Brain damaged, wheelchair-bound Highbury man isn’t ‘fit for work’ after all, DWP admits

Wheelchair-bound Fergus Johnston and Cllr Caroline Russell pose with letters from the DWP and Downin

Wheelchair-bound Fergus Johnston and Cllr Caroline Russell pose with letters from the DWP and Downing Street. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

A wheelchair-bound Highbury man with brain damage forced the government to admit it was wrong to say he was fit for work.

Now former Islington social worker Fergus Johnston, of Highbury New Park, has spoken out about his battle in the hope it will inspire others to stand up for themselves.

Fergus, 50, told the Gazette: “People with a disability are systematically abused and this is all designed to save money. I was denied PIP on the basis of one face-to-face meeting rather than a medical assessment.

“You meet a stranger who doesn’t know you and their whole intention is to write a report that says you’re fit for work.”

He was told he was wasn’t eligible for help with his daily living or mobility needs by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on May 17 after the “insidious” assessment.

But he kept fighting and sent a letter to Theresa May on June 16, where he accused the DWP of disability discrimination against a vulnerable adult and a gross misconduct in a position of power.

Then finally last month the DWP said his appeal had been successful.

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Fergus has HIV, which led to encephalitis, causing an imflammation of the brain and permenant damage.

His condition continued to deteriorate until he needed a wheelchair to leave the house, which was why he contacted the DWP in February and asked for advanced PIP (Personal Independence Payment) – the benefit that replaced Disability Living Allowance.

His assessments began the same month but it took four weeks before he was interviewed.

The department based its refusal on an assessment of Fergus’s ability to carry out everyday tasks, for which it scored him zero – meaning he required no assistance – in every category.

Bizarrely, this changed significantly in the reassessment, where criteria such as “planning and following a journey” rose from zero to 10, meaning he couldn’t do them at all.

“The DWP are aware of my medical history,” said Fergus. “But in my assessment they did insidious exercises like making me push my legs out against their hands, which I can do.

“They said: ‘There is no visible deterioration of muscle in your legs, so you don’t need a wheelchair.’ But I use it because of dizzy spells and I get pain when walking.”

Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) said: “The moment he stood up for himself it all got sorted out.

“But why should someone have to go the lengths of writing to the PM to get the money they require to meet to their needs?”

She added: “We need a government system that is not so punitive to our vulnerable residents who actually need all the help that society can give them.”

A DWP spokesperson said the department reviewed Fergus’s claim after he “provided more information”.

“Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant,” she added, “including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.”