- and Dick’s story
Today a judicial review has found that people with severe mental illness are at a disadvantage when going through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). It is a great victory. But people like me and my son have known how unfair WCA is for months, and Rethink Mental Illness needsyour support to keep the fight going.
Me and my son’s horrific experience with the unfair WCA
My son first became unwell with bipolar disorder when he was 19, and since then he’s had some extremely tough times, including being hospitalized on five occasions and sectioned three times. He has been unable to live independently or to go back to work for longer three months due to his mental illness.
He tried volunteering at a relative’s company, but he had to stop because he was becoming disruptive to his colleagues and his mental health was rapidly deteriorating. I would hesitate to say he’d never be able to work again, but I think that’s likely to be the case. Staying at home, he feels safe – it has stopped him from reaching the extremities of his bipolar disorder.
So when my son applied for Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), we were surprised and annoyed that he was judged as being capable of going back to work and assigned to the Work Related Activity Group. This meant that he would have to prepare for an eventual return to work, and would only receive ESA for a year.
This came as a terrible shock for him because the answers he had given on his form made it clear that he was not capable of work. We thought he would have a face-to-face assessment with Atos, and his mental health advocate told us we should wait for this before appealing the decision. But my son was never invited to attend a meeting with Atos – there was no in-depth medical assessment of his situation.
Because we were waiting for the face-to-face assessment, we were late in submitting an appeal, and so we had to wait another six months before the appeal was heard at a tribunal. Thankfully, the judge at the tribunal had taken the time to read the medical evidence from our son’s psychiatrist and community psychiatric nurse. He was completely dismissive of the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP)’s original assessment, and didn’t even need to ask a single question about his condition – he just said “It is a win, win, win for you Mr Acworth”.
It was an overwhelming experience, and I was nearly in tears – a combination of relief, exhaustion, and anger at having been put through all this. Our son just kept his thoughts to himself. A few days later we received the decision of the appeal – that my son was entitled to ESA with the “support group”, meaning that he would not be expected to prepare for a return to work.
We thought this was the final decision and we were delighted. However, five days later we received another letter from “medical services”, asking him to fill in the initial questionnaire for ESA – the form my son had already filled in 9 months earlier – he was being asked to start the whole process again!
I was furious, and wrote letters to the DWP, the local mental health trust, Atos and our MP. At the same time I tried to protect my son from what was going on, to avoid him becoming more disturbed by the whole process than he already was.
Eventually the DWP called me to apologise for what had happened – it seems there had been a problem with communication between departments. But if my son didn’t have parents to support him, I don’t know what he would have done – he might have thought he’d have to go through the whole thing again, or he might have simply given up like so many seem to.
It has been an incredibly difficult process. I try as much as I can to shield my son from the stress, but I’m 75 now, and this has taken a real toll on me and his mother. I really fear for other people going through the Work Capability Assessment who don’t have anyone to support them– I think people must just give up, and end up in an awful situation.
That’s why I’m now working as an advocate for other people going through the process, and that’s why I’m asking you to give to Rethink Mental Illness. People like me and my son need support from their amazing advisers and their tireless campaigning for fairness. Today’s ruling is massive step forward for my son and others like him, please help us keep going.
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