Denise is 49-years-old and is struggling in the benefits system.
She’s currently living in Bristol, but is from Leicestershire. Denise’s diagnosis is Bipolar type II. She was diagnosed in 1991 when she was around 24 or 25. But she’d experienced mental health problems since age 16. She was misdiagnosed with depression and PTSD before getting the right diagnosis and the right treatment. Denise also has physical health problems – fibromyalgia, mobility issues and inflammatory bowel disease. Her energy levels vary a lot, sometimes she can’t get out of bed because she’s so fatigued.
Denise is a mental health nurse and trained over 30 years ago but is currently out of work due to her mental health.
Denise isn’t currently receiving ESA. She hasn’t made enough National Insurance payments to be eligible for contribution-based ESA, having not worked for five years (before her recent brief spell back into work). She can’t claim income-based ESA because she’s recently moved in with her partner, Ian, who works full time (in Bristol) and it takes into account income from cohabiters. Before Denise went back to work, she was being supported by ESA for about five years. She was in the Support Group so didn’t have to do any ‘work related activity’ or worry about being sanctioned for missing appointments with advisors. Prior to that, she’d worked for 11 years.
When she was in Leicestershire she was living in sheltered accommodation. The ESA helped with bills and other living costs, and she also received DLA, also for about five years. The DLA helped Denise bridge the gap between her housing benefit and the cost of her rent. She wishes they’d told her if she was to come off ESA and go back to work that she would lose this support and it would be difficult to get back on it if she had to leave her job due to illness or poor mental health. Going from the Support Group of ESA back into full time work was a massive leap. She felt it was a double whammy – losing her job and the ESA. She thinks there should be a 12 week grace period for people with health conditions and disabilities who are hoping to dip their toe back into the world of work. She also feels a bit deceived (by the DWP) and ill-advised.
She had to go through the whole process again, which required a lot of work and a certain level of determination and mental stability. It’s not just the 50 page form but gathering everything else – bank statements, ID, giving them additional evidence from GPs and psychiatrists, giving them your life story.
Denise was invited to a PIP assessment with Atos in 2016 and went alone. Since she moved she no longer has a support worker, otherwise she would have taken them along with her. They asked whether she needed prompting and she said she did. She tried to be as honest as she could about how her health problems affect her. The assessor was OK, she was a nurse of some kind but didn’t seem to have any expertise in mental health. She was pleasant enough, and fairly sympathetic.
The questions were irrelevant. It’s very difficult to portray the extreme fluctuations you get with any mental health problem, particularly bipolar. She looked at advice on descriptors online before she went. This amount of money is not a luxury, it allows her to have the extra things that help keep her well and out of hospital. For example keeping a pet – Denise has two kittens that make a massive difference to her wellbeing. Denise was deemed eligible for PIP but she receives less money on PIP than she did on DLA. She lost the mobility component rather than the care one. She now receives just £82 per week – her only source of income.
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