Father tells of financial and emotional turmoil after "flawed" work test assessment (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Father tells of financial and emotional turmoil after "flawed" work test assessment
A FATHER who was denied almost £5,000 in benefits after wrongly being assessed as fit to work has spoken of his ten months of financial and emotional turmoil.
Last night the MS Society described the fitness to work test faced by Graham Newton, from Darlington, as "flawed" - and said many more people with the disease have fallen foul of the system.
Mr Newton was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2008 after suffering with symptoms for several years.
He received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in March last year, saying his Employment and Support Allowance payments were being stopped.
The decision was taken after a health assessment found him fit for work, despite the fact that he can only walk short distances, gets around using walking sticks and a mobility scooter and suffers a range of other health problems related to his chronic, progressive condition.
Mr Newton challenged the ruling with his wife, Gill, and the decision was overturned at a tribunal last month.
The payments have now been reinstated and backdated to the time they were cut off, but the couple say that has not spared them from almost a year of stress and worry.
Mr Newton, 48, who has two grown-up children, worked as a truck mechanic and driver before being forced to retire on health grounds in 2010.
He said: “It is hard enough having this illness and coming to terms with how it has turned my life upside down – I still have not come to terms with it.
“I just feel like I have been punished for being ill, the stress has been unbelievable.
“We have been in our overdraft and had to borrow money from parents, which we have now been able to pay back, but that is not the point.
“I did not even have any money to buy my wife a present for her 50th birthday earlier this year.
“It is disgusting that we have been put through what we have been through.”
The couple received support during their fight to have Mr Newton’s benefits reinstated and have praised both Darlington Borough Council’s welfare rights team and the MS Society charity.
They hope highlighting their plight will serve as a help for other MS patients – and those with other conditions – who have also been wrongly denied support.
Mr Newton, who does voluntary work at Darlington Memorial Hospital when he is well enough, added: “I do not want to just think ‘that is it, I have got to sit in the house every day’.
“I was always on the go when I was fit and healthy, I worked 50 or 60 hours a week.
“I miss work so much, there is nothing I would like more than to be able to go back.”
The tribunal recommended the DWP does not reassess Mr Newton for another two years, but his benefits status could be further jeopardised when welfare reforms take effect next month.
MS Society bosses said the assessment Mr Newton underwent is flawed.
Claire Nurden, the charity’s senior policy and campaigns officer, said: “The work capability assessment remains flawed and wrongly finds too many people with MS ‘fit to work’.
“It fails to properly recognise the fluctuating nature of the condition, and is particularly poor at assessing hidden symptoms such as pain and fatigue - that can be utterly debilitating.
“The government has started to address some of the society’s concerns about the test, but as yet they haven’t gone anywhere near far enough.”
The DWP said it was unable to comment on specific cases, but a spokesman said: “A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant, but everybody has the right to appeal a decision if they disagree with it.
“If decision is overturned at appeal, it does not necessarily mean that the original decision was inaccurate - often, claimants produce new evidence in their appeal.”