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A blind man has had his benefits cut because he did not respond to a letter he was unable to read regarding his fitness to work.

Alan Moody, from Stanley, Country Durham, suffers from a rare genetic brain condition called cerebellar ataxia, and ten years ago he was declared unfit to work by his GP. One of the side effects of this condition is blindness. However, regardless of the diagnosis, the DWP sent him a letter summoning him to a work capability assessment. When he failed to respond, he was punished further as the DWP stopped paying Mr Moody the vital £225 a fortnight.

The letter explained that he needed assessing to qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA) of around £450 a month. And yet, it was as recent as October that Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said chronically sick claimants would no longer be required to prove every six months that they are ill.

A DWP spokesman defended this decision by suggesting Mr Moody had been summoned for an assessment to ensure he was not “written off”. They said:

It’s important people contact us immediately if they can’t attend their assessment.

Alan’s elder brother, Terry Moody, said: “How could they be so heartless? He has been disabled for 10 years, he cannot work, he needs this money.” The 65-year-old, who is also Alan’s carer, says he has tried to appeal to the department, but that they are standing by their decision to cut the allowance.

A month after Mr Moody’s allowance was cut, Work and Pensions Minister Damian Hinds filibustered an anti-sanctions bill having its second reading in Parliament, so the bill could not be voted on and therefore could not progress. He said: “Evidence does show that sanctions have a positive effect”.

Although the SNP’s Mhairi Black asked for the debate to resume in February, it is unlikely there will be any private members’ time to return to the bill. She described the sanctions system as a “nonsense” and a “punitive regime”.

It’s worth remembering that Mr Moody’s disability was the reason he couldn’t read the letter, and that this was a disability the Department for Work and Pensions was aware of. This begs the question of why they didn’t make contact with the 60-year-old by phone.

To take this approach seems callous and ignorant at best, or intentionally ableist at worst. To penalise or be prejudiced toward someone because of a disability is deemed a disability hate crime. The Equality Act 2010 (EA) generally defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Whilst this may not have been an intended outcome of an individual case, if nothing else it is a reflection on the system put in place by the DWP, and implicates that they are working against the very people they are allegedly trying to help.

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