Christine’s Story: I Would
Rather Be Dead Than Attend
Another Atos Interrogation
Guest Post From Christine, written by husband James:
Christine has suffered from depression since 14 years of age, but it has only
been since she was 39 years old that Christine became so ill that she decided
to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (having never claimed
anything but Unemployment benefit for a few weeks when she was 16).
In 1997 her depression was starting to get worse and was complicated
by Postnatal Depression, so she sought medical help. Her response to the
drugs was poor and her Doctor tried valiantly to get to the bottom of the
problem and help. By 1998 he had stabilized Christine’s condition, but in 1999
her condition got worse due to Postnatal Depression. It declined slowly over
the years so that in 2003 she was referred to the Psychiatric department at the
local hospital. Over the next few months they tried numerous medications
without much success.
In 2003 my wife decided she had to fight back and so enrolled in College to do
a course in Hairdressing, going totally against her fears, trying to get her life
back to normality. Fortunately, her tutor at that time was very supportive and
helped her gain some of her lost confidence. Christine was in college from
2003 till 2007, gaining qualifications in Hairdressing and Holistics.
With a new found confidence (still being treated for depression and insomnia)
and some financial help from a friend, Christine opened a hairdressers in
2008. But within a couple of months of opening, the cracks started to show
and Christine spent most days at the shop, in the kitchen crying and scared of
her own shadow. We had employed staff to run the shop within the first month,
as Christine found she could not cope. So in 2010 the shop ceased trading.
Having first starting with depression in 1984, where a suicide attempt was first
attempted right up to today Christine has had a varying degree of depression
which has steadily got worse, however, until 2010, by which time Christine was
an emotional and psychological train wreck, did she ever claim any benefits.
Like most ESA/IB claimants out there, she only claimed once her illness got so
bad that she was unable to function.
Christine has ‘Chronic Dysthymia with negative cognition’s’, with marked
suicidal ideation. Agoraphobia,telephone phobia, insomnia, panic attacks,
OCD, claustrophobia, anxiety and self-harming. Christine has to see her
Doctor, Psychiatrist and Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, on a regular basis
and is currently on a concoction of tablets. Although, it is debatable how much
good they are actually doing.
Having claimed for the first time since being 16 years old, Christine sent in an
ESA50 [work capability questionnaire] and waited for what was expected to be
a medical with a qualified member of the medical community, with some
understanding of mental health issues. Instead Christine saw a registered
nurse with just a few weeks training in disability assessment, although my wife
says she does not remember a lot of what happened that day, due to being
slightly detached from realism that day, I remember it very clearly.
The reception staff were pretty neutral in there duties, very much like an old
fashioned doctor’s receptionist, efficient and polite, but devoid of emotion. The
Nurse however, was rather curt and rarely made any kind of eye contact
during the whole interrogation. I was told on a number of occasions to be
quiet, as the nurse did not want my opinion of my wife’s condition, only my
wife’s. As a result a lot of valid information was missed. Christine was an
absolute nervous wreck, but as the nurse made very little visual contact, this
was also for the most part was not documented.
A few weeks later the now dreaded brown envelope arrived, it stated that
Christine had qualified for ESA and would be in the Work Related Activity
Group (WRAG), she had no idea that this meant she had ‘sort of qualified’,
and no appeal was made at that point. No one had told her anything about
ESA and that there were [two different] groups (WRAG & Support Group), so
she assumed it to be the old fashioned pass or fail and that she had passed
the test. Looking back, my wife was in no fit state to actually understand what
was going on by this point.
A few months later Christine was called to Sure Trust, so I accompanied her
and the interviewer was very helpful and discussed Christine’s problems,
allowing me to comment at any point I wished. Christine had a death grip on
my hand and was shaking. He then asked her when she thought she would be
in a fit state to return to work; she look stunned and said she had no intention
to look for work, as she couldn’t cope.
Not long afterward, I had to take over all of Christine’s benefit claims and
became her appointee. Then a letter came through saying that Christine had
to go to another Medical (Interrogation) and to fill the information in, including
dates when Christine could not attend. The first offered appointment was right
in the middle of when they had been informed Christine would not be able to
attend. I phoned them and they changed the date to a couple of weeks later,
which she was unable to attend due to having a serious chest infection. So
they rearranged the appointment but stated if Christine did not attend this
appointment her benefits would be stopped as this was a third offer. We then
got a letter stating the appointment had been moved to a later date. A few
weeks later another letter arrived stating that they had obtained enough
evidence and that Christine did not have to go after all.
Roll forward to April 2012. Christine was called into the Job Centre for an
interview. The local Job Centre Plus had been contacted and advised that all
letters were to be sent in my name as Christine’s appointee, as Christine could
not handle the stress. However, they kept sending them in her name and also
offering to do the interview over the phone, even though they were aware of
her phobia of the phone. Needless to say this was causing Christine a lot of
stress and anxiety.
I phoned the chap at the Job Centre who was tasked with talking to Christine
and he was ever so helpful, he agreed to meet me and he discussed the case
with me even though Christine was present, as he could see she was not in
any fit state to deal with the situation. He went through her claim with me and
explained that a new one year limit on contribution based ESA. He explained a
lot to me and advised on how to appeal, but he also explained about the
Support Group and how to appeal and get a copy of the ATOS reports.
I sent an appeal letter in that night, stating that further information would follow
in due course. This did not stop them dropping Christine’s benefit down to
£3.25 a week.
I got hold of these reports; the first one was a complete report from 2010 and
was full of inaccuracies, to the point that you would not believe it was talking
about the same person. The second report from 2011 was one sheet of paper
and was obviously just an update of the 2010 report. I read through all the
information and formulated an appeal letter, and then I got a letter from the GP
and Psychiatrist to back up the facts of Christine’s conditions.
After six month’s of fighting, phone calls from me nagging them for a decision
and numerous visits to the Job Centre they finally placed my wife in the
Support group where she should have been from day one.
All the time this was placing a great deal of stress on Christine, she was
becoming more and more detached from real life, her Cognitive behavioural
therapist stated that Christine was on the verge of a total mental and emotional
meltdown. Christine was having more and more thoughts of suicide and self-
harm. Christine has stated that she would rather be dead than attend another
interrogation by ATOS and that she will not go.
The fighting with the DWP has also taken a massive toll on my physical and
mental health, I have ME (MS is still under investigation). It left me
emotionally, mentally and physically drained and on the verge of my own
meltdown. No I am not looking for any sympathy, what I do wish to highlight
though is that the stress of this new regime effects the whole family, including
our children and seeing the effect it has had on us all, has reinforced
Christine’s belief ‘that we would all be better off without her’.
The problem is, this will all start again in a couple of years time and will cause
Christine even more damage, any advances made in stabilising Christine’s
condition are knocked for six by the threats, stress and anxiety caused. As
with Claire’s story, Christine’s mental health is being damaged by the whole
process. Christine dreads seeing a brown envelope in the post and worries
constantly about when the next one will arrive. I know many people in the
same boat, some are physically sick due to worry.
I know this has been a long winded story, but I have hardly scratched the
surface and could not edit it any more.
Written by James on behalf of his wife Christine
(To protect anonymity we have opted not to release this couples surname)