Anorexic Claire is set to lose her vital benefits

By Staff Reporter

A distraught Cavehill Road mother has told how her critically ill daughter had to discharge herself from the Mater Hospital against the wishes of doctors to sign on so she didn’t lose her benefits.

Victoria Hayward’s daughter Claire (28) suffers from anorexia and as a result is laid low by bouts of illness. But this has meant that in the past year she has fallen foul of the ‘Steps to Work’ programme she attends – a government scheme that requires unemployed people to take up periods of work experience for an extra £15 a week in their benefits.

Participants are only permitted ten days sickness during a 26-week placement, with anyone going over that facing a suspension of their benefits.

Veronica said her daughter  has already lost her benefits once this year due to illness related to her condition and is afraid of the same thing happening again.

She said she was speaking out on her daughter’s behalf as Claire’s illness means she can’t speak for herself.

“You are only allowed to be sick twice but she took a turn when she was visiting me and had to go to the hospital on Tuesday. She was due to sign on on Wednesday and took herself off a potassium drip so she could go and sign on.

“She’s in a placement and has six weeks to go until she gets a diploma. But she got sick and lost her dole and housing benefits earlier this year and has only got them back so she was scared that if she didn’t sign on she would be left facing Christmas without any money.

“She sat freezing in her house for two months because her benefits stopped before when the same thing happened. I told her to stay in and the doctors wanted to continue to treat her but she signed herself out.”

A tearful Veronica said she can’t understand a system that doesn’t allow for serious illness.

“She could have died. There is something wrong with a system that does that to someone. How can they put her in this position?”

After signing on on Wednesday near her home in Strabane, Claire had arranged a lift to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry where she took up her treatment again.

Veronica says Claire is fighting her condition, but incidents like this set her back.

“She has had it for four years and finds it very difficult to talk about it, but people need to know how sick people are being treated.”

The North Belfast News contacted the Department of Employment and Learning NI who operate the Steps to Work programme. A spokesman said  they didn’t comment on individual cases, but outlined the rules of the scheme.

“Participants on the Steps to Work programme may be absent through sickness for up to 10 working days. The Department will facilitate a participant’s return to the programme as a means of helping them find employment.

“Entitlement to benefit is a matter for the Social Security Agency.”

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