Letters: Claiming Benefits When Disabled Is Not A ‘Lifestyle Choice’

Sick and disabled people don't 'choose' to claim benefits, they have no choice - writes Kathy Lamprell.


It all started back in August 2013, I had a good job working for Environmental Health in my Neighboring Council. I woke up one morning unable to stand, extreme lower back pain, I called work and said I couldn’t get in, then I went to my doctors, he diagnosed a slipped disc. Gave me pain meds and said it should get better over a week or so.

Unfortunately it didn’t, work were fantastic and continued to pay me full pay. Until in October with no improvement, my doctor sent me to hospital for an MRI scan. This revealed compression at my lower spine, a problem with my thoracic spine and further problems with the disc herniation I had in my cervical spine.


Basically my spine was collapsing,.. with no light at the end of the tunnel I had a meeting at home with my employer and I had no choice but to give up my job. I signed on for ESA. I was told that I would be on the basic amount of just £75 a week until I had a medical assessment done. I had to move house as housing benefit would not cover my share of the rent, so we downsized to a smaller cheaper property. My pain was not subsiding at all, in fact it was getting worse, I saw my GP regularly and he referred me to a spinal specialist in the January.

When I was eventually seen, I was lied to. False information was given to my GP and I had to prove everything, but I did, as I was getting numbness in my arms and hands by this point I was advised NOT to drive any distance; just to town and back as it could be dangerous if I lost feeling whilst driving. I took their advice and limited myself to only local driving. The bus was out of the question as it was to painful so I became stuck indoors most of the time. I struggled to pay my bills, I had been earning upwards of £1,000 a month, suddenly now through no fault of my own I was having to survive on just £75 a week. Yes my council tax was covered and most of my rent, but other bills all still had to be paid.

In February, my sister became very sick, she lived 30 miles away and not once could I go and visit her in hospital. My other sisters kept me up to date with what was happening. They called me one day to say that she was not going to make it, and if I could get over to see her it would be good to do right now! But I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even go out. I spoke to her doctors on the phone and we all agreed not to resuscitate should her problems go that way. Sadly she passed away later that day without me seeing her or saying goodbye.

The funeral a week later was horrendous. I was determined NOT to miss it. I dosed up on maximum pain meds and headed for the train, my daughter and friend went with me for support. I made it through the day, just, by the time I returned home I was in absolute agony and suffered increased pain levels for many weeks afterwards.

Eventually I received a letter asking me to go for a ATOS Medical assessment. It was being done over 20 miles away, I wondered how I would get there! My appointment was in August 2014, on the day my daughter thankfully was visiting and agreed to accompany me. We got into town and onto the train, six stops later we arrived at the destination, then found we had a long walk to get to the [assessment] centre. I was in so much pain by the time we had got off the train that I sat in the station for nearly half an hour to let my pain medicines work a little. Then we started walking down.

On arrival we went into the office and checked in, the lady at the desk asked me to fill in a travel form, which we did. After about an hour I still hadn’t been seen, we were told we could either wait or re-arrange for another day as they were running late! It was the first appointment of the day, so how could they be running late?

I decided that I could NOT do that journey again so we decided to sit it out. My daughter got us drinks from a nearby shop and we waited, and waited and waited. Eventually over an hour after my appointment time we were called in. I could barely walk, I was in so much pain by this time that tears were streaming down my face. The lady I saw asked me if I had any paperwork to show her, so I gave her my letter from my GP as well as one from the hospital. She read them and decided that she would NOT examine me as she ‘could see how much pain I was already in’! she advised me that she would place me in the ‘Support Group’ for a year and I would be re-assessed in August 15. I left and started my journey home.

A few weeks later my ESA payment went up to £123 a week with back pay for the time after the 13 weeks till assessment. I believed that things might improve! How wrong was I?

Now living on just £123 a week things were still very hard. Just £480 to pay my utility bills, Gas, Electric, TV license, water bills, etc which total over £150 a month top up, rent over £80 a month, food which can vary from £50 a week (£200 a month) to £70 a week (£280 a month, when I need washing powder, toiletries and household cleaning etc). I have Coaelics disease which means I have to follow a complete ‘Gluten Free diet’ – just a loaf of bread is £2.80. If I don’t stick to the diet I get very, very sick – so have to do it. This is why my food shopping bill is so high, fresh meat and vegetables are NOT as cheap as they make us think! Leaving me with a mere £50 on good weeks or nothing at all for car tax, petrol or anything else I may need to remain independent.

Now I find council tax have decided to re-assess my claim and decided that I owe them £60? With no warning at all I received a letter telling me I had 14 days to pay, I couldn’t pay! I DO NOT GET ENOUGH MONEY! I called, I fought, I screamed and even though they promised it would not go to court, they did it anyway. They tried to raise the bill up to over £180. I fought them all the way and eventually they agreed to remove the other charges, as they could see I had been asking for an explanation for months, but never got one! My daughter kindly paid the bill for me, so now I owe her.

Out of the blue, the DWP contact and say I had an outstanding ‘social fund loan from 1990, they want their money and are going to take it from my ESA at £10.50 a week!! I don’t have the money, so am pushed even further into debt.

Living on benefits is NOT my choice. My GP has said he doubts I will ever be able to work again; my spine IS collapsing and there is nothing they can do about it. I also have osteoporosis and arthritis in my spine, neck and hips along with Chronic Pain Syndrome. Possible now is that I may also have Fibromyalgia. I am hoping this is not the case as life is hard enough.

I would do anything to enable me to return to work and support myself, but I have no choice. Ill health is NOT a choice, it is an unfortunate part of life. If they make further cuts to benefits for the sick and disabled I will not be able to manage any longer.

It is ridiculous when we hear on the news that the Prime Minister has agreed to an MP salary increase of some 11% and the Queen is getting repairs done at Buckingham Palace for £150 million!! If we truly are ‘All in this together’ as Cameron says, then NO PAY RISES, DELAY THE REPAIRS AND PAY THIS COUNTRIES SICK AND DISABLED A LIVING WAGE! Do the people of this country upgrade their homes when finances are tight? NO, they should wait until they can afford it. The Government should do the same. NO pay rise for MP’s. No repairs at Buckingham Palace and NO Repairs at the House of commons. Stop spending our hard-earned taxes overseas and look after your own people FIRST!!

I paid taxes for 38 years and now I need help to manage, but I am labelled a ‘Scrounger’ by the Government and the media. It is wrong!!

My life on benefits, by Kathy Lamprell.


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