Punished for being ill: '˜Benefit changes made my illness much worse'
A Lancashire dad has criticised a new disability support assessment system which he says put his livelihood - and health - at risk.
Michael Gibson, 36, from Chorley, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when he was just 18.
Despite Parkinson’s being a serious, progressive neurological illness with no known cure, he says assessors who were deciding whether he could keep his mobility car asked him when his condition would clear up.
Michael has spoken out after a national survey by the Disability Benefits Consortium revealed 8 in 10 disabled people said their assessments for personal independence payments (PIPs) had made their health worse due to stress or anxiety.
Half the 1,700 respondents had lost money under the benefits system shake-up and a third of those said they were struggling to pay for food, rent and bills.
TV producer Michael says he relies on his mobility car to get to work at MediaCity in Salford because he cannot manage the 30-minute train and 20-minute tram journey because of his condition. Parkinson’s can affect movement and can leave him stiff and struggling to walk.
When his wife was on maternity leave, he was reassessed from the old Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independent Payments and was told then he would lose his car. He said: “It was a horrific time, I can’t use public transport so I didn’t know how I was going to get to work.
“As a father of two, I was worried about paying the bills and this stress had a massive impact on me.
“I have never experienced my Parkinson’s symptoms as bad as when I was going through the PIP process.
“It was frightening, I felt like I had progressed 10 years with the condition.
“My employers have been really supportive but it started to affect my work and I had to reduce my hours. I was in a really dark place, I became very inward and depressed.”
Mr Gibson asked for a mandatory reconsideration so the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) would reconsider the decision, but the process took so long that his car was due to be taken away before he had even got a response.
“I had to borrow money from my dad to pay for the car outright or it would have been taken away,” he said.
Figures from the Motability charity show 59,000 people have lost their eligibility for a vehicle since 2013 - 45 per cent of all those on the scheme that have been reassessed.
Of these, more than 4,000 have since re-joined following a successful reconsideration or appeal.
Mr Gibson said he had a “terrible” experience with his PIP assessors, adding: “At one point I was asked how long would I have Parkinson’s for, and another assessor told me that I wouldn’t be eligible before she’d even started the assessment.
“Assessors are determining people’s futures with very little or no knowledge of the conditions people are living with.
“Under DLA I felt supported, but having that support taken away made me feel isolated and alone.
“It’s hard enough as a younger person living with a progressive, long-term condition like Parkinson’s without feeling like the benefits system is against you too.
“After months of stress and worry, the decision was overturned which was a big relief, but people with long-term conditions should not have to go through this.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden says many other people in Lancashire have been struggling to cope with the PIPS system. He added his constituency office is inundated with people who had lost benefits through a change in the system.
Earlier this year following a Parlimentary debate on the matter, he said: “An appeal by the DWP can take several months. It causes financial hardship and stress to a particular individual who has had traumatic injuries and stress in their health and wellbeing.”