Hundreds of Dungannon people suffering from debilitating conditions such as MS and cancer, who had been told by the Government they were not entitled to sickness benefits, have overturned the decisions on appeal.
A total of 327 local people with serious disabilities were wrongly deemed fit to work by the new employment tests, causing them untold financial stress and hardship.
Since the new tests were introduced in June 2011, 1093 Dungannon claimants have appealed the benefits agency’s decision to take away their sickness payments.
The alarming figures suggest that people with serious medical conditions are being caught up in the clampdown on the workshy.
It is estimated that across the UK the cost of running these tribunals is in the region of £50million a year.
Coalisland man Plunkett Scullion, who is being treated for bowel cancer, is among those local people who have had to undergo the new fit to work tests.
Plunkett, who also suffers from arthritis, said the tests were extremely stressful, and he hoped other people with serious illness would not be forced to undergo the process.
“The tests lasted about 45 minutes and six weeks later I am still waiting to hear word about their decision. The whole process is a sick joke”, he said.
“They questioned everything about my illnesses and asked some questions which I felt were inappropriate. For instance, they pointed out a bit of dirt on the bottom of my trousers, and asked how did that get there? When I said I would complain to my local newspaper they just shrugged and said they did not read newspapers.
“Dealing with the effects of cancer and recovering after major surgery are difficult enough, without having to go through the humiliation of these tests.
“My GP believes that I am unfit for work and has told them this, but the benefits agency aren’t satisfied.
“I went on my own, but I would advise other people to bring someone for support, or a professional advisor from the CAB.”
Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan said the benefits clampdown was targeting the most vulnerable in society.
“The British Government have appointed a private company ATOS to access people fitness for work and it seems they have quotas to get off the DVLA and sickness”, she said.
“ATOS is a multinational, IT company based in France which the British Government has contracted to carry out Work Capability Assessments to determine an individual’s entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), formerly Incapacity Benefit.
“ATOS claims that ‘healthcare professionals’ are carrying out these assessments but if that is the case I am at a loss as to how they reach some of their decisions.
“This is part of the British Tory clampdown on attacking the most vulnerable people, those with sickness and disability and I would appeal to anyone who has lost benefits to contact their local MLA, Citizen Advice Bureau or local Welfare Rights officer and appeal what is in effect the privatisation of benefits.”
How to appeal
If you don’t agree with an Employment and Support Allowance decision on your capability for work, you have the right to appeal against it.
There are strict time limits for making an appeal so it’s important that you act quickly.
You have one month after getting a decision to ask for it to be explained, reconsidered or to appeal. Find out more on the ESA page of the Direct Gov website.
Get more help on how to prepare for an ESA appeal from the Disability Law Service.
You can get help with your appeal from your nearest Citizens Advice centre.