A seriously ill kidney patient has spoken about how he was forced to turn to a food bank to feed his family over Christmas, after ‘callous’ officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stopped his disability benefits.
Alex Crawley has to undergo kidney dialysis three days a week, after two failed kidney transplants, and is currently waiting for a third transplant that could save his life.
Mr Crawley says the critical treatment leaves him feeling exhausted, to the extent of being unable to work, but his obvious frailties have not prevented the DWP from axing his disability benefits.
The 29-year-old was told to submit a claim for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as part of Government reforms to the welfare system, but his claim was refused leaving him around £500 a month worse off.
The cruel decision also meant that his partner Cassandra Liddle, 30, lost £62 a week in Carers Allowance.
He appealed the decision but was told the forms had been lost, and that he would have to reapply for PIP and attend a degrading face-to-face assessment. Again, his claim for benefits was denied.
“I had to touch my toes, lift my arms, put them behind my back, do a series of movements,” he said.
“I told him that I was in absolute agony doing it, but he told me to do ‘as much as I can.
“That then backfires because he says I am able to work and so I lose out on my benefits.
“It is a bent truth.”
Faced with the prospect of his family, including his 11-month-old son, going hungry over Christmas, Alex had to endure the indignity of turning to a local food bank.
Left to survive on just £135 a week in Employment and Support Allowance, which he claims is barely enough to cover household bills, Alex says: “We went to the food bank in the weeks before Christmas after being referred by a charity.
“We are not talking about luxuries for Christmas dinner – it was basics for us to get by.”
“It was our first Christmas with the little one, so it was very upsetting”, he added.
The struggling father, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, says he’s also had to turn to family and friends for help and has had to take out loans to keep the family’s finances afloat, which will need to be repaid.
Alex’s father donated a kidney after his son was diagnosed with dysplastic kidneys at just three-years of age in 1991. He was one of the youngest ever children to have undergone a kidney transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
Unfortunately, Alex experienced renal failure in 2007 and had to undergo a second kidney transplant. But it soon become apparent that the life-changing transplant would not be successful.
The doting father now has to make a two-hour round-trip to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for dialysis treatment, three times a week.
Speaking about how the treatment affects him, Alex said: “The treatment completely drains me.
“When I get home from hospital I have to go straight to bed and I’m pretty much out of action the next day as well.
“I struggle with simple day-to-day tasks, and there are severe time restrictions when you’re going back and forth to hospital all the time.”
He added: “What they are saying basically is that I can work when I am not getting dialysis.
“But I am physically exhausted as a result of my condition. It is not just about the four hours on dialysis three days a week.
“It leaves you so tired. I know people who work who are self employed, but they have a lot more freedom. It is hard to hold down a job with normal hours.
“I think it is because I am young, and they see me as fit. It is a subliminal prejudice.”
He added: “I used to work as a chef, but had to give up for treatment. I’ve tried other jobs but they weren’t understanding about how much time I needed to have off – I could be rushed into hospital at short notice at any time.”
In the decision letter, assessor Thomas Stringfellow said: “I have decided you can stand and move 50m but no more than 200m.
“You have problems with bending, fatigue, nocturnal seizures and tremors…I cannot consider any help you need not covered by activities for daily living and mobility, including the ability to work.”
Alex says the assessor also claimed he was able to bathe and eat meals on his own without support, neither of which is true he says.
“They got so much wrong”, he said.
Alex is now appealing the decision, but claims: “I know other people who are on dialysis who have been waiting 18 months for an appeal on PIP benefits.”
“I don’t know how they survived”, he told the local press.
“It may be a nice lump sum when it is backdated – but you have to survive in the meantime.
“We are living hand to mouth.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.
“Anyone that disagrees with a decision can ask us to look at it again, and if they’re still unhappy with it they can appeal to an independent tribunal.”