Aug 28 2008 By Lachlan Mackinnon
A martial arts champion whose life was "destroyed" by multiple sclerosis has been refused benefits - because she can still talk.
Tae Kwon Do silver medallist Kirsten McLaughlin, 33, requires round-the-clock care from husband Alan, 34.
But she has been denied disability living allowance as the authorities claim she only needs "comfort and assistance" and can still "communicate".
Kirsten, who won her silver medal at the Tae Kwon Do world championships in Sardinia in 2006, now has to be carried up the stairs to the toilet by Alan, who also has to help her dress and undress.
Her life is a far cry from the days when she was competing in contests with gold medal-winning sons Ryan, 13, and Darren, nine, also fellow Tae Kwon Do hotshots.
Kirsten, of Drumchapel, Glasgow, said yesterday: "I have no life. I am trapped in this house constantly.
"I can't believe some government civil servant sitting in an office somewhere has decided I don't deserve these benefits. It is a ridiculous decision. And the reasons they've given to justify themselves are even more ludicrous.
"I have a three-wheel zimmer to help me get around the house and I am in constant pain. I suffer from spasms that feel like electric shocks through me.
"My speech goes when I get tired and my legs go into cramps at night.
"Alan has to rub my legs at least five times during the night.
"My life and my social circle was based around Tae Kwon Do and I've lost everything. It breaks my heart not to be able to take the boys to training.
"Everything is a battle for me. I don't live from day to day, I live from hour to hour because I never know what's round the corner. I've had three relapses in 15 months and can't see things getting much better."
The family are forced to scrape by on s70 a week income support, as well as child tax credits and child benefit. The extra DLA payments of up to s110 a week would ease the burden of paying their mortgage and raising their kids.
But in a letter two weeks ago, the Department for Work and Pensions denied she was eligible for the disability payment. Among the reasons was her ability to "communicate".
They also claimed she didn't need help getting around, making meals, getting up in the morning, going to the toilet, bathing and dressing - all of which Kirsten and Alan flatly deny.
In a previous letter, the department accepted Kirsten needs help to "move about indoors" - despite insisting, in a previous paragraph, she did not require assistance "getting around outdoors" with "appropriate aids".
Earlier this year, it emerged drug addicts and alcoholics claiming the payment had risen five-fold, from 3000 in 1997 to almost 17,000 in 2007.
Claimants with psychosis - a form of mental illness said to be often caused by smoking cannabis - leapt from63,000 to 148,000.
Alan said: "They hand the payment out freely to addicts but won't give it to my wife who has led an active, healthy life.
"Our whole family life was based around Tae Kwon Do but that's all come to a standstill. The kids can't get along to their training as often because it all depends on how Kirsten is feeling.
"In the last year, she has been outside 10 times at the most. She has been imprisoned by MS."
Kirsten was diagnosed with MS eight months ago and wears a cast on her left arm because it keeps going into agonising spasms.
And she had to close down her printing firm six months ago because she couldn't cope.
Alan said: "Losing her business made her feel completely depressed. She built it up over eight years but her world collapsed."
He revealed the benefits battle had drained Kirsten even further, adding: "It is a complete slap in the face. Kirsten's condition has gone downhill in the last year or so.
"She is in constant pain and is always fatigued to the point where she virtually passes out. We've been told her condition will steadily deteriorate.
"Having the disability living allowance would make a real difference because it would mean we could adapt the home by fitting things like a stairlift.
"I can't work because I'm looking after Kirsten and we've had to rely on her dad to bail us out with the mortgage for the last few months."
Alan added: "With the advances in stem cell research, there is some suggestion there could be a cure within the next five years, which gives us hope."
Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world. More than 10,000 Scots have the disease, which causes the body's immune system to attack and destroy nerves. Symptoms can range from pins and needles to paralysis.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: "Claims are assessed taking into account information provided by customers and on the basis of expert medical advice.
"If a customer is unhappy with the decision made, they can ask for it to be reviewed and, if necessary, appeal to a tribunal.
"Unfortunately, we are unable to talk about individual cases."