Tomorrow I shall be at court, having my appeal heard against the decision not to award me ESA. ESA, for those who do not know, is Employment & Support Allowance, and is a benefit given to those deemed too sick to work.
I have bipolar disorder, and for the past ten years that I have been living with this illness my employment record has been patchy to say the least. As the years went by I, and my Consultant, noticed a pattern. I will start a new job, and everything will go fine for, oh, 3 months maximum. Then I will become ill with (mostly) depression. I will have to take time off sick, lots of time. I will be offered (but have almost always refused) hospital, visited by the Crisis Team regularly, etc. I will feel awful, the depression compounded by guilt at not working. Eventually I will feel a little better, and then return to work. After another month or so, I will be ill again. Eventually I will have to give up the job – or be asked to resign/retire – and be off sick for quite some time. Then I will find another job..and the pattern begins again.
The last job I had, I actually started on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) after I resigned due to ill health. Then my Consultant told me that I should go on ESA. The reason for this being that work unfortunately seems to make me ill, and she proposed I be ‘on the sick’ until I had figured out through therapy and the help that is available to those on ESA, how to manage my illness while in work.
Shortly after I started on ESA I was called to a medical assessment. These are run by Atos, a private company who provide a doctor, nurse or midwife (none specialising in mental health) to conduct a short assessment aided by a computer ticky box program. At my assessment I was actually slightly manic, a reaction to nervousness I think. As a result I was very chatty, optimistic etc. The nurse I saw spent very little time talking to me, and said she would get the Department of Work and Pensions Decision Maker to contact my Consultant Psychiatrist and GP for their assessment of me.
The report she produced stated that I am male when I am in fact female, noted as proofs that I am well the fact that I neither dribble nor make rocking movements, and that I was “well kempt”. The Decision Maker did not, in fact, contact my GP or my Consultant to find out what these professionals who have been treating me for years thought, but instead relied entirely on the nurse I had just met.
So, I failed the test. I was able to appeal again to the Decision Maker including any other evidence I might have. So I obtained letters from my Consultant and from my GP and sent them. The DWP lost them three times and by the time I finally got them through to them, I had missed the deadline for them to be considered, so I failed again. Then I applied to the Courts & Tribunals people to have my appeal further heard.
I had read elsewhere that there is a rather good rate of successful appeals when heard at tribunals, so I am quite hopeful. I have been living in a limbo land for such a long time now. I have been waiting for my appeal to be heard for over a year now, instead of the couple of months I was promised I would be seen by. In some ways I don’t care what they decide, I only care that they make a decision and then, either way, I can get on with my life.
I’m encouraged by this particular judge though. When I lived in London I didn’t hear anything from the tribunals service, but since moving north I have been asked for further information from me and for the details of my new doctors, so that they can obtain copies of my notes dating back to 2008. This suggests to me that they really like to know what they are doing, that there is no “rubber stamp” in this process.
I am a bit worried. I know that I can manage whatever the outcome. I know, for instance, that my situation (living with well-off parents) leaves me in a good position financially. The wolf is not at the door for me. But I am still anxious. I am trying not to wind up thinking that a refusal here means that I am the Mail’s favourite bugbear, the Benefit Scrounger. I know that I want to work – I also know that I have ping ponged in and out of both work and illness for years now. I want it to stop. I know exactly what I want to do which is work for the church, hopefully in chaplaincy in a mental hospital, and hopefully to get ordained. My illness is not going to disable me. But I need assistance to get to that stage. I want this help that I have been told I can get on ESA – I’ve been told there are programmes about managing stress at work, for instance. Stress triggers my depression, so that would be really useful. I also like the idea of being assisted into work by perhaps starting a voluntary job part-time to get back into the swing of things, while being carefully monitored by my doctors. I don’t think that would be possible on JSA with their targets of getting you into paid employment within X amount of time.
So I hope that the judge/s will understand. Because you see, I am well at the moment. I am always well when I am not working. I just want some help to make it so that I am well when I am working as well.
I’d just like to ask for your prayers for a fair outcome of my appeal tomorrow, if I may. At least it will soon be over.