Welfare-to-work blamed for coma

Hampshire Chronicle: Sheila Holt's case was highlighted by Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale Sheila Holt's case was highlighted by Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale

A father today said the Government's welfare to work scheme was to blame for leaving his daughter fighting for life in hospital.

The Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning has issued an "unreserved apology" to the family of Sheila Holt, who was invited to "intensive job-focused activity" despite having been in a coma for the past two months.

Today her father, Ken Holt, said the stress of the threat of having her benefits stopped has left his daughter clinging to life after she was hospitalised.

Mr Holt, 74, a retired labourer from Rochdale, Lancs, said: "If they had left her alone she would not be in this condition. They were threatening her with cuts and she needs the benefits.

"I just believe it's all wrong, you should be chasing the people who are fit, get them to work, not them that are not fit.

"It's outrageous."

Mr Holt, a widower and father of three, said his daughter, now aged 47, has been bi-polar all her life and had attempted suicide three times.

Her last job was 27 years ago but he claims Seetec, a contractor carrying out work capability assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions, wrote to her and she was forced to go on a job-seeking course for eight days.

After each day she became more and more agitated until she "cracked" her father said, and was hospitalised following a "manic episode".

But while in hospital she suffered a heart attack on December 17 and is still in a coma after suffering brain damage.

Letters to her from Seetec however continued.

Sheila Holt's case was highlighted in Parliament by Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, during a debate on the effects of welfare reform on the sick and disabled.

Mr Danczuk read out a letter in the Commons to his constituent: "It said, 'Dear Ms Holt, you are now approaching the end of the first stage of your intensive job focused activity. We hope that all the activity or training intervention completed so far has not only supported you to achieve your aspirations but has moved you closer to the job market.

"'You will shortly enter the second stage of your intensive job-focused activity. Sessions and workshops may vary depending on the centre you attend'.

"This letter was sent to my constituent Sheila Holt on January 30," Mr Danczuk said.

"I'm sad to inform the House that Sheila will not be attending the second stage of her intensive job-focused activity because she has been in a coma since December.

"I should inform the House that members of Sheila's family repeatedly informed the DWP and Seetec about this fact that she wasn't well but they continued to get harassed by those organisations.

"Just to recap briefly, Sheila has suffered from severe bi-polar since childhood and regularly has traumatic experiences. She has not been in employment since she was 16 years old. However she was pushed into the Work Programme before Christmas and she was finding it extremely difficult.

"She was also concerned about the fact around the increases in the council tax benefit that she had to pay.

"On December 17 she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act because she was struggling to cope.

"Whilst in hospital she had a heart attack and that's caused her to be in a coma since then.

"We are now at the end of February. I can report to the House that Sheila is stable, she is still in the coma."

He added: "Let's make this important point - before the election when the Prime Minister toured the TV studios he often talked about broken Britain. Well I have to say that if this is the Prime Minister's idea of fixing broken Britain, hounding disabled people who suffer from mental breakdowns, harassing their distressed relatives, then I prefer the broken Britain that existed before."

Meanwhile Mr Holt visits his daughter in hospital daily and says she has suffered "very, very serious brain damage" following the heart attack.

"It's a matter of life and death," he said. "She may not survive, that's how bad it is.

"All she can do is open her eyes and she shows she's in a lot of pain."

Speaking during the backbench debate in the Commons, government minister Mr Penning said things had clearly "gone wrong" in the case of Sheila Holt.

"I apologise, unreservedly, to the family as the minister responsible," he said.

"It's about time politicians did stand up and apologise when things went wrong. It clearly has gone wrong and the family have every right to be aggrieved and I hope she makes a full recovery, as much as she can."

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