A DISABLED man from Saddleworth has described the effect of having his social security payments stopped by the DWP for five months as being ‘like a death sentence’.
John Ruane, from Lees, has been diagnosed as having a benign brain tumour causing him to have several epileptic seizures each week and making it impossible for him to work.
The DWP alleged John missed an appointment for a work capability assessment and stopped his social security payments.
In fact John was at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London recovering from medical tests to establish the cause, and potential treatment, of his seizures.
His medical team supplied the DWP with the evidence to show where he was, and that he cannot work due to his condition, but this was ignored.
Eventually the medics contacted John’s MP, Debbie Abrahams, on his behalf asking if she could intervene.
They were particularly concerned John was refusing to consider a potentially life-saving operation because he feared he would miss the next scheduled work capability assessment during the time it would take him to recover.
John said: “Like most people I want to work but I simply can’t with my condition and so I’m dependent on social security for the basics in life such as food, heat and rent.
“I couldn’t believe it when the job centre said they were going to sanction me because I missed my work capability assessment.
“And they wouldn’t even take notice of the letters from my consultant saying I was too ill to work and needed an operation. That’s when my medical team went to Debbie for help.
“The whole situation left me anxious and depressed because I had no money and my bills were piling up. I even got letters from my landlord saying I faced eviction.”
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, raised John’s case in Parliament.
She said: “John’s case is another shocking example of how this government’s punitive sanctions regime is crushing vulnerable people as they pursue their slash and burn austerity policies.
“MPs from all parties know, from our constituency casework, just what a damaging and devastating effect sanctions can have on our most vulnerable citizens.
“That’s why I have been campaigning to stop the Government’s punitive sanctions regime and, as Labour’s Work & Pensions Secretary, have pledged that a future Labour government will do just that.
“The shocking evidence is there for the Government to see after I instigated the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry on sanctions in 2015.
“The Select Committee made over 20 recommendations including stopping financial sanctions for people who were sick or disabled on ESA and for other vulnerable claimants.
“But unfortunately the Government refused to accept the Select Committee’s recommendations on stopping sanctions and on setting up an independent body to investigate deaths associated with a sanction or to track what happens when claimants are sanctioned and stop signing on.”
After five months of being sanctioned John was able to attend a work capability assessment in early November and was found ‘not fit for work’ as expected. He had his social security payments restored including a back payment.
John said: “Finally I was able to pay off my debts, including paying back my carer who had been helping me with food, for which I will always be so grateful.
“People who know me were kind and helpful, and I was able to get help from Oldham Foodbank too, but the way I was treated by the DWP was terrible and I can understand why people are driven to despair after being sanctioned for no good reason.
“The DWP just wouldn’t listen to me, or the expert medical team supporting me, and they left me with no money for the basics in life. It felt like a death sentence.
“They don’t treat you like a person. They just know you as a national insurance number not a person.”
John is currently waiting for his test results ahead of a potential operation to treat the tumour.