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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Half-Blind Woman Crippled With Back Pain Killed Herself After Benefits Bosses Stopped Her Disability Payments - Following a TWO MINUTE Assessment

  • Jacqueline Harris, 53, was told she was fit to return to work

  • Widow was partially sighted and only able to walk with the aid of sticks

  • Christine Norman claims benefits ruling drove her sister to kill herself

A partially-sighted woman who suffered crippling back pain killed herself after her disability benefits were stopped following an assessment lasting just two minutes, it has been claimed. 

Despite being in almost constant agony, Jacqueline Harris, 53, was told she was told fit for work in November 2012 following a Government health assessment. 

Ms Harris's sister claims that the ruling drove the former nurse, from Kingswood, Bristol, to take her own life.

Tragic: Half-blind Jacqueline Harris, who suffered crippling back pain, killed herself after her disability benefits were stopped, it has been claimed
Tragic: Half-blind Jacqueline Harris, who suffered crippling back pain, killed herself after her disability benefits were stopped, it has been claimed
Widow Ms Harris was only able to walk with the aid of sticks after she suffered slipped discs in her back and neck.

She was also unable to use one wrist properly after she was later attacked by a dog.

Her sister Christine Norman, 57, says arthritic Ms Harris was asked just one question in the 'lightning-speed assessment', carried out by private firm Atos Healthcare.

Mrs Norman said: 'They asked her one question - "Did you get here by bus?".

'Jacqueline replied with one fateful word - "yes".
    'She hadn't even had the chance to take her coat off.

    'Jacqueline said couldn't do it anymore and that no-one was listening to her and no-one cared. She told me she couldn't work and that nobody believed her.

    'She just wanted her benefit so she could have avoided the pressure of work - it wasn't a massive amount of money.'
    Ms Harris suffered from arthritis in her neck and back and her pain worsened after an unsuccessful operation on her neck last year.

    She was left in agony every time one of her arms was touched, while bones from her hand had to be removed after she was attacked by a dog.

    Anger: Christine Norman says her sister Ms Harris committed suicide after being put under pressure by the Government to return to work
    Anger: Christine Norman says her sister Ms Harris committed suicide after being put under pressure by the Government to return to work

    Ms Harris had received incapacity benefit but late last year was asked to attend a fitness-to-work assessment in order to claim its replacement - Employment and Support Allowance.

    After she spent two hours struggling on two different buses to get to the centre run by Atos Healthcare her appointment lasted just two minutes.

    In January her benefits were stopped.


    Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) replaced the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as part of the government's welfare reforms.
    Under DLA, most people filled in their own application forms, and did not have to re-apply for the benefit, even if their circumstances changed.
    The government claimed PIPs would see resources delivered to those who need it most - as money would be distributed more fairly.
    But one charity warned almost a fifth of claimants - 600,000 people - could be in danger of losing their benefits as they would be put through strict in-person tests.
    Since April new claimants in the north of England were told to apply for PIPs. By October new claimants of working age in the rest of the country were told to apply for the new benefit rather than a DLA.
    The government began to re-assess existing DLA claimants last month, but only those whose circumstances changed.
    A majority of the 3.2 million people who claimed DLA will not be re-assessed until 2015 or later.
    Mrs Norman, a nurse, said: 'If she was addicted to alcohol or drugs, she would have been given a sick note.

    'Being a nurse and a health professional I am so disappointed - anyone could see she wasn't fit to work. She would have loved to have had a job but couldn't.

    'How much grief, pain and anguish do you have to go through before they realise?'

    It is believed she was later then reassessed after coming forward with additional evidence of her condition, and was found to be eligible for Employment Support Allowance. She was placed in a category of people who receive the allowance, and who one day - with support - may be able to return to work. 

    But Ms Harris had contested the ruling and her first appeal against the decision failed. 

    A second Department for Work and Pensions tribunal hearing in Cardiff was due to take place on November 15.

    However, Ms Harris was found dead at her home on November 2, having taken a suspected overdose.

    Paying tribute to her sister, who lost her husband Brian six years ago, Mrs Norman said: 'She was gregarious and loved dogs, and music and to boogie as much as her back would allow.

    An inquest into Ms Harris' death has been opened and adjourned.

    A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: 'Our sympathy goes out to the family of Mrs Harris.
    ' ‪ A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment which takes into account the WCA and all supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant. ‬

    ‪'Often claimants come forward later with additional evidence, in which case we will look at their claim again or people can also appeal.‬

    'Someone placed in the work-related activity group for ESA is not considered fit for work at the moment, nor are they expected to look for work.‬'

    An Atos spokeswoman said: 'Our sympathies go out to Ms Harris's family.

    'Atos Healthcare carries out assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions and under its guidelines. 
    'But we do not make decisions on people's benefit entitlement, nor are we involved in the appeal process.'

    For confidential support on suicide matters call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch or click here.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513284/Half-blind-woman-crippled-pain-killed-benefits-bosses-stopped-disability-payments--following-TWO-MINUTE-assessment.html#ixzz2lofAFled
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