Kestna Marsh was 62 this week. At the moment he probably feels he has little cause for celebration.
This former construction worker struggles to walk as he has arthritis in his right knee, left leg and left shoulder. He can’t lift anything with his left arm. On the day he came into this London food bank with his voucher, his mobility was obviously restricted and he struggled with his walking stick to move from room to room. Because of his mobility issues I felt hesitant about asking him to move even a few steps into a quieter room. Kestna walked that distance because he wanted to share his experience of Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
He was left without the money to buy adequate food after a tribunal hearing at the beginning of last month (September) upheld the outcome of his 2013 face-to-face ATOS WCA. He attended the tribunal on his own, without the support of a legal or welfare expert, and there were two people on the panel – a doctor and a solicitor. The WCA awarded him zero points for his health issues, and Kestna immediately challenged this. But following the outcome of the appeal his employment and support allowance (ESA) claim was closed on September 13th. He thinks that as a result he ceased getting housing benefit on the same date. He now has to reapply for housing benefit. He’s been told by Jobcentre Plus to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), but he says he has been told by Jobcentre Plus that any claim for JSA wouldn’t be processed until October 17th.
He explains here how his health problems affect his life and how he feels about losing his tribunal appeal (apologies for the unconventional presentation of the video – camera operator in training!).
His Disability Living Allowance (DLA) of about £215 is paid monthly, but the payment in mid-September of about £50 a week has gone mainly on bills. What about food? “I’ve been eating salad, beans, cheese and the odd sandwich here and there. I can’t do a proper food shop. If you gave me stuff to cook my gas is more or less onto nil. I haven’t got a penny to my name.”
Kestna added: “They expect me to go back to work. They’ve told me that if another illness emerges then I can apply for ESA again. Since my original assessment (in 2013) my problems have got worse. I can’t use a computer and I can’t sit too much or walk too far for too long. What sort of job do they expect me to do? I previously worked in construction and I know that for me to sit in an office would require retraining.”
The serious difficulties he faces because of his obvious ill-health and the stopping of his ESA are compounded by his council housing situation and the difficulties in building up a relationship with a GP at his new surgery who can get to know him properly.
He lives on his own, and has recently moved from one part of the Royal Borough of Greenwich to another. He wanted to move to a ground floor flat, so he was offered one. But this new flat hasn’t been adapted to meet his mobility needs, so he is not entitled to the rent rebate that would accompany such an adaptation. He says that because the council moved him into a two bedroom flat instead of the one bedroom flat he wanted, the council has classed the flat as under-occupied. So because he’s been deemed as having an extra room, he’s having to pay an extra £12 a week towards the bedroom tax – for a flat that hasn’t even been adapted to meet his physical needs.
Kestna also says that there is apparently some discrepancy arising from his move from another flat in the borough, meaning that the council may have been paying him housing benefit for both flats. He also has council tax arrears of £112.
He left the food bank with contact details for welfare and housing rights experts.
He also left promising that he would make an appointment with his GP. “I’ve just moved into the area, so I don’t have a relationship with the GP yet. I must have had at least four or five appointments with different doctors.”
How did the tribunal decision leave him feeling? “I was really angry. I’ve never been through the food bank stuff. I always stuck to relying on my doctor. I got the certificate and sent it in on time. To find that they closed my claim without even informing me they were doing it, in my circumstances – I feel quite disgusted really.”
Many thanks to Kestna for speaking up.