Heart-attack benefits blow for Sunderland man

David Stephenson
David Stephenson
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A HEART-ATTACK victim deemed too ill to work by doctors was turned down for illness-related benefits.

David Stephenson, 38, was looking forward to starting a new job at Sunderland Royal Hospital when he was struck by a heart attack towards the end of 2010.

The former factory and call centre worker from Hollinside Road, Nookside, Sunderland, was told he could no longer receive Jobseekers’ Allowance because he was not fit to work, and must instead apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008.

But despite his GP stating he was too ill to work, David was turned down for ESA after an assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The DWP has stressed that appellants will still have their ESA paid while their case is dealt with by an independent tribunal.

He has now appealed against the decision, claiming he was not examined by a medical doctor and no consideration was given to his recent heart problems.

“It was just based on how I was on that day. My heart attack wasn’t taken into account,” he said.

“I just went into a room and the woman asked me questions: could I get out of bed in the morning? Could I walk downstairs Could I boil the kettle?”

He added: “I thought she was a GP but she was a ‘health care professional’.”

David still has weekly medical appointments after his heart attack, as well as light exercise sessions and treatment from a physiotherapist.

He said his GP does not think he is ready to work yet.

“I think ESA is about £10 more than Jobseekers’ Allowance, but it’s not about the money because I wish I was working – I’ve always worked,” he said.

“I was due to start work at the hospital as a porter. I’d had my criminal records check, and I was due to start, but then I suffered the heart attack.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The Work Capability Assessment is designed to determine if people with a health problem or disability are able to work, while ensuring that those too sick to work get the help they need.

“If someone disagrees with their assessment, they have the right to appeal. Benefits remain in payment while an appeal is ongoing. We believe Mr Stephenson has appealed.”

David moved home to Sunderland to live with his mother from Yorkshire, where he had been working, after his marriage broke down in 2008.

Since then he has had some temporary agency work, but has not been able to find a full-time job.

David, who also suffers from diabetes and varicose veins, said he feels embarrassed about being unemployed.

“At the moment I can’t work because of my health condition. Hopefully, I will get better and be able to work.”