Benefits move leaves woman facing bleak future

A WOMAN suffering from chronic arthritis who has been told one of her main benefits is to be removed said the thought of having no money to live on has been keeping her awake at night.

The 52-year-old mother-of-three from Banbridge is currently appealing the decision to disallow her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit which is given to people deemed unable to work to help with living costs.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis - a kind of arthritis which mainly affects men - in May this year.

The former care worker was still in the process of having scans and blood tests as well as various appointments with her doctor when she was assessed for ESA.

Having since been officially diagnosed with the condition, which leaves her short of breath and in pain at times, the local woman said she is hopeful her appeal of the decision not to grant her the benefit will be overturned.

“I have worked all my life,” said the woman. “This is not a situation I want to be in - believe me if I could be out working I would.”

Having had some previous trouble managing money the woman decided to sell her house three years ago, but after she received no interest her son agreed to buy the house for a knock-down price.

While he thought he was doing his mum a favour the lady said she had now been left in a worse situation.

“Because I sold my house for less than it was valued I am now deemed to have a ‘notional’ amount £50,000.

“I don’t have that money. I had some problems managing money and credit card debt so I tried to clear that but now I have been left in this situation.

“I lie in bed at night thinking ‘What am I going to do?’”

The local mum’s story is just one of many, according to local SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly.

“My office has been inundated with people who have been turned down for benefits under this new Welfare Reform,” said the Upper Bann representative.

“It has left people confused and distressed at having money withdrawn that they need and were previously told they were entitled to.

“We are currently supporting a lot of people who want to appeal the decisions so we are working with them.”

Mrs Kelly said she would be following the Banbridge woman’s case closely and is supportive of her appeal.