by Andrew South
A benefit which allows a disabled man to devote time to volunteering to help others has been cut in what he describes as a “life-changing decision”.IMG_1960Mark Gasson of New Romney suffers from hereditary spastic paraplegia, a progressive disease which has rendered him unable to work for the last 16 years. But now a benefit which had allowed him access to a car through the Motablity Scheme has been slashed and his car taken away from him.
“The car had been a lifeline for me,” Mark told me when I visited him. “I have been taken off the higher level of support (£55.10) which paid for the Motablity Scheme, and put onto a lower tariff of £21.80, which doesn’t cover the cost of the vehicle.”
“I have been a volunteer five days a week at William Harvey and Canterbury, becoming a friendly face to visitors and helping to direct them to where they need to be,” said Mark, who can only walk with difficulty on crutches.
He was told he could no longer work in 2001 after having been employed since he left school at the age of 16. He had gone to college in Leatherhead where he learned the art of paint-spraying cars, but ended his career at Connolly Leather in Ashford.
“I used to cut the hides for luxury car seating using specialist machinery, but my legs were literally wearing out and I couldn’t physically carry on,” said Mark. “I had to do something – just sitting around all day long would drive me mad – so I started volunteering at the hospitals.”
The car gave him the means to be able to provide a service to the community and was well-known by the many regular patients and visitors, especially at William Harvey. “Without the car now, it is really difficult to get up in the morning as I have lost my purpose and my independence.
Mark recognises that some people do abuse the system and that the Government is trying to address this, but it seems that those with genuine need are paying the penalty for the selfishness of a few.
“It has been a life-changing decision for Mark,” said his mother Marion, “but we are appealing against it. We have written to our MP, Damian Collins and are taking it to the HM Courts & Tribunals Service, so we are still hopeful, although it could take a long time to sort out.”
The Courts & Tribunals Service, based in Birmingham, has accepted the appeal and confirmed that a hearing may be heard more locally in Ashford – but this could take up to six months.
Mark is well-known around New Romney and is still seen around the town on his mobility scooter, but the change in his benefit allowance has been a bitter blow to his independence.
Hereditary spastic paraplegia is an aggressive disease thought to affect about three in every 100,000 people and which leads to gradual weakness in the legs.