Woman denied sickness benefit despite life-threatening condition

A Workington woman with a life-threatening heart condition is being denied sickness benefits because of Government assessment changes.

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NOT FIT TO WORK: From left, Damien and Jeanette Johnston with Jeanette’s mother Noelene Paisley

The case of Jeanette Johnston, 29, has been taken up by Workington MP Sir Tony Cunningham.

He has pledged to write to the Government to get her benefits reinstated.

Miss Johnston will ultimately need a heart and lung transplant and has already had a kidney removed.

Despite her health problems, she has received no disability benefits since August of last year.

Miss Johnston, who worked until recently, said: “This is affecting me physically and mentally. I am worried about the strain on my heart.

“I know people getting disability benefits when there is nothing wrong with them.

“It is not like I’m pulling a fast one. I have been like this since I was born. If I could go out and work I would.

“I feel very let down. I can’t afford anything. I have had to resort to going to the food bank with a voucher.”

Her Disability Living Allowance – now known as Personal Independence Payment – of £300 a month was stopped last August after aids such as bed ladders were fitted at her home following recommendations from an occupational health expert.

Her mother Noelene Paisley, 53, of Senhouse Street, Workington, said: “When they did that, they stopped her disability benefits altogether until she is reassessed. She has been waiting for an appointment for six months.

“She lives every day knowing she could die. She had a total heart block when she was born.

“Her life is on the line, and she has been abandoned by the authorities.

“She went to work from when she left school but she couldn’t do it any more.”

Miss Johnston was fitted with a pacemaker soon after birth and has suffered several times from cardiac failure.

Her heart condition means she requires two anaesthetists and a cardiac team on standby during routine medical procedures.

She suffers from asthma, mild learning difficulties and severe depression, and had a kidney removed in 2004.

Noelene has also approached Citizens Advice Allerdale and the People First advocacy service for help.

Sir Tony said: “The benefits system has to protect the most vulnerable. We know of people abusing the system, but for the real genuine cases there has to be a safety net.

“Part of the issue is the delay in sorting out problems but in the meantime people still need to eat.

“Many people in this situation get into a cycle of debt, borrowing money from high street lenders.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Personal Independence Payment is a completely new benefit with a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews.

“In some cases this process is taking longer than the old system of Disability Living Allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form.

“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is back-dated so no one is left out of pocket. Atos will be contacting Miss Johnston to give her an update of her claim.”

Sir Tony this week managed to get the family a £338 emergency loan to help out in the meantime.



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