In the last 16 years Helen Boughen has undergone 16 operations, including radical surgery to remove a tumour in her face.

She lost an eye and her face has had to be rebuilt. Three metal pins keep her false eye in place, but the bones in her head are so weakened by radiotherapy the pins became loose.

Her hips are weak because that is where surgeons have taken most bone and muscle for the facial reconstruction.

One arm is also weak because it was needed for bone and muscle tissue. Then muscle was taken from her thigh as a replacement.

Her underlying illness, neurofibromatosis, causes tumours to grow along the nerves and has left her with lesions on her brain and spine and a non-malignant tumour at the back of her head.

To top it all, she has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

She finds it hard to do most things, but has particular problems communicating because the scar tissue makes it difficult for her to open her mouth properly. She has difficulty eating and breathing and no feeling in one side of her face.

Financial help from the Government slashed

So what does this litany of terrible health issues amount to in terms of disability allowance from the State?

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, absolutely nothing. Not a penny.

Helen had been getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to help her live as independent a life as possible. But under new rules she has been reassessed for its replacement, Personal Independence Payments (PIP), and her money has been stopped.

Despite Helen's condition only deteriorating since first getting DLA, the assessor says she now does not qualify... in any way.

On the scale used to determine need Helen got 0 points. In effect, she is as able as anyone else. Except, of course, she isn't.

Mum Pauline says it is ironic that the assessor thanked her for being there, as she had great trouble understanding what Helen was saying.

She is appealing, but has been told it will be weeks before the first appeal is decided, and it could be a year or longer if the appeal goes to an independent judge.

Meanwhile, Pauline and husband Colin, of Pontshill, worry about the future, and bemoan how unfair it is that their young daughter should been dealt such a hard knock.

"For this to happens after all she has been through. Give us a chance. Give us a break, rather than piling it on. This is so unfair."

Pauline and Colin have done everything they can to make sure Helen as independent as she can be.

On the £928 she received in DLA and Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) she has managed to live in a flat in Ross and run a small car to get her to hospital appointments.

But she needs a lot of help from mum and dad because, as her mum says, she may be 33 but the physical trauma she has been through makes her body much older.

Now her money has been cut to £292 a month, the basic JSA with no disability top-up. Helen has tried for hundreds of jobs. She gets lots of interviews. She and mum think it is because employers' like 'ticking the box' about interviewing disabled people.

Or there are the interviews the Jobcentre send her to – waitressing or bar work. Things she cannot do because she does not have the strength and, frankly, as mum says, she looks different.

"People don't want people who look different."

Helen, who did have some independence, now faces becoming less so because she and her retired parents won't be able to fund the flat and car indefinitely.

And why does Pauline want her case highlighted?

"I want to show how unfair it is that people like Helen are treated like this. It is cruel.

"But I also want people to know that not everyone who cannot get a job is doing it because they are lazy."

And how does Pauline feel?

"It envelopes you in sadness. How awful is it that in this country it has come to this?

"It is so rotten for Helen," she says, and then she finally breaks down in tears.

"As a mother you think: What else can I do?"

Victims of drive to save taxpayers’ money

Helen’s case is under review because of the Government’s determination to reduce disability benefits payments to those they believe are not entitled to it.

Eventually it may be that a judge at a tribunal has to decide whether Helen’s benefits have been wrongfully denied.

If it does go that far, the statistics suggest she has a very high chance of winning.

Figures indicate about 1,500 ill or disabled people – some of them terminally ill – in Herefordshire have been wrongly denied disability benefits in the last five years.

The number of appeals is growing, and so is the number that the government is losing. It is now losing about four in every five cases taken to appeal.

In simple numbers, stopping Helen’s benefits saves an estimated £7342 a year, excluding any costs in the assessment system.

Pauline has approached local MP Jesse Norman to ask if he can help, and a caseworker from his office is looking into it. He has invited Helen to his office but says he cannot comment on individual cases because of confidentiality issues.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that people get the support they are entitled to. Ms Boughen is in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance and we are looking at the PIP claim again at her request.”

The DWP emphasises that:

  • Decisions are made based on all the evidence received at the time. If someone disagrees with a decision, they can appeal and provide further evidence through a mandatory reconsideration.
  • That 39 per cent of reassessment claimants are getting a higher award on PIP compared to when they were on DLA.
  • Of the 3.3million PIP payment decisions taken following an assessment between April 2013 and March 2019, only 5 per cent were overturned at appeal.
  • Following feedback from stakeholders, they have introduced extended awards to ensure that claimants on the highest level of support whose needs will not improve receive an ongoing award of PIP, with a light-touch review at the 10-year point.

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