'How long are you likely to have Parkinson's then?'
Philip would have been pretty surprised if a friend in the pub asked him when he'd recover from his incurable neurological condition.
But it wasn't a friend in the pub. It was an assessor deciding whether Philip was capable of work, and how much he would get from the Government each week to live on.
'I've got this for life love.'
Six months before, at just 52, Philip had to leave his job as a supermarket shelf stacker. The stabbing pain in his legs, a lesser known symptom of Parkinson's, meant bending down to lower shelves was agonisingly painful. Parkinson's had robbed him of his co-ordination and balance and, just like that, the job he had done for thirty years became impossible. With no salary Philip and his family had been surviving on sick pay of £62 a week.
Then Philip heard the outcome of his assessment. The assessor, who hadn't known Parkinson's was incurable, had decided Philip would recover.
What followed was six months in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and the loss of most of Philip's savings while he struggled to support his family, and had to make adaptations to his home as he became more disabled.
During those six months Philip did not miraculously stop having Parkinson's, and return to work. Instead his Parkinson's got slowly worse, and his doctor, when he found out why Philip kept coming in for sick notes each week, wrote a letter and got him moved to the Support Group. The group someone with a progressive, incurable condition who is unable to work should have been placed in in the first place.
If the Welfare Reform and Work Bill is passed support for people in the WRAG will be cut by £1,500 a year from 2017. For Philip and his family, already struggling without his salary, taking away £1,500 could have pushed them to the brink, forcing them to turn to a payday lender or beg from friends and family.
Philip isn't a special case. 5,000 people with Parkinson's and other incurable progressive conditions have been wrongly put in the WRAG since 2008.
We presented evidence to Parliament today to urge the Government to amend the Bill and protect the financial support for people who are too ill to work. The answer is not further cuts, but a complete overhaul of the broken assessment process.
Philip was lucky - he had a great GP to argue his case and get him out of the WRAG. But thousands aren't. The Government needs to thinks again about the impact of its welfare reforms. For the sake of people with Parkinson's we hope they listen before it's too late.
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