Recognition of Fibromyalgia as a Disability — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield 9:30 am, 15th January 2019

I entirely agree. The impact on the rest of the family includes caring responsibilities that fall on them, restricting their ability to develop their earning potential. The consequence is that the entire family of a fibromyalgia sufferer will suffer too. It is a powerful point.

Estimates suggest that as many as one in 20 people suffer from fibromyalgia. Since I secured the debate I have been contacted by many MPs—there have been many interventions in the debate—and by constituents and other members of the public. People say that at last someone is talking about the condition, which they or their partner have suffered with for so long, feeling that no one understood. The feeling of being misunderstood is familiar to many fibromyalgia sufferers. Often employers are baffled as to why on some days an apparently healthy member of staff is the life and soul of the party, but on others cannot turn up for work because they are crippled by their condition. By the same token, those employees often feel tremendous guilt that a condition that decimates their ability to contribute keeps striking them down. That often leads them to conclude that they must go into work even though they are in extreme pain, frequently making themselves even more ill in the process. It truly is a vicious circle.

Fibromyalgia sufferers are also misunderstood, as we have already heard, by those who assess them for benefits such as PIP and employment and support allowance, as their conditions are variable and can often be managed in the very short term. Many fibromyalgia sufferers have taken pills to help to manage the pain and support them through an ESA assessment, only to discover that the assessment outcome bears little relationship to their daily experience of living with fibromyalgia.

I have had constituents speak to me about the fact that the tablets they took to enable them to get in a taxi to travel to their assessment and get through that assessment for an hour meant that, when they got home, they were in bed for days afterwards. I think they thought to themselves, “If only the assessor could see me now, half an hour or an hour after the assessment, they would see why I’m unable to work. I’ve been able to get myself through that assessment, trying to comply with the system, but to my own disadvantage.”