Thursday 31 January 2013

Tips for completing an ESA50

That day when the brown envelope of terror falls through the letterbox, seems to be the most feared of the entire ESA process. Considering the competition it was, I can't overstate how much this scares people.

I get messages almost daily, written in the kind of panic you can taste and hear and smell. They ask if I have any tips or advice on filling in their ESA50 form (the form you must complete if applying for out of work sickness support.)

Rather than wear my keyboard to a nub typing the same words in a Groundhog Day loop, I thought I would share them here :

1) If you know you will be getting a form at some point to transfer you from the old IB (Incapacity Benefit) start planning now. You only have 4 weeks to fill the form in once it's arrived, and health professionals can take that long just to return the evidence you will need.

-You might want to write a letter yourselves ( no more than one page of A4) as this will help your GP ( or physio, CPN, consultant etc) and make sure nothing gets missed. When you give it to her, suggest she use it as a basis and give permission for her to simply sign it if she is happy with everything you've written. It will save the GP time and might just possibly save you a fee.

2) Complete the form concisely. Don't waffle. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking the more they write, the more likely they are to succeed. The opposite is true. Atos HCPs ( Health Care Professionals, who carry out "fit for work" assessments ) are under enormous pressure to get through as many cases in a day as possible. They simply do t have time to read through reams of evidence and will almost certainly just call you in for a WCA ( Work Capability Assessment ) to save themselves the trouble. Make every last word count. You shouldn't need to attach more than one extra side of A4 - 2 at the most. 

3) Use terms medics will recognise. So don't say "I get blockages in my bowel" say "I get fibrotic structuring causing chronic sub-acute obstruction". Don't say "my stomach doesn't work very well meaning I'm often sick" say "I have gastroparesis causing regular reflux and vomiting.

4) List your medical interventions and treatments, with dates, clinically and unemotionally. Eg "Surgery, 2005, laparotomy to resect section of jejenum. MRI, 2008, showing anal fistula, Endoscopy 2011 showing perforation"

5) List all symptoms, however trivial or embarrassing. 

6) List all medications, aids and appliances you use to get through a day, even if you aren't using them that particular week. 

7) If the answer to a question is "I can sometimes do that on a good day, but not on a bad day" say "I cannot do blah reliably/repeatedly/safely/in a timely fashion" (use one or all of these as appropriate. 

8) Finally, NEVER lie or exaggerate on the form. If you can't walk very far, measure HOW far ( most  people usually underestimate. If an HCP thinks your evidence sounds implausible, he will doubt other things you say.

If you follow all of these tips, you have the best chance of success. Good luck and most of all DON'T PANIC. It wont help, it will only make the form harder to fill in. 

a goo

8) Finally, NEVER lie or exaggerate. If you can't walk very far, measure HOW far (most ppl underestimate) If the HCP thinks you've exaggerated on the form it makes you look dishonest. 

Tuesday 29 January 2013

DWP can run, but they CAN'T hide

I've just heard that the DWP have refused to send anyone to Radio 4's You and Yours show on Radio 4 tomorrow (12 noon) to defend and debate with me the changes we exposed in #esaSOS. 

Despite leading barristers saying they are ILLEGAL and Professors of medicine saying they are IMMORAL and UNWORKABLE the DWP haven't answered a single point we raised. Again.

It's remarkable. People are suffering. 140,000 people have been PROVEN to have been unfairly stripped of their livelihood . We challenge them, they don't even deny we're right, but they sit there in their ivory towers and say "So sue us"

Well, DWP, we will and if you think I'll stop at defeating you on ESA you're wrong. I'll make sure every last one of you is held PERSONALLY accountable for the horrific assault you're inflicting on vulnerable people in the UK who need you most.

In the next few weeks, I will release stories proving you are liars and cheats. I promise, you will not be able to hide from these. You will have no defence, no-one to blame but yourselves.

And yes, I'll do it from my hospital bed, and yes, I'll do it fed into my central line and yes, I WILL win.

And think on this DWP - You've left me the whole show to say what I like unopposed.

May you never sleep soundly again. 

Monday 21 January 2013

Help us! We're Begging You

No-one likes a nagging over their cornflakes.

Actually, no-one likes to be told that they're lazy, unfeeling or cruel at all. But Britain, for God's sake, are you ever going to listen to these News stories about disability and care?

For 2 years now seriously ill and profoundly disabled people have been begging you. OK, from the pages of the Guardian or from your Facebook timeline. But begging just the same.

If any of the exceptional Paralympians, so feted just an icy season ago came into your kitchen now and got down on their knees, if they begged you with tears in their eyes, with terror etched on their faces, would you look away? Would you turn up the radio so you couldn't hear?

Of course you wouldn't, you'd be horrified.

They've told you they're being hit harder than any other group by Osborne's austerity drive for 2 years now.

They've told you they are to be left in their own filth for want of someone to care for them.

They've told you they can't afford to eat.

They've told you they're having every type of support stripped away.

They've told you they face a choice between heating their homes and feeding their children.

They've told you this coalition will stop at nothing to save a pound or two they so desperately need.

They've told you a full quarter of government savings are coming from them, the "most vulnerable" you were promised would be safe.

They've told you they are being spat at and harmed in the street if they venture outside, so successfully have the government convinced you all they are scroungers.

They've told you about the deaths. Those who felt they simply couldn't take any more of this assault.

But still you don't hear. Still you look away, still you allow this to carry on, right before your noses and refuse to believe its true.

When history writes the truth of this time, you will be appalled. You will feel shamed. You will ask how it could possibly have happened.

And the truth will be you were distracted by the X-Factor, the gas bills and the snow.

So I'll beg once more :



Let today be the day. The day you click on the Facebook button below and shout from the rooftops. The day you share this with your family and friends. The day you flood Twitter with your objections.


Sunday 20 January 2013

The Snow Revolution

Watching snow swirls, i am rapt.
Like the ant ppl at Victoria station seen from above. A glorious flurry of aimless activity, never colliding. Aimless with urgent purpose. 
Yet we settle into something else entirely. A unity of ppl, banking like the dazzling white. More powerful. More substantial. With the power to call a country to a halt. 
May the ppl settle and realise their infinite power. 

Wednesday 16 January 2013



On 28 January 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!


In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that – without even asking your opinion!
However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being consulted, on the basis of an “imaginary” aid they don’t own or may not be able to use!

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. There’s no need for evidence that the treatment will help: you will lose support either way, making it much harder to manage if the treatment doesn’t work as hoped – let alone if it ends up making things worse.

>>> Imagine Bert, who suffers from severe schizophrenia, but is found fit to work and made to take behavioural therapy in the hope of improving his condition. He will lose his disability benefit, without the assessor having to look at several vital questions: how hard it would be for Bert to contact a psychiatrist? How long would an NHS appointment take to organize? Are there private options in his area – and could he afford them if so? What if the therapy doesn’t work, or takes a long time to adjust to? <<<

"how individuals are assessed to receive ESA could give rise to large numbers of legal claims being made against them. These changes immediately puts the government at risk of breaching article 9 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights, which preserves an individual’s right to ‘thought, conscience and religion’. The new rules provide for an individual to be refused ESA if they do not take any medication or accept an aid which Doctors believe could aid their condition. Essentially, they can impose a financial penalty on individuals who refuse treatment on religious. Given the very recent decision involving the Christian, Nadia Eweida and the court upholding her right to wear a cross – the government is on very rocky ground with these changes.” Chris Fry, Solicitor and Managing Partner at Unity"

If the government’s rule changes go through, people like Bert who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and actively preventing their efforts to get back into work.


The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.

This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead to both physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

>>> Think of Emily, who suffers severe, chronic pain because of nerve damage to her leg. Emily is among the 49% of chronic pain sufferers who also suffer depression as a result of continuous pain. An assessor may see Emily as able to do some work as long as she takes strong painkillers for the rest of her life, meaning she could pass the ‘fitness’ test. Yet the painkillers may not deal with the depression caused by her condition. Painkillers have also often been shown to affect people’s wakefulness and decision-making. So taking the medication may affect Emily’s ability to do a job in a completely new way – yet because these new problems are cognitive, they would not need to be looked at by the assessor when making their decision! <<<

Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty. We cannot let the government treat some of the most vulnerable people in British society in this way.


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them! 

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

1) Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at;
2) Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media; CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK
3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!

Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Now let’s make sure these unwanted, damaging benefit changes never see the light of day!

If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again. 
Sign here - and ask all of your friends to sign too!