Amy Jones, Woman With Cerebral Palsy, Given Prognosis By ATOS That Her Disability 'Expected To Improve'

A woman with cerebral palsy (CP) has been told she may lose her Employment Support Allowance as an ATOS assessment deemed her disability "would be expected to improve".

Despite having the life-long, debilitating and incurable condition, Amy Jones, 24, can now expect to undergo reassessment every six months.

She said: "It's ridiculous. I've had six surgeries in my life, four in the past three years to get rid of these contractions that I get.

Amy Jones

"It even says in black and white in my medical reports from the hospital that my CP is becoming increasingly disabling.

"There is nothing in my reports to suggest that my CP is improving or becoming less painful or anything like that."

Jones is paralysed in her left arm and has deformities in her legs that make walking painful and incredibly tiring. As well as surgery she also has botox injections every six months to relieve excruciating muscle contractions.

She requires constant assistance from friends and family for "all aspects of daily living".

Before the coalition government's welfare reforms, Jones received incapacity benefit.

With the introduction of Iain Duncan Smith's radical overhaul of the benefits system, those receiving incapacity benefit have been required to undergo a Work Capability Assessment.

Amy was put in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), a classification for those "the DWP consider will be capable of work at some time in the future and who are capable of taking steps towards moving into work".

Amy agreed with the decision. She said: "I will be able to return to work one day with the right support."

But then a week ago Amy received a letter informing her she would need to be reassessed for Income Support Allowance.

Thinking this was a strange, she requested a copy of the ATOS report in which the examining doctor states her condition should improve.

Amy's prognosis

Amy said: "An actual qualified doctor, who I told in black and white during the interview that my disability won't get better.

"She was like 'I understand that' but clearly she doesn't if she expects my CP to get better which suggests she thinks I will regain functions and my needs will change which they obviously won't.

"CP doesn't get better it only ever gets worse because as you get older it puts strain on your body and every single doctor knows that.

"I'm in shock".

Gabriella Czifra from the London Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy has worked with those with the condition for 15 year.

She said: "Cerebral Palsy is a condition which is not curable. It occurs because of damage to the brain."

Czifra points out a lot of intensive therapy is needed in order just to maintain a level of ability and any improvement comes from adaptation rather than a lessening of the condition.

She adds: "Over all I would not agree that the condition on the statement the condition could be expected to improve.

"You will not wake up the following morning saying 'Ooh, I feel much better'".

Amy has said she will appeal the decision but if unsuccessful she faces reassessment every six months.

She said: "It's ridiculous really.

"I'm quite happy to be in the WRAG so I didn't appeal the decision but as it stands now I have to reapply for ISA to prove my CP hasn't gone away since they last assessed me in June.

"And with that comes the stress of not knowing, the uncertainty that comes with it."

Amy suffers from hemiplegia meaning her tendons are too short and tight

Amy is currently applying for voluntary work so she can test out her capabilities but is worried the lengthy appeals process could prevent her from doing this.

She said: "It takes all your energy to fight it. I want to work.

"It takes all your mental energy trying to fight these stupid decisions that I have less energy to put into getting ready for work."

Amy's case is far from unique. A recent study of cases involving cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's or rheumatoid arthritis led leading charities to brand the assessments "farcical".

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, told the Huffington Post UK: "It’s strikingly clear to disabled people that the whole £112 million per year system is broken.

“The cost of appeals has skyrocketed, assessors have resigned in disgust, and the test has received criticism from the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office.

"We have also witnessed shocking undercover footage of how ATOS assessors are trained and heard horror stories of disabled people inappropriately found fit to work.

“The government needs to deliver a test that is fit for purpose."

“If the government is serious about getting more disabled people into work they need a test that is the start of the process that gives disabled people the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need.”

Amy agrees, arguing the reforms are actually making it harder for people to get back to work.

She said: "You're literally taking people's income away and pushing them into impossible situations."

An Atos Healthcare spokesperson told the Huffington Post UK: "We fully understand that some chronic and progressive conditions such as Cerebral Palsy will not improve over time but the advice we are asked to give DWP concentrates on how individuals are affected by their illness at present and whether any other factors may lead to change or improvement in a person’s ability to function even if there is no improvement in their prognosis.

“All decisions on the outcome of claims, for example whether they are placed in the WRAG or the Support Group, are made by DWP.”

The DWP would not comment on an individual case but a spokesman said: "Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assesses someone’s capacity for work and looks at what a person can do because we know conditions affect different people in different ways.

"Someone who is placed in the work related activity group for ESA is too ill to work and gets their benefits, but may with the right help be able to work in the future if, for example, they can manage their condition."