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ANTI-POVERTY campaigners have notched up an astonishing 67,000 signatories to a petition calling on Amber Rudd’s department to stop sending misleading letters to doctors about welfare claimants.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are sending GPs letters claiming that their patients do not need a “fit note” anymore because they have been found fit for work.
Campaigners say this letter is leaving severely ill and disabled claimants unable to obtain Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to which they are entitled pending appeal.
Determined to scrap these disastrous letters, campaigns officer Ella Abraham at the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) launched a petition #ScraptheLetters on Monday using the 38 degrees platform.
Within days the campaign had received tens of thousands of signatories calling for a stop to the letters.
As the campaign gathered momentum, Labour MPs including Emma Dent Coad, Ruth George and shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova tabled parliamentary questions demanding answers from Ms “magic money tree” Rudd.
Ms Cordova described the scheme as “outrageous” and warned that “they are depriving disabled people of social security and pushing them into destitution”.
Ms George said it was “blatant discrimination against disabled people” that had even “resulted in the death of my constituent who was forced back to work against his doctor’s advice”.
The campaign is being backed by an array of anti-poverty and healthcare groups including Trussell Trust, Medact, Turn2Us, 4in10 London Child's Poverty Network and Disability Rights UK.
Ms Abraham told the Morning Star: “Collaboration with other organisations is very important and crucial to any campaign wins.
“I would make sure to contact more organisations next time and maybe slightly further in advance.
“Although, as a very small team, it's often difficult to pull everyone together in a very short space of time.”
The charity she works for, Z2K, was founded in the 1990s by the Reverend Paul Nicolson and a small group of volunteers, who were deeply concerned about the impact of the Thatcher Government’s “poll tax” on the country’s poorest residents.
Z2K has helped people like Louis (not his real name), who was too ill to work and needed the vital income ESA provides – but his claim was refused.
Louis was blocked from claiming ESA as he awaited his hearing, due to a misleading letter sent from the DWP to his doctor without Louis’ knowledge.
Louis had to rely on food-bank vouchers, went into debt, accrued rent arrears and faced an increased risk of eviction.
It new evidence from a clinical psychologist, stating how his mental health would deteriorate further if he did not obtain the fit note, to reinstate the benefits he needed to survive.
Z2K say that Louis is not alone. The charity says these letters are sent to the GP of every person after they have been refused ESA - before they've finished the appeal process.
They estimate that 88% of their clients win on appeal and are entitled to ESA again.
DWP minister Sarah Newton has told Parliament that her department is “committed to ensuring all of its communications are clear, accurate and understandable and we continuously improve our letters.”
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