Highgate woman with brain condition slams ‘demoralising’ disability benefit system

Bethen Thorpe, who has an incurable brain condition, has spoken out against the way the government c

Bethen Thorpe, who has an incurable brain condition, has spoken out against the way the government checks claims for disability benefits after a charity revealed almost a third of people with multiple sclerosis who apply for the payment had their claims turned down between April 2013 and and April 2017. Picture: BERNARD CRANE - Credit: Archant

A woman with an incurable brain disease has spoken out about the battle she faced to get disability benefit after a charity revealed almost a third of sufferers have claims denied.

Bethen Thorpe, of North Hill, Highgate, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in October 2014. She was forced to apply for disability benefit after extreme fatigue, balance issues and poor eyesight meant she had to give up a job as The Victoria pub landlady.

But the 41-year-old, whose condition means she is unable to walk long distances, had to travel to Chelmsford for an assessment after sending a 35 page application for personal independence payments (PIP) to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

According to Ms Thorpe a report sent after she had ‘jumped through all the hoops’ showed ‘little understanding’ of the impact MS was having on her. She was denied support.

Ms Thorpe spoke out in a week when the Multiple Sclerosis Society attacked the PIP assessment as ‘fundamentally flawed’ after a freedom of information request revealed 31 per cent (4,100) of claims from people with MS between April 2013 and April 2017 were thrown out.

A further 6pc (1,100) qualified for PIP initially but were rejected on reassessment. Of denied claims 65pc were overturned at tribunals.

“The whole thing made me feel I was trying to get something I was not entitled to. But I had no other income. I felt worthless,” she said. “One of the things the report said was I couldn’t have a disability because I shook hands with the assessor at the end of the meeting. It was just a joke. My health declined. I felt depressed.”

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In September 2015 Ms Thorpe took her case to a tribunal which overturned the decision after more evidence was submitted by her GP. The benefit was awarded and backdated to October 2014.

Ms Thorpe slammed the PIP system: “It’s an enormous strain. It’s insulting, demoralising and dehumanising. I hate the fact other people are forced to go through what I went through.”

MS Society chief exec Michelle Mitchell said: “Having MS is hard enough. It shouldn’t be made harder by a senseless welfare system.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “PIP assessments look at how individuals are affected over the majority of days in a year, rather than on a single day. Under PIP, 36pc more people with MS receive the highest rate of support than under the previous system.

“Since 2013 more than 2.6 million PIP decisions have been made. Of these 8pc have been appealed and 4pc overturned. In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more evidence.”