Ill mum who is carer for son slams ‘cruel’ benefits assessment system
A mother and carer from Co Antrim who lost a teenage son and her husband in the space of 18 months has hit out at the "cruelty" of disability assessments that denied her benefit payments.
Kirsty Scott (52) from Newtownabbey suffers from a number of medical conditions, including depression and fibromyalgia.
In 2013 she had to switch off the life support for her 19-year-old son William, who had Asperger's and a history of self-harm.
Just 18 months later her husband Gordon (52), "a very fit man", dropped dead of a heart attack in front of her.
Now she is the sole carer for her severely autistic 28-year-old son Stephen.
Last year she applied for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), but was turned down for both.
Ms Scott said the experience made her feel "worthless and useless" at a time when she needed the state to help her.
She is calling for a meeting with Leo O'Reilly, permanent secretary of the Department for Communities, to hear her case.
She also criticised the "cruelty" of two private companies, Atos and Capita, who carried out the assessments on behalf of the department.
Both said it would be more appropriate for the department to respond.
It said it could not comment on individual cases. It added that decisions on benefit applications were based on an individual's statutory entitlements.
Applicants can ask for the department's decision to be reviewed and can provide additional relevant information.
An opportunity also exists for an independent tribunal to review the department's decision, while measures are in place to support those financially worse off following reassessment from Disability Living Allowance to PIP while appealing.
Ms Scott said the assessments for PIP and ESA felt "draconian" and like "an interview to get into the workhouse".
"You would think the system would be there to protect you, not to make you feel worthless and useless," she said.
"That's how I felt when I got the letter from the department to say I had been turned down - it made me cry."
Rights group Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) is supporting Ms Scott in calling for reforms. PPR's Sara Boyce said: "Kirsty has endured and survived what most people would not be able to handle in a hundred lifetimes.
"She is a heroic figure, shining a light on welfare reform, one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time."