Up until three years ago, 63 year old Mike was a systems analyst contractor, keen fisherman and active grandfather. Then, a massive stroke changed his life completely, leaving him with speech and language difficulties, short term memory loss, and physical weakness in his limbs. Not expected to survive the stroke, Mike fought and struggled every day to try to find a way to communicate with his family, and to regain strength so that he could look forward to some semblance of independence. He learned to walk again and to gain some use of his hands but Mike’s main problem was and is his short term memory loss. The loss affects Mike’s speech as he has great difficulty recalling words; he can see what he wants in his mind’s eye but can’t remember the words to describe it. His frustration leads to emotional and angry outbursts, and a loss of inhibition caused by the stroke means that his language can often be offensive and inappropriate. This hidden trauma affects his life every day.
Six months after his stroke and still recovering his health, Mike was asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment by ATOS to see if he was eligible for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Mike began to receive benefits until April 2012 when his entire income, without warning as far as his family could tell, was stopped. This is when his family became aware that at the assessment which took place just six months after his stroke and despite evident language problems, he had been considered as being likely to be able to return to work in the future. Mike had been placed in a Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG), which under new welfare reforms introduced in April 2011, limits claimants to twelve months payment because they are expected to be fit and capable of finding work. Mike, because of his difficulties at the time had not been sufficiently aware of what the decision reached by ATOS meant and therefore neither he nor his family had realised that they could have appealed before his benefits were stopped. Without the presentation of further evidence about the impact of the stroke ATOS were not aware of the need for a further assessment. It had been presumed that Mike would be fit for work one year after his stroke.
My Dad worked full time for 44 years before suffering a catastrophic brain haemorrhage… I can’t believe the system he paid into all his working life was not there to support him in his time of need…
Throughout the nine months after his benefits had stopped, Mike’s family had to fight to prove that he couldn’t work –that there was no employment that would be suitable for him. An appeal process began: letters from his family, Welfare Rights, GP support, interventions from the local MP – none of it made a difference. The stress had a significantly detrimental effect on Mike’s health and emotional wellbeing. He became depressed, anxious and dependent on his family to explain time and again why he was going through this.
Mike’s daughter, Mel explained: “My Dad worked full time for 44 years before suffering a catastrophic brain haemorrhage in February 2010. He is a shadow of the man he once was and from being the person I could turn to for anything, I have had to support him and calm his worries about money. I can’t believe the system he paid into all his working life was not there to support him in his time of need and we have had to fight tooth and nail for justice. It has upset everyone and put my Dad under a lot of unnecessary stress.”
Eventually Mike was given an appeal date and because of the overwhelming evidence provided, without even having to hear his case, the court overturned the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the basis of his medical records alone and restored his welfare payments. While relieved at the outcome, Mike and his family are still angry that valuable time has been wasted and they worry too that others with a hidden condition may face a similar situation.
We’d like to hear from you if you, like Mike, have been affected by issues around welfare rights and need to have your voice heard. Step by step, we can make a difference.