Political Editor Liam Thorp says botched benefit reform needs to go after yet another distressing case
As I sat on the sofa watching breast cancer sufferer Gillian Sykes bravely trying to fight back tears while speaking about her shocking treatment over Universal Credit – it was hard to keep my own emotions in check.
You might think a journalist with an unenviable record of reporting on lives ruined by this attempted benefit reform might be a little battle hardened by now.
But everyone is different – and every case highlights cruel new flaws in a government policy that is clearly not fit for purpose.
According to mirror.co.uk reports ” She has had to quit work as a supply teacher but says she has been left to ‘fight for survival’ with the Department of Work and Pensions.
Gillian explained how she has been turned down for support and was even made to take bank statements into the job centre just two days after her first draining bout of chemotherapy.
She said she also had money taken away because of the DWP made mistakes over dates – and was eventually left with just 84p to live on, forcing her to rely on hand-outs from family and friends.
Gillian was also told she needed to be looking for work – which the DWP later said was just an ‘automated response.’
The 45-year-old, who lives in Ashton-in-Makerfield with her two teenage children, spoke about the devastating moment she discovered she had cancer.
She said: “I found the lump myself on the 28th December when I was going to bed – and I cried myself to sleep.
“We’ve got a family history of it – its the 20th anniversary of my mum’s death this year.
“I was in an absolute panic and got an appointment shortly after – then two weeks later I was sent to see an oncologist who confirmed what I already knew, that it wasn’t a cyst, it was a solid mass.
“A week later I got given the news and things progressed quite quickly from there. I’ve now had three rounds of chemotherapy. My hair is coming out in handfuls daily.”
“This summer I will be having as double mastectomy – which is not nice.”
Gillian began a lengthy, draining battle with the Department of Work and Pensions to get the benefits she needed to help her through an incredibly difficult time.
After her cancer diagnosis, Gillian said she was never told she qualified for Limited Capability for Work Related Activity – which is supposed to provide extra cash for those who are unable to work.
She was left battling with the department for weeks in a bid to get the extra support.
Gillian said: “To be going through that is enough, only to then to deal with this – after paying into a system as a teacher system that I desperately need help from.
“I’m having battles left, right and centre with Universal Credit – and issues with not being told what I can and can’t claim.
“I’ve had more support from Macmillan nurses than the government.”
“Two days after my first chemotherapy session, I was told I had to take my bank statements in to the job centre to prove that they had taken money from me that they shouldn’t have.
“I’ve had statutory sickpay penalised – I complained and complained. I spoke to a different person on the phone every time.
“I just feel like I’m fighting for survival with benefits, that I shouldn’t be fighting with right now. I’ve got enough stress.”
After spending weeks waiting to find out if she could get the vital extra LCWRA payments, Gillian decided to apply for what is known as a Universal Credit budgeting loan – used to help those who are struggling.
She said: “This particular month was really hard, I rang them to be told by someone that nothing was available to me because ‘all the buttons were greyed out – and we don’t know why.”
“Someone else told me nothing was available because I had earned at least £2,600 in the last six months – well of course I did, I’m a teacher, I was working full time with my agency up until Christmas – so I’ve been punished for actually going to work.
“What I do get from Universal Credit, I’m paying a mortgage, I’ve got two kids. I didn’t expect this to happen to me.
“I have suffered with depression for several years, which has been greatly under control and I have been able to work – and this is now what’s happening on a daily basis when I find out the next step, the next fight.”
After she spoke to the Liverpool Echo, the Department of Work and Pensions told her she did in fact qualify for the extra cash.
The following day she was told she would be backpaid hundreds of pounds that were owed to her, and an apology from the DWP followed.
So what do you think?
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