is his ongoing concern and worry for those people that have been unable to cope with this process, those who have been plunged into thousands of pounds worth of debt in order to buy a vehicle to remain mobile and those who do not have the support he has had from family and friends. Andy was very frank in admitting had the latter not been true for him, he does not know what he would have done.
I have not written this to gain sympathy for Andy's plight or to evoke pity (Andy would hate this completely!!!), I have highlighted Andy's story in order to give a face to these cuts, to try and give a glimpse of how they are affecting thousands of individuals and families with sometimes devastating consequences. Andy is a very private person and therefore it has been a big decision for him to allow me to share this snap shot of his life.
I would like to end with a somewhat sarcastic "thank you" to the Conservative government for making my husband feel more disabled than he has ever done in the last forty years of his life."

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