A Fife woman who has faced an uphill struggle to secure a vital welfare benefit says she was almost driven to suicide by a system that is not fit for purpose.
Hannah Foster, from Strathkinness, was diagnosed with ME in 2019 and it became clear she would not be able to return to work or carry out her role as a senior administrator long-term, with her employers Edinburgh University agreeing.
However, Hannah’s world was turned upside down when the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) remarkably declared her fit to work and therefore unable to claim Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which are a lifeline for adults trying to deal with the extra costs of living with a long-term health condition or a disability.
Hannah raised the case with her MP, Wendy Chamberlain, and she was finally granted PIP just a few days ago, but the worry and uncertainty of how she might make ends meet in recent weeks has taken a huge toll.
Fearing thousands of other people may be suffering in silence, Hannah is calling on the UK government to overhaul the PIP system.
“The Personal Independence Payment process is predicated on being able to stand up for yourself and as a disabled person I have huge limitations in my ability to do this,” she told The Courier.
“The deterioration of my own mental health during this process cannot be underestimated.
“My previously active life has been absolutely destroyed by an illness over which I have no control.
“I lost a job I loved due to incapacity, and had to move back in with my parents because I could no longer look after myself.
“Two years ago, I had a demanding full time job and an active social life, went to yoga five times a week, cooked for myself every night and worked on music and writing in my spare time.
“Now, an exceptionally good day is marked by my ability to be out of the house for two hours while wearing sunglasses and earplugs, and using a cane for what little walking I can manage, and then I have to be in bed for the rest of the day.
“As a result, to have it implied that I am lying is utterly crushing and actively traumatic.
“The stress also worsens my symptoms substantially and, for the first time in my life, I have become suicidal.”
Hannah was given a phone call saying the decision to deny her PIP had been reversed this week after a lengthy struggle, but it raised more questions than answers.
“The individual who reviewed my case said that it was clear that much of the evidence I had submitted had not been taken into account,” she added.
“What on earth was the original decision maker doing, then? What training has this person had?
“More to the point, how many assessors are making the wrong decision and making the lives of the disabled in this country substantially worse as a result?
“If it has happened to me, it is happening to thousands of other deserving applicants all over the UK, and it is unacceptable.
“The inhumane lack of compassion it takes to support such a process is staggering, and I cannot help but think that it is only able to continue because the disabled are far less equipped to stand up for ourselves than most other groups of citizens due to physical/mental limitations, poor infrastructure, a lesser or inability to make money etc.
“We are also far more reliant on benefits than other groups, and so fear of speaking out is widespread among the disabled in this country.”
Ms Chamberlain raised Hannah’s case with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has said he will ensure she gets a “proper meeting with the relevant minister to discuss her objectives”.
“When an employee and their employer can come to arrive at the same conclusion that they are no longer fit to work, it is staggering that the Department of Work and Pensions can come to a different conclusion without looking at all the evidence,” Ms Chamberlain noted.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information supplied by the claimant, including supporting evidence from health or social care professionals.
“We want people with a disability or health condition to get the support they are entitled to and if someone disagrees with a decision they can ask for it to be reviewed.”