Sara's Story

Sara was forced out of her job when she became seriously ill. Here, she talks about fighting for benefits and surviving the ‘system’.

You’re not listened to any more;  because you’re on benefits, you’re nobody

I worked for 36 years. I have mental health officer status. I’d paid all the benefits in I could for my pension, I had two years left to go. I was terribly unwell, that year, 2016, but I carried on going to work for three months because I was terrified of going off sick. I was on my last warning and I ended up in casualty on 31 March. I was then referred to a chest specialist. I had emphysema – I’ve had asthma all my life and I’d got sleep apnea.

Four nebulisers and IV steroids later, the A&E doctors said you should go home, go to your doctor and don’t come back to work! So, I did, I was off sick, then in the June work wanted to meet up with me regarding their system, their ‘three points and you’re out’.

I had all of this going on and I asked my boss if I could take a week of annual leave to sort things out. She said yes, but then later said I was too mentally ill to be working – I couldn’t have the holiday – it had to go as sick, and she sent me home.

I kept trying to come back and she wouldn’t let me and then they told me they were going to let me go on ill-health. On 8 November, I was dismissed.

It was like a bereavement of the worst kind; it was all I’d known from the age of 17. Work gave me kudos, it gave me friends, it gave me a car, it gave me a decent wage. When they took that away, I was completely lost. I was in shock for a month, absolute shock.

If it wasn’t for my granddaughter I would have signed out. She is an angel, a very sensitive young girl and she can see straight through me so I have to put a face on. She saved my life, coming to me, because it gave me a purpose.

I wouldn’t treat my worst enemy the way I feel I’ve been treated

The person who came to do my PIP assessment…it was horrendous. It wasn’t me that she was assessing, she was in for a matter of minutes. I was coughing, I vomited, I had to go outside and was physically sick twice, but there was ‘nothing wrong with me’. I don’t know who she was writing about, but it certainly wasn’t me!

I didn’t qualify for mental health because I wasn’t seeing anybody. I’d been halfway through therapy when I lost my job.

What could I do? When I lost my job, I’d lost my access to therapy – I couldn’t receive sessions from someone I knew, someone I’d worked with.

She didn’t listen and didn’t want to take the time needed to understand my situation. 

So P3 lodged a written appeal for me which got the decision overturned straight away and it was one point off, so we appealed again and they overturned it again so we didn’t need to go tribunal. The payment was backdated. That was brilliant, as the money got me through the next three months and I received a lump sum after my ESA medical assessment and that has kept me going.

I’d say “Give up” and my support worker would say “No!”

Without P3, I wouldn’t have got through it. I came along and I really didn’t think I’d get very far because I’ve worked 36 years, I have got my own house and I didn’t know enough about P3, about whether you would take me on.

But my support worker is fantastic, she’s put up with me being a mess, sobbing…I didn’t get dressed for months.

My support worker, she came religiously, listened to me, she didn’t judge me and was always determined that I would get my benefits even if it killed her. She was like a dog with a rat! She would not let it go, when no one would answer the phone I’d say, “Give up,” and she’d say, “No!”

It was a fight to get it and I wouldn’t have kept fighting. I felt I was treated abysmally. Utter disrespect, seriously – disrespect and prejudice actually.

I do believe people can kill themselves over this. I wouldn’t treat my worst enemy the way I feel I’ve been treated by the benefits system. You’re not listened to anymore; because you’re on benefits, you’re nobody. They’re judging you, before they even see you really and if you don’t fit into one of their little boxes…they’ll make you fit the box!

They say all manner of inappropriate stuff like: “In the scheme of things it’s not a long time.” Yes it is! It was going on for a year when I finally got the payment. How do people survive? When you’ve got no money and you’re living on £143 a fortnight.

I call it foraging for food. You’ve got to shop around, you’ve got to know the times that supermarkets reduce, so actually that becomes a bit like a full-time job. But it feels like drudgery. I was a woman who went out to work five days a week, bought ready prepared veg, ready prepared chicken, but it was convenience, after a long day at work I was knackered. Looking at this now I’d roar at myself. I never looked at how much things cost because I could always pay for it.

I cannot survive on the money they give me

I cannot survive on the money they give me. I’ve always been sensible but the benefits they give me aren’t enough to cover food and bills and there’s nothing more unless there’s a real miracle or my pension comes through. They’re saying I’ve got to wait until I’m 65 and I just can’t fight them at the moment. I have enough battles…


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*Names changed to protect anonymity.