Annie holds a letter from a NHS doctor telling her that she has cancer of the thyroid gland. If you place your hand on your throat you can feel it, just about. It's where your thumb is.
She waited over a year for proper medical help and did not find it from the NHS, who failed to make a follow up appointment for 13 months. Then she went native (as it were) and went back to her homeland of Lithuania. The Lithuanian health authorities removed her thyroid gland toot sweet. They prescribed 4 courses of radioactive iodine. They also diagnosed her partner with unsuspected liver cancer, and he passed within a week.
She comes back to Blighty because her children live here. They have been in school for years. She worked in a factory. She may feel more British than Lithuanian.
The deeply flawed Work Capability Assessment fails my sweet client. The so called doctors hired by ATOS (A French Company hired to fail as many benefit claimants as possible) ignore her NHS letter, and airily concludes she has only hyperthyroidism- an over active gland. Something that no GP would confirm without tests, but hey, what the heck, when you're slashing benefits for the work-shy we're all in it together.
The Tribunal doesn't list her case for a year, and then they fail to send her the papers, so the hearing has to be adjourned again.
The day before the next hearing I see her, and she tells me the cancer has spread to her lung. I start to grind through the 50 or so questions required to gauge her ability to work (how long can you watch TV before you lose the plot? Can you touch your toes when you bend down, and if you get dizzy touching your shin, who cares?). But it just seems wrong. She's too sick to engage.
“I feel tired and dizzy all the time” she says.
We go to the Tribunal and we win. Because the British sense of fair play allows very seriously ill people to bypass the WCA.
Today we won, but tomorrow we throw cancer victims onto the field of chance. No more Legal Aid for seriously ill people, because the DWP is or will be so transparent that no benefit claimant will need legal advice ever again. And just in case our plans don't work, we'll sack the lawyers beforehand in case this makes us look bad.
What makes me boil with rage is reading the Express and and it's ilk swallowing the Government lie that only one in 14 people claiming sickness benefits deserve to do so. 40% of claimants who appeal win. Those who have legal advice and representation are even more successful. Even the man who designed the WCA says it's not fit for purpose. But no, journalists in national newspapers are prepared to peddle unthinkingly the old lie; if you're too sick to work you must be lazy.
This is a tale about a woman stricken by cancer. When given a choice between an ageing health service struggling under a Stalinist dictat and a former communist block country she chose Lithuania. She worked hard in this country, she paid her taxes. Tomorrow she's on the rubbish heap.