Norwich mechanic told to find job eight years after he had to stop work with bad back

Keith Ashley pictured in the early 1990s working on the cars at Le Mans. Photo: Keith Ashley

Keith Ashley pictured in the early 1990s working on the cars at Le Mans. Photo: Keith Ashley - Credit: Keith Ashley

Aged 54 and with four operations already completed on his severely bad back, Keith Ashley holds little hope of finding a new job.

Norfolk Disabled People Against the Cuts demonstrate outside St Mary's House, Duke Street over disab

Norfolk Disabled People Against the Cuts demonstrate outside St Mary's House, Duke Street over disabled access. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

But that is what he must now do after his disability benefit was stopped after eight years and he was told by assessors he could work again.

The former mechanic at Lotus is one of thousands of people who have had their benefits stopped under the government's disability welfare reforms.

The aim of the reforms is to get more people into work and reduce the welfare bill.

Mr Ashley, of Elizabeth Fry Road in Earlham, worked for more than 20 years as a mechanic, but eight years ago had to stop from a back injury and started receiving incapacity benefits of around £100 a week.

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In July he was assessed for a benefit called Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which has replaced incapacity benefit.

At the assessment in St Mary's House in Norwich he was given six points for his disability. Claimants need at least 15 to qualify for ESA.

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'They say you are fit for work if you can lift an empty cardboard box and push a button,' he said.

'I agree with what they are doing to a certain extent. My problem is I loved my work. I was a mechanic on racing cars for 12 years and I did my back in through that work. With wear and tear over the years my back got worse and I was diagnosed years ago with degenerative discs. I have a mountain of paperwork to prove that.'

Three-quarters of all appeals made by Norfolk disability charity Equal Lives against ESA decisions have been successful this year.

Julie Kemmy, from Equal Lives, said: 'We can't realistically meet the demand, so those numbers don't reflect the total number of people who will be involved in appeals.'

A template letter on the Equal Lives website asking the DWP to reconsider ESA decisions has been downloaded 18,000 times since March.

And Jonathan Toye, from the West Norfolk Disability Information Service (WNDiS), said more than 60pc of appeals they had done this year against ESA decisions had been successful.

'The whole assessment process is completely wrong,' he said. 'The government is losing millions of pounds on this.'

A DWP spokesman said only 4pc of all ESA decisions are overturned on appeal.

'In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because of the claimant's oral evidence and new written evidence,' they said.

See also: Hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk and Suffolk wrongly stripped of Personal Independence Payments

•What is ESA?

This newspaper previously reported how hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk and Suffolk were being wrongly stripped of a benefit called Personal Independent Payments (PIP) and had the money reinstated on appeal.

But the other plank of disability welfare reform - ESA - has also faced problems.

ESA is paid to people who are unable to work due to illness or disability and replaced incapacity benefit.

Claimants can get up to £73.10 a week and are assessed through something called a work capability assessment.

A report last year by the National Audit Office found the cost to the taxpayer of the disability welfare reforms had doubled in a year from 2014/15 to 2016/17 and was not achieving value for money with its contractors.

Nationally 60pc of appeals against ESA decisions are overturned but only around 8pc of cases go to appeal.

The DWP said decisions are made following a thorough assessment.

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