Poltical Conference speech- Conservative Final
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Poltical Conference speech- Conservative Final
Let me introduce myself. My name is Elizabeth Mitchell I am a Company Director of my
own business, with a previous role as a highly respected employee of Lloyds. I’ve travelled
extensively, sometimes abroad, as a trouble shooter in businesses looking to downsize and
become more profitable. I contribute to charity on a monthly and ad hoc basis – I built half an
orphanage in Belarus. I’ve been a fund raiser for local good causes. I water and snow ski,
dive, play tennis and squash and ……..
Oh, sorry – that was my distant past. Now I try to forget that life and live every day in the
My current reality is I am an unemployed – ex-Director/ex-employee. I am a confirmed
member of our community who has moved from relapsing/remitting MS, which I worked so
hard to disguise, to an undisguisable Secondary Progressive MS. Don’t ask me to sign
anything – my tremor means I can’t write legibly. Don’t ask me to walk unaided to the local
shop – I can’t. Don’t ask me to negotiate with your union, my cognitive abilities aren’t to be
relied upon. Don’t ask me even for a clear opinion on a bad day – and as for my finances –
ask my friend Fay. In essence – I am not the woman I was.
I was diagnosed with MS in June 1988, by a renowned neurologist, Professor Ian McDonald
at the National Hospital in London. This was after an attack that left me unable to
balance/read/watch TV/see straight. Quite a shock for a woman of 27, newly married and
coping with life ‘down south’. I had never heard of Multiple Sclerosis and was initially
thinking the diagnosis wasn’t as bad as was initially suspected (Brain Tumour/Meningitis).
Two long months later and an afternoon, sitting on the floor of Waterstones, reading
everything I could lay my hands on about MS (remember no internet in those days) I was
starting my education as to what I may expect ‘long-term’.
Of course, we all think we’re ‘different’ don’t we? We all think ‘it won’t be like that for me’?
And, I’m pleased to tell you apart from ten or so medium to serious relapses, ten or so lots of
strong steroids and hospital stays, lots of pain relief, depression medication, vertigo, speech
defects, double vision, 48 hour injections – am I boring you?
That’s OK, because I chose not to bore, or concern, lots of my relatives and friends. I kept it
all to myself. It’s been an up and downhill struggle – but I am so pleased to be able to say that
I won ………………. For 27 years.
I won, then I lost, and then I accepted
I won because I learned or made up coping mechanisms – I let a few people in on help I
needed and I relied upon them to help me ONLY when I needed it.
I lost because I truly believed I WOULD NEVER NEED BENEFITS!
Will there be anything to accept NOW I really need it?
In February this year my GP and my Neurologist both confirmed that I would never work
again. I was loathe to admit just how hard my life had become. I hope and trust you will
never have to hear and accept those words.
MS is as individual as the person, with physical, mental and emotional problems, some of
which are not visible to others. This brings its own issues, in dealing with the general public,
Symptoms are different for everyone, but one thing is the same for all. MS is an
INCURABLE DEGENERATIVE DISEASE. It does not get better for ANYONE.
Extreme Fatigue, Tremor, Balance, Vertigo and Cognitive deficits are my main issues
CURRENTLY. A Secondary Progressive diagnosis means this is likely to degenerate, as
opposed to improve.
Now I find myself in a very different place to the one I imagined I would be in 1988.
Personal Independence Payment, as the name suggests, is not to be used to live on, and I
reluctantly, applied because I need it to help me retain my independence, whilst I still can, in
my own home. I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve been able to hang onto my home. This will
have to be sold to pay for care when I no doubt deteriorate to that space where I am unable to
look after myself.
So let’s put it this way, to retain some independence whilst I still can, I do not have the
physical and mental capabilities to do many of the jobs you and I have never even thought
about. Clean your house properly, go up a ladder, clean your windows inside, get things from
my attic or top shelf in the kitchen, shop, cook, iron – the list of ‘dangerous’ things I can now
do – or not do - is endless. I have the scars to prove it!
With PIP I could employ a member of my local community to help me with these things.
I worked incredibly hard during the 35 years I was continuously employed, with and through
Relapsing Remitting MS, whilst paying top rate taxes and national insurance. I have now had
to claim my early ill-health pension entitlement, age 53, from my company pension. Of
course, this is not the amount I would have received had I been physically and mentally able
to continue in my chosen profession. It should hopefully, if budgeted carefully, enable me to
stay in my home. BUT I STILL NEED ASSISTANCE to live an independent life on a daily
One thing is for sure – I will not allow this illness, or the PIP process to take away my
personal pride in my appearance or my stubbornness to try to appear as well as I can. After
all, I would consider trying to appear less well than I currently can, to be defrauding the
system. Do I look as if I would be interested in cheating the great British tax payer?
People I have spoken to over the last months are similarly frustrated – and NOT ONE of
them has had their initial PIP application granted. Is it part of the process that first requests
are always denied? Is there a view that we will ‘go away’ unless we are very visibly disabled?
And then (because we have no choice) we will continue to suffer the stress and worry which
this process causes from the outset?
Some with MS will go away, because they are too ill to cope and may not have a good and
FREE support system (friends, family) around them who can help. They, themselves, are
frightened, stressed, sad and hugely fatigued. They simply ‘give up’.
The process of applying for a PIP payment is very long and very stressful. As I can’t write I
had to rely on a good friend to complete the myriad of forms. Six hours of her time. I asked
her to come to the ATOS Meeting with me. An afternoon of her time and loss of a half day
pay for her.
I’m so lucky to have a fantastic and strong emotional support system from my sister, Jane –
and for that I am very grateful. I have two fabulous and strong friends who comes with me to
appointments – but, I ask for as little as I can as I am unable to pay them for time, and salary
lost in their jobs.
I applied for Personal Independence Payment on 11th March 2015. I had a face to face
assessment from ATOS in April. On 26th May I got a letter from DWP saying I did not
qualify for any level of care or mobility allowance. The letter cited various reasons, including
the opinion of the DWP decision maker that I could walk 200 m and that I looked ‘well
kempt’. I was horrified. It had taken me some hours to appear ‘well kempt’ – and with a
stroke of her pen, a Paramedic, and a DWP decision maker I have never met, decided I was
not eligible for assistance. The next week I fell quite badly whilst walking with my stick. I
still have the scars on my right knee and my Neurologist sites it as a ‘nasty excoriation of her
knee’. This then became horribly infected due to my inability to fight infection. Of course, as
far as PIP is concerned, I’m perfectly fine walking!
I appealed, for which I sent five copy letters from my Neurologist where he had asked for me
to see eye specialists (for the grey discs), a Psychologist for my cognitive issues, a
Physiotherapist for my balance and walking issues, and two scans for my brain and spine. I
also sent a list of the five drugs I was taking.
On 28th July I received an answer to my appeal. Once again I was turned down. 20 weeks,
huge amounts of stress, an attack of Shingles, and an eye problem later (early onset of
cataracts, due to MS medication) …………….. But, please don’t worry about me - I’m not ill.
Currently, I have been told I cannot reapply until my condition worsens – or 6 months,
whichever comes first!
My frustration is that despite the assurances from a highly qualified neurologist and GP that I
have a well-documented and incurable condition, and despite my signed declaration on a
form stating I cannot walk more than 50 m without rest and a stick, and despite a stressful
visit to an ATOS Paramedic, who assumed my walking with a stick a short distance, and
some rudimentary checks (which my neurologists have well documented over the years) the
DWP decision maker determined that I am not mobility or personally impaired. Where were
the tests and discussion of all of the things I CANNOTDO?
I now live in fear of the fact that I will not be given any assistance. Basically, I feel as if I am
being branded a liar and a Benefit Cheat. The stress and unfairness burns brightly in my heart.
Is this the country I am so proud to live in?
SO, why are we not able to change the system? If an applicant has an INCURABLE, LONG
TERM, DEGENERATIVE disease – why can’t the DWP Decision maker MAKE A
DECISION based on the applicants Consultant/GP Report? Why do we continue to cause
anguish and further stress to MS patients? Sending me to ATOS to see a Paramedic is a waste
of time and money!
Don’t ‘check on everyone every 6 months’. Take a sample to check and clearly warn the MS
claimant that if they don’t keep to their already signed declaration of updating the DWP if
anything gets better – they will be fined – heavily. I can assure you that should my condition
improve sufficiently for me not to require any assistance, you and they would hear me
shouting from the rooftops.
Or is it just too difficult to change these simple things?
I read the speech that was given last year, at a Parliamentary event. What has changed?
With that in mind – I would like to remind you of the last paragraph of that speech from
“I would ask the members here present to please rethink about asking patients with
degenerative incurable conditions to review their claims for the sake of bureaucracy. Worst
case scenario is that the stress to the claimant would bring on another attack. Depending on
which nerves are degenerating depends on if we lose our sight, our speech, our ability to
move at all etc. This is a very high price to pay for the sake of a helping us to pay for the time
of another member of my community to actually help me.”
Heart breaking wasn’t it?
Thank you for attending today. Please don’t go away and forget about us – I would hate to
hear the last paragraph I read being spoken ….. again …… next year. Because unfortunately
we won’t go away – we have to continue to live, hopefully with the assistance from a
Personal Independence Payment.