Problems walking and breathing, and a doctor’s sick note - but Government tells Romford woman: you’re fit to work

A 53-year-old Romford woman with a degenerative back condition and breathing problems has been told her benefits will be cut as she is fit to work – even though her GP has already signed her off sick until November.

Rosemary Relf, of Thurloe Gardens, suffers from arthritis and an over-active thyroid. She has been receiving Employment Support Allowance (ESA) as her conditions mean she often cannot stand or pick up items, and she suffers from breathing problems and tiredness.

But now Mrs Relf faces losing her benefits because a 10-minute assessment decided she was fit for work without consulting her doctors.

“I broke down in tears,” said Mrs Relf. “It’s terrible.”

The situation is made worse by the fact Mrs Relf is actually dangerous for other people to be around for up to three weeks at a time, because of the radiation involved in her thyroid treatment. Her first dose of radioiodine therapy takes place later this month.

“She could go to an appointment for JSA (Jobseekers’ Allowance),” said her husband Brian, “but if she sits there for 15 minutes they could all get ill.”

Mr Relf said his wife also suffers from depression, but could not be prescribed any medication as it would interfere with her thyroid tablets.

Most Read

“The swelling from her arthritis is unbelievable,” he added. “With the way her legs swell up, she gets out of breath when she walks long distances. She can’t sit down for long periods of time. Sometimes she can’t pick up objects or bend down.

“She can’t sit in one place because her back stiffens up, and when her thyroid swells up she can hardly breathe.

“Sometimes she’s very tired and falls asleep during the day.”

Despite all this, a “Work Capability Assessment” last month found Mrs Relf was fit for work – even though her Romford GP has signed off several sick notes for her this year, including one that is valid until early November.

A DWP spokesman said: “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.

“If someone disagrees with the outcome of their Work Capability Assessment, they have the right to appeal.”

He added that GP sick notes “tend to be used to give to an employer to sign someone off from a particular job for a particular amount of time. ESA looks at someone’s ability to do any form of work, so it’s a broader assessment.”

Mrs Relf does not have an employer, and her sick notes state she is “not fit for work”. They contain no other recommendations.