Tag Archives: tribunal

12 Minutes …

For many of us going through the DLA to PIP process, it’s a devastating slide into everything we never wanted to face.

What can’t you do. And why?

After years of muddling through, re-adapting, making concessions for MS, we have to admit our endless ‘shortcomings’. Our failings.

We realise, sometimes with a huge thud, just what we can’t do. I plunged into a deep depression, because I actually thought I was doing ok, bar walking into walls and falling asleep at the slightest opportunity.

My forms took weeks to fill in. Painstaking. Personal, hideously personal. Numerous extra pages of ‘Cont. Info’ were included.

48 pages in all. Basically, my entire life in one document.

As a birthday present last week, a huge pile of tribunal papers arrived along with cards and flowers. Nice touch.

Buried in amongst over a hundred pages, I discovered that my form had a ‘considered/writing up time’ of 12 minutes.

I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty impressive. To read a compressed life with MS, all 48 pages, plus consider them and write a response in 12 minutes is speedy by anyone’s standard. Bearing in mind it’s not a new claim, but a transition from a lifetime award for DLA.

The result?

A face-to-face consideration was required. Which happened – apparently – although neither me nor my witness recognise the meeting she refers to. And this ‘health care professional’ appears to have the upper hand in my forthcoming tribunal.

Her ‘evidence’ is the ‘truth’. She was here, in my house, for 50 minutes in total. That includes losing her way (my mum directed her on the phone), coming in, setting up her laptop, talking to me (without looking at me), packing up and leaving.

It appears my entire tribunal rests upon her ‘clinical’ finding and ‘observations’.

I’m impressed.

To destroy someone’s life in 50 minutes is bad enough, but the lead-in took 12.

I am that insignificant. All my pain, my symptoms, my life being turned on its head. Not only that, the end of my planned future, being sacked from work, the endless relapses, the invasive treatments I’ve had. Not to mention their side-effects (hello, Fatty-Puff-Me).

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the person who knows me and my MS probably better than most, my wonderful MS nurse, cannot write a statement for the tribunal. Aside from the logistical nightmare that this would cause for the under-funded department, they have been ‘told’ by the DWP that their evidence is ‘meaningless’ and ‘patient-directed’ so therefore inadmissible.

So I face a tribunal based almost solely upon evidence of someone who does not know me, triggered by someone in an office who does not know me.


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Ta Da! Unveiling The Five-Year-Plan …

You know me, I love a challenge.

Over the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve considered learning the saxaphone, finding out how to cook rice properly and going to one of those women who hold coloured swatches up to your face and then let you know if you should wear ‘Summer’ or ‘Autumn’ shades.

None of which has happened, unsurprisingly.

So now The Teenager is making his own way in the world at University (apart from when he’s not, aka the three-month-summer-break-at-mum’s), I’ve got a few pockets of time on my hands. And what better way to fill them than with a PhD. Yup, I’m going for it, even though I’m also gearing up for a PIP tribunal, which is definitely the more terrifying prospect.

It’s quite probably the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever had, apart from deciding all by myself that I’m a ‘Winter’ shade, which makes me look like an eerie Celtic ghoul.

I’ve taken the first tentative steps, sending in a proposal. I found out there are now Postgraduate Loans, for the first time. Karma? When I blogged about it before, you guys were beyond encouraging and that in itself gives me courage.

I would take it over five years, part-time, as I still need to work. It could end in failure, and maybe I’ll walk away with an MPhil after a couple of years, but it’s still an achievement.

And therein lies the nub; I have a great job but no career – I can’t work my way up as the only person above me is Grumpy Boss. I’ve resigned myself to living out my days without a significant other, besides the cat (and I’m half-way to 90 in August, gah).

It’s not about feeling sorry for myself; I’m actually getting quite excited now, the more I look over my proposal (which includes writing a novel with MS firmly at its centre). I just need a focus, another routine besides work and lying on the sofa. Pinballing between the two is bringing me down.

I’m not the most accomplished academic writer in the world, but I’m a trier. The best thing about writing, as opposed to speaking (garbled, often), is that I can delete, delete, delete. Giving myself five years to write a novel means I can factor in the inevitable relapses, the brain fog and the days when I just can’t move.

So now I’m daydreaming a lot in work, during these long hot days when I tuck myself into the nearest shadow and lurk until I cool down. I see myself, pen in hand, fresh notebook page in front of me, jotting down Very Important Points.

If I ever went out in normal society (work doesn’t count, believe me), I would wear a beret and lots of beads. And green reading glasses.

I would look v. v. intelligent, but if anyone looked a bit closer, they’d probably see I was only googling ‘how to cook rice’.

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Grace Under Fire

everything will be ok in the endA year ago today, I was called into the boardroom at work and fired.

No warning, no procedures followed, this was simply the culmination of a terrible year of systematic bullying which began shortly after my disclosure of MS. According to my employers, MS had made me a liability in the office and I was told to leave.

Looking back over that horrific day, I can see just how far I have come. I am no longer that cowed, bullied, humiliated person who got in her car and drove home in a daze, stunned by what had just happened.

This all took place during my MS diagnostic process, itself a torturous time of relapses, waiting, scans and more relapses. So not only was I facing up to a new life with a degenerative illness and all that entails, I was also at my lowest ebb from the relentless bullying meted out by my colleagues.

At first I was too tired to fight back. Bullies are clever. They slowly dismantle your self-esteem bit by bit. Undermining you, they make you doubt yourself and your capabilities. They shift the goalposts so often you can’t keep track. When that doesn’t break you, they will ostracize you, spread lies about you, snigger as you walk past or suddenly stop talking when you enter the room. School yard tactics maybe, but incredibly effective in the workplace.

Fast forward another few months and my employers settled out of court after I launched tribunal proceedings. I’ve been asked many times why I have never named the company or sector I worked in. I’m under no legal obligation not to do so, but I am not a malicious person. To do that would mean sinking to their level, playing them at their own tactics. Why bother? I have walked away with grace, with my head held high.

Instead, I now campaign for MS and employment rights and I try to help others going through similar situations. Isn’t that a better use of my energy than holding on to bitterness and regret? The few times I think about my ex-employers, I feel saddened that these people felt it necessary to bolster their own fragile egos by deliberately inflicting pain on me when I was in such a vulnerable position. I needed support and help back then, not merciless bullying.

That which does not kill you can only make you stronger? A well-worn cliché maybe, but so very true.

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Blog Action Day – Human Rights

Blog Action Day 2013Every year since 2007, thousands of bloggers have come together for one day to talk about one important issue. Previously, bloggers have focused on the issues of poverty, water and climate change. This year, we discuss Human Rights:

Recently a woman from Glasgow with primary progressive multiple sclerosis won a ruling (thought to be the first of its kind) that changes to housing benefit breached her human rights, paving the way for similar appeals.

Since April this year, social tenants who are deemed to have too many rooms have had their housing benefit cut, the so-called ‘spare room subsidy’ or ‘bedroom tax’. The woman in this case lives with her husband in a two bedroom house, and lost 14% of their housing benefit, resulting in arrears with their housing association.

However, tribunal judge Lyndy Boyd ruled that the woman’s case must be viewed within the context of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, and ‘it would be incompatible with the appellant’s rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 1.’

Due to the woman’s severe disability, she is not able to share a bedroom with her husband (who also provides care during the night), and as such, their house is not under-occupied. The tribunal ruled that they required a bedroom each and a decision to cut their housing benefit therefore breached her human rights.

The woman’s bedroom measures 3.2m by 3.1m. Her ceiling tracking hoist is 3m by 3m, her hospital bed is 2.2m by 1m. She also needs her electric wheelchair next to her bed, a wheelchair ramp, remote power door entry, specially widened doors and a wet room. She is assisted by specialist carers three times a day who also need to be able to move around the room freely.

The Department of Work and Pensions have commented only to say ‘we will need to look at this particular decision in detail’ and that ‘tribunal decisions at this level do not set a precedent.’ Therefore anyone else in a similar situation could also have to endure the stress and humiliation of this process. We can only imagine what this couple went through whilst still having to live and cope with severe disability on a day-to-day basis.

I for one though am full of admiration that they found the strength to take the case to tribunal. The DWP may claim this is not a precedent, but this couple has surely given a much-needed voice to thousands.

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Backing The Bullies

This Summer, The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will be introduced with Vince Cable, the business secretary, stating that ‘people who work hard and do the right thing (will be) rewarded.’

Sounds fair? Dig a little deeper.

Staff who feel they’ve been unfairly sacked will find it much more difficult to raise a case – there will be a cap on compensation for unfair dismissal and new charges for bringing a claim.

This is on top of the time employees have to work for their company before they can file an unfair dismissal claim – a shocking rise from one to two years.

As many of you will know, I was unfairly dismissed from my job last Autumn for having MS. Thankfully, I had worked for just over two years and recently the case was settled in my favour. However I know of people in low-paid jobs who are routinely ‘dismissed’ from their jobs right before the two-year cut off, only to see those same jobs quickly re-advertised.

Until now, taking a case to a tribunal has been free. Once the bill is passed, the proposed new fees will be £250 for lodging a standard claim and a further £950 if it goes to a hearing. How many people who are sacked can even contemplate these charges? And with legal aid being drastically scaled back, few will be able to fight back.

Even more Orwellian is the introduction of ‘protected conversations’, where an employer can take you aside out of the blue, offer to pay you to leave and you won’t be able to use anything said in the discussion as evidence in an unfair dismissal claim (discrimination cases are exempt from this). This protects your employer, not you. Presently, employers only have this protection once a formal dispute has already been raised regarding your performance.

For people already fighting to keep their jobs in the midst of a recession, especially for those with a disability, this is devastating news. Bullying bosses have been handed even more power, and this time it comes government-backed.

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