A DISABLED man who struggles to walk or use his right hand and arm has been ruled fit for work as a barman.
Billy Bryson from Livingston has been unable to work since a car crash 18 years ago left him with severe nerve and spinal damage, meaning he struggles to walk more than a few yards at a time.
He has been receiving benefits since 1999 but, after being called to a work assessment in February 2017, he was told he was capable of working behind a bar or as a driver, and his payments stopped.
Despite three appeal attempts, letters from his doctors stating he is unfit for work and an intervention from his MP, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to reinstate his benefit and he is now living on £40 a week, relying on handouts from friends and family to survive.
Billy said: “It is absolutely disgusting the way they treat people, and it needs to stop.
“This has had a huge impact on my life, not just the money, but my mental health too. It’s making my physical condition worse due to stress, even my doctors have said that.
“When I had the accident, I had four jobs at the time. I had a strong work ethic and I never dreamed this would happen to me – but it has. If it was up to me I would be working, but I physically cannot do it.
“When the car crash happened we were stationary and a taxi went in to the back of the car. I had been leaning forward at the time and got shunted in the back.
“Since then you could hit me with a hammer down the right side of my body and I wouldn’t be able to feel it. I’ve no feeling at all there, and need a stick just to stand up.
“To get up the stairs I have to either wait until I have help from my husband Iain or I have to shuffle like a toddler. How they think I can work behind a bar, which is what I did before the accident, is beyond me.”
Documents seen by The Sunday Post from doctors including Billy’s neurological consultant, state his condition means he would find it very difficult to hold down a job. They have also expressed concern that the ordeal with DWP has made his condition even worse.
One letter from his consultant at Edinburgh’s Western General states: “During the course of this process his functional symptoms have become worse. He has been getting more intense, widespread pain, particularly in his arms and legs but also in the back and head.”
The introduction of a new benefits system – the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – and the testing that has gone with that has been hugely controversial.
Tens of thousands of people who had been receiving incapacity benefit and severe disability allowance had their benefits wrongly cut when they were moved onto ESA.
Tests were carried out by outside contractors Atos Healthcare, but the French-owned firm quit the DWP contract in 2014 after massive criticism of its work. New contractors Capita and Maximus were then brought in to carry out tests, but complaints about these assessments have continued. Mr Bryson was assessed by staff from Capita.
Hannah Bardell, the SNP MP for Livingston, has been working with Billy to try to get a resolution to his case, along with an advocate from the Advice Shop in Bathgate.
Despite their interventions, the DWP have refused to acknowledge their mistake and say Billy should be working.
Ms Bardell said: “My office has been trying to make headway on Mr Bryson’s case since November 2017. Nearly a year on and we are exceptionally frustrated not to be much further forward.
“From the outset, the DWP have never taken into consideration the issues raised by Mr Bryson or the professional medical evidence available.
“I will be writing afresh to the new DWP Secretary of State to pursue this for my constituent.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We have reviewed Mr Bryson’s case and determined he was underpaid for a period in 2017, while appealing his Work Capability Assessment decision.
“However, the decision was ultimately upheld by the independent tribunal. We have apologised for the underpayment and will be making a full payment to him urgently.
“We are committed to ensuring that people with health conditions get the support they’re entitled to and in the rare cases where mistakes are made, we will ensure these are corrected swiftly.”