Too Sick to Work? Attend the Work Programme or Face Sanctions!

On the 3rd December 2012 the DWP announced that people who had been through the exceptionally tough Atos work capability assessment and found to be not fit for work could be mandated indefinitely onto the work programme or have their income sanctioned. This new rule applied to people in the work related activity group. People, who according to the government, should be expected to recover within twelve months. This group includes the greatest proportion of sick and disabled people receiving ESA. The support group is so difficult to get into that it excludes many of those with degenerative and fluctuating illnesses, chronic conditions that have gone on for years and cases of terminal illness when they are expected to live longer than six months. Of course you'd want to spend your final months doing some work experience to improve your future job prospects wouldn't you?

It's plain to see that the work related activity group is fast becoming indistinguishable from job seekers allowance. Coalition politicians have stopped referring to it as a disability benefit and the media has frequently included the sick and disabled people in the group as people found fit to work. The benefit was also one of those capped at 1% and it will not increase in line with inflation. Dividing sick and disabled people up with a points scoring system into two groups, has always seemed to be flawed and unfair to me. If you're too sick to work, then you're too sick to work. How difficult can that fact be to understand?

I'll start by explaining a little about myself so that you might better understand the situation I am now facing because of this rule. Back in March I had a face-to-face assessment at my home with an Atos doctor. It was a tense and anxious wait for the brown envelope because the assessment is a lottery. No one can predict what their decision will be. When the dreaded letter finally arrived in the middle of May I didn't even realise it was the decision. Nowhere did it refer to a decision, or contain words such as, "we have made a decision" or "you have been placed in the work related activity group", or any reference to the assessment at all. What they did send was a leaflet about appealing a job seekers allowance decision. Confused? Yes! It took two phone calls and a week to find out what it was they were telling me.

In the meantime, I received a letter from my local job centre demanding that I attend a work related interview at a date in the near future or lose my benefits. I say local, but it's not the job centre in my own town, but a bigger one nearby in a busy shopping centre. My problem is that I have agoraphobia. I haven't been able to walk into that place in over a decade. I couldn't go there even if someone trusted went with me. I'm also terrified of telephone calls and speaking with people I don't know. I get worked up into an anxious panic, my mind becomes blank, I can't think, I feel unreal and floaty and words won't come. I also get panicked speaking to my own family and friends on the telephone, but that's another matter. The point is, I suffer from severe anxiety. I can't just have a nice meal out, take a trip or a pleasant walk down the street, go shopping on my own, get a haircut, meet new people, sit and socialise comfortably, attend family celebrations (and funerals) and sit with the family around the table at Christmas. I don't want sympathy, I just want to emphasise that if I can't do all of the ordinary and enjoyable things in life, then how can I be expected to suddenly overcome my agoraphobia and anxiety and jump through hoops for the job centre? All of this was explained in thorough detail in the assessment forms, and what a demoralising depressing experience describing it was too. There were lots and lots of letters and reports included from the multitude of mental health team workers who have tried, and failed to cure me over the last fifteen years as proof that I was genuinely diagnosed and struggling to cope with anxiety on a daily basis.

I really didn't feel able to speak to the job centre adviser when they called, but I had no choice. Not knowing what to expect I was brave and listened to what she had to tell me. She was referring me to the work programme and if I didn't attend I would be sanctioned. She asked if I had a mortgage or paid rent. "No". It has been suggested that the job centre have targets for sanctions and I have been set up.

All of this has happened so quickly that my claim was still within the four week time period to make an appeal for the support group. What troubles me most is that I am now receiving nonsensical and threatening letters from A4E and the job centre to arrange a work experience placement even though I still had time to make my mind up whether to appeal or not. I will tell you that I have now sent in an appeal form. This had to be requested and posted to me, and I will also tell you that it does not contain any advice or reference about how to appeal an employment and allowance decision or even where to post it. Are they making this difficult on purpose? You have to wonder?

I think it's cruel to harass someone who isn't fit to work and who can't get out of the house without a great deal of support to attend a work placement when it's simply impossible. I have barely slept and I'm experiencing a lot of horrible anxiety symptoms. Rather than helping me they are making my condition much worse. I don't want to imagine the horrors of having a massive panic attack in a public place with strangers around. Last time that happened in a work environment, I spent the afternoon in A&E.

You also have to wonder if the government is simply denying that sickness and mental illness exists, unless you're so ill or disabled that you're bed bound or in a hospital. If time limiting ESA to 365 days doesn't get you, because you have a partner who will not only be expected to care for you if you haven't recovered quickly enough, but they'll be 100% responsible for supporting you too and you won't have this marvellous tailored support to get you back to work (a blessing). You will find yourself sick and with no independent income or state support whatsoever. If you don't have a partner, or your household has been means tested and found to be dirt poor, the constant harassment and never ending stress might force you to attempt to live off thin air, kindly relatives or just simply throw in the towel for good.

The work programme claims to support sick and disabled people into work. Politicians like to boast that it helps to find lots of jobs for this difficult group of people who face massive barriers to getting into the work place. It is failing miserably. Out of the 80,720 people on employment and support allowance who were attached to a work placement, 1,290 actually ended up with a 'job outcome'.*

There is no way that I can mentally or physically attend this work programme placement whatever they have planned for me. If I can't function in a supermarket or shop or any place unless my mother is with me at all times, how can I be expected to work there? At the moment I am ignoring the letters because I can't cope with them. I am now waiting for the one that tells me my benefit has been stopped.



  1. I am not a qualified welfare rights adviser and I would recommend that you consult one but it would appear from your post that you have grounds to be placed in the support group under ESA Regulation 35 (2): "(a) the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement; and (b) by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the physical or mental health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work related activity". Ideally you would have medical evidence, for example, a letter from a GP, psychiatrist, psychologist, CPN, etc. stating that taking part in work related activity would constitute a significant risk to your mental health which has clearly been the case.
    Good luck and, yes, the system stinks which is why everyone should appeal poor and downright incorrect decision making rather than give in because the appeal process is so stressful, the more people who appeal and win their appeals the greater the body of evidence that ESA is not fit for purpose.

  2. Sympathise with u,..totally.Unfortunately,when there is no ailments to be seen.Dreading assessment,look fairly healthy but 1spark of panic n i'm a jelly mess,

  3. As someone who works with people who have severe and enduring mental health problems I want to confirm that this is not a one off it happens a lot. If a letter from a doctor is required why cannot we just go back to the system when your GP gives a sick cert. Many of my clients have serious chronic mental health problems maintained on meds no longer see a psychiatrist or care manager/ social worker and are treated by their GP's

  4. This government is an absolute disgrace, as is anyone that supports their despicable policies as well as those that turn a blind eye to what's going on. What shocked me the most out of everyone that I know is that my now ex best friend said that there's nothing that any of us can do about it, we should stop moaning about the changes being made and get on with or lives... This is someone not too many years ago would stand on the picket line for better pay and conditions for people who had a trade who would already have been on a much higher wage and lower hours than many other workers in this country but atleast he was doing it. It's interesting how someones outlook changes when you work your way up to middle management and are now looking down your nose at those who are campaigning, not for a higher wage or better working conditions but for a chance just to be able to live a somewhat 'normal' life with whatever physical or mental disability or condition we have, without the government attempting to trip us up every single step of the way.

  5. This is an appalling experience.

    Just to say you are not alone. I am in my mid 50s and have ehlers danlos syndrome (which I have suffered from birth), a severe sight impairment (I can no longer legally drive), widespread arthritis, fibromyalgia, asthma, autoimmune thyroid disease, chronic pain, and Parkinson's disease. I am housebound, SUBSTANTIALLY bed bound (at least 50% of the day), can not stand up without support or walk safely across my living room without substantial risk of falling...

    I can't realistically get out and about unless pushed in a wheelchair (I can't self propel due to weakness in my hands, wrists and shoulders) by someone else - not even to the corner shop...


    I have also had verbal abuse regularly screamed at me by my so-called disability advisor, including after I admitted to her that the bullying from herself and the DWP were making me suicidal. Once she had tasted blood it was 'no holds barred'.

    They pick on the sickest and most vulnerable, and it seems to me that this is why I was targeted for WRAG and the WP, as obviously I have no realistic chance of ever getting better from several permanent and degenerative conditions.

    My health has deteriorated exponentially over the past two years due to the stress (in particular the DWP has no excuses about subjecting autoimmune patients to stress when this is a major trigger for worsening their conditions - equating this harrassment with deliberate culling).

    My GP's surgery refuses to write letters defending patients under the ESA regulations, increasingly treating anyone they know to be on benefits like pariahs, (thanks to gov't disability hate propaganda). Unfortunately there is no other surgery accessible for me in the area.

    The only positive thing is that thanks to the intervention of my local Councillor, the WP provider has now put me on phone interviews because I am unable to travel without it making me violently ill (it is about 10 miles away) and their location on an upper floor of a high-rise block makes it physically impossible for me to access independently, forcing a family member to get time off work to take me (I would also be a fire hazard, as I could not exit the building by walking down a fire-escape).

    So it might be worthwhile for you and others in this situation to contact their local Council Member or MP, as they can often pull strings.

    It IS possible for disabled individuals to do the WP via phone interviews - although the Jobcentre witch had lied (recorded on my phone!) and claimed categorically that it was "not allowed".

    And not that ANYONE who is ill should be on this wretched scheme. Even those with short-term conditions should be using their energy to heal, and not be harrassed like this.

  6. You have my sympathy :( My JCA and passed me off to a Work Fare Company who have done nothing but HOUND me to attend for almost two years (I ignore the letters) Some gave me phone interviews, others refused - so I simply said: I am too sick to attend in person.

    I am permanently deformed through major stomach and bowel surgery. I have damaged nerves in both bowel and stomach, which is agony without my /heavy/ medication such as morphine and gabapentin. When I am in hospital, I am not allowed out of bed on morphine - and at home I have to stay in bed as the morphine makes me dizzy and incoherent. A danger to myself and others.

    But on ESA WRAG The Work Fare company are insisting I have to attend. So far I have thrown liable in their face, and said that IF I am forced to attend like zombie, I want it in writing that they are liable if anything happens to me, so I can sue. (It's just a threat but so far in 2 years, I have not been sanctioned for non-attendance to work-fare company building.) I also TOLD them, they would need to provide a PAID taxi and somewhere for me to lie down. So far they have not agreed to my terms.

    I have evidence from GP including a fax stating I am too ill to travel by bus etc. I am on NHS provided underwear for bowel leakage (evidence on official NHS paper) I HAVE to take my medication daily/nightly as without it I am writhing in agony.

    WHAT can I possibly work at????? I am in bed 50% of the day, and never go out unless I HAVE to. NHS supply transport for me for apps and treatment. Other times I MUST have a taxi or a lift and always someone with me - as I have to take my medication.

    I am NOT a scrounger BUT I am too sick to attend this Private Workfare Company - but they don't seem to give a damn, nor do Ian Dickhead Smith and David Cruel Cameron. SURELY if I am too sick to work - then WHY bully me into courses etc (which would be impossible to attend anyway)

    I'd like to see a comment from a Work-Fare Company employee to answer our posts. But what I have been told is::: It's NOT US the DWP who instruct us to treat you this way. DWP blame the Work-Fare Company when you call them.

    Work-Fare is okay for the fit on JSA - but it's killing people on ESA WRAG.

    Sandie, UK