A succession of sick notes

Dear Iain Duncan Smith,

I’m writing about ESA and my seventeen year old son, LB. I know the process and procedures around claiming ESA are framed by a ‘scrounger’ rhetoric. Underpinned by the constant questioning of the integrity of those who are unable to work. I also know this is a spurious position; under-claims are greater than over-claims or fraud. We have so far had to provide two sick notes over six months (well three really because we had to get one to cover the 3 month backdated period). I think then an ‘indefinite’ sick note will do. I have tried hard to understand why this is necessary. What is underpinning the blanket need for a succession of sick notes? Is it simply a tool of attrition? The ‘scroungers’ will be worn down by having to return to their GP three times? GPs, in turn, will surveil their patients more closely for signs of cheating or trickery? I don’t know.

I didn’t want to get a sick note for LB. I didn’t want to because he isn’t sick. I didn’t want to because we have a ton of official paperwork highlighting and poring over his ‘deficits’ in micro detail from a gaggle of professionals; geneticists, ed psychs, paediatricians, teachers, social workers, psychiatrists…the list is endless.

I didn’t want to because it made me feel sad.

I found it more upsetting when I found out, through the allowance stopping as soon as it started, that I needed to go back for a second note. And then, again, after the reinstated allowance stopped, a third note. Perhaps if you had made it clear that three notes would be needed at the start, it would have been easier. But then I suspect my GP would have written the three on the spot, negating the need to return to the surgery (and take up his time). You may have been trying to close that loophole by deliberately making the process opaque.

Oh. I should probably add that I went to the surgery. Not LB. His GP doesn’t need to see him to know that he has learning difficulties. I wasn’t going to put him through the experience of being given a ‘sick note’ by the GP. He wouldn’t really understand that and he can get anxious going to the doctors. So it’s all a charade really. With a touch of farce.

I’m writing really to ask if you could try to get over your fixation with (fictitious) ‘scroungers’ and, instead, gain some understanding of how the process is experienced by disabled people, or their carers. And maybe shift the money invested into such a clunky, laborious and inefficient system into supported employment programmes that actually work in practice. LB wants to work. He is hoping to become an assistant caretaker.

Yours sincerely,



Signed off sick

Part 3 of the ESA drama kicked off this morning. (Earlier episodes can be found here and here.) As usual, the vile brown DWP envelope arrived on a Saturday when the helpline is shut.

A summary of the story so far;

I accidentally discovered LB was entitled to Education and Support Allowance (ESA), got a sick note (A) from the GP. He wrote ‘indefinite’ for the length of the illness. A second sick note was requested (B) to backdate the first sick note by 3 months. A 20 page questionnaire needed to be completed for some shitbag company called Atos. JobCentrePlus only keyed in the details on B (Nov 11 – Feb 12) and suspended his allowance almost as soon as it was paid.

At this point, I couldn’t disentangle what was incompetence from what is a cynical and deliberately obstructive process, designed to obscure people’s entitlements and make it as complicated as possible to claim. And as for ‘sick notes’? Anyway, it was sorted. I thought.

Until today’s letter stated;

I am writing to tell you that the medical certificate you sent us, which covers the period from 17/2/12 to 10/5/12 is about to run out. Please send us another medical certificate by 11th May if you are still sick and cannot work.

Whaaaa???? You gotta be kidding me?????

After some raging about JCP incompetence and vile, cynical obstructive systems, I googled ‘medical certificates and ESA’. On a handy forum, rightsnet, the relevant regulations were highlighted, stating that two three-month sick notes need to be produced by the GP before an indefinite one can be accepted. Ah. So now I know.

But what do I know? What’s the basis for these time regulations? Why so many hoops? And how much does it cost to administer such a clunky, overly-bureaucratic and obstructive process? A process that is not fit for purpose for learning disabled people.

I don’t want to be part of a society in which dudes like LB are issued with ‘sick notes’ to exempt them from the workplace. He is not sick. He could thrive in a particular environment in which his strengths and abilities were encouraged, developed and valued. Instead his future, his potential and possibilities are constrained before he’s even finished school. By a system in which he’s already signed off sick. Indefinitely.

Jobcentreplus (or what the fucketty-fuck?)

Well. Where to start with this baby? First, I am going to try not to swear (other than repeating any swears that happened during reported naturally occurring talk. Second, this story follows on from The Atos Questionnaire, so if you ain’t familiar with that sad and sorry tale, click here.

So LB is now in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (despite a news blackout that he was actually entitled to it).

All good in the end then? Well maybe. If he actually received it.

Today I dredged deep (after a lovely, lovely day at an autism conference in London yesterday) and found the energy? resources? reserves? strength? I don’t know what I found really, just something (which is remarkable after about 14 years of consistently shite support/sevices) and called Jobcentreplus to ask why, after the initial back payment of three months, LB hadn’t received a bean.

“Hello,” said JCP blokey, “I need to speak to LB to go through some security questions first.”
“Mmm.. not being funny, but unless you want to ask some Darth Vader and the Death Star Canteen type security questions, you’re probably better off asking me.”
“I need to speak to LB. He is in receipt of the allowance.”
“He won’t be able to answer your questions. He has severe learning difficulties.”
“Ah.. Oh yes, I see now. I should have asked these questions in a different order, then I would have known. Then I could have avoided that embarrassing question.”
“So, let me try and work out what’s  happened here then. Oh yes, there is a stop on the account because the sick note provided is dated from 16 November to 16 February. You need to go to the GP and get a medical certificate to cover the period from 16 February.”
“Er, we originally provided an indefinite medical certificate in February and we were asked to get a second one covering November to February. We sent that ages ago.”

Let’s take a moment here to reflect on what I’ve just written.

  1. LB is given an indefinite sick note by the GP. What is an indefinite sick note?
  2. Despite having an ‘indefinite’ sick note, the GP had to produce a second sick note to cover the three months before the original sick note. Backdating an ‘indefinite’ sick note? What does that mean?
  3. [1] and [2] had to happen despite 14 plus years of medical, health and social care reports detailing in painfully minute detail, LB’s ‘deficits and shortcomings’ (in official eyes).
  4. Despite [1] and [2] (and even without [3]) we then get a 20 odd page Atos questionnaire to complete to provide evidence of the efficacy of the ‘indefinite’ sick note.

Well, the swear constraints can fuck right off. This system is beyond shite. And horrendous to experience.

So, back to JCP blokey.

“Oh, I see what’s happened. When they got the second medical certificate, they entered that, and overlooked the original certificate. That’s here but they’ve only entered the November to February dates. That’s why there’s a block on the account.”
“Mmmm. I need to sort this out.”
“Bloody hell.”
“Well yes, I’d have probably said something similar myself in your shoes.”
“Bloody hell.”
“I’ll email them straightaway to sort this out. It will only take about 3 hours to change it. The account should then be unblocked.”
“When you say them, who do you mean?”
“Oh, the benefits people. That’s who has to sort this out. I’m just a contact person on the helpline.”
“Thank you. Goodbye.”

What else is there to say really?