Yateley ballet dancer in benefit battleBy Tim Tonkin
November 02, 2011
A FORMER child ballet prodigy from Yateley is now battling the welfare system after injury left his career as a dancer hanging in the balance.
Henry Perkins, from Lawford Crescent, a graduate of the renowned Russian Bolshoi Ballet Academy, said he has been placed in an impossible position by job centre regulations which insist he is fit to work.
Henry, 20, hit national headlines five years ago after he became the first Brit to secure a place to study ballet at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, and was even the subject of a BBC documentary.
After completing his studies and having spent four years in Russia, Henry looked set to make a start in his career with the Estonian National Ballet.
After suffering a serious injury to his back prior to a performance in Latvia in December last year, Henry was forced to return to the UK for specialist medical treatment, and has been told by doctors that the injury could potentially spell an early end to his career as a dancer.
Unable to dance, and with no British academic qualifications, Henry sought financial support through the Employment Support Allowance, which provides assistance to those unable to work due to injury or illness.
Following a medical assessment earlier this year however, he was told he was fit for work and that he would no longer be eligible for his current benefits, and would instead need to switch to Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Henry, who is planning to take the matter to tribunal, said that although he sees his benefits as a short-term source of support, he feels that not enough consideration has been given to his circumstances.
Aware that the nature of his injury may ultimately require him to give up ballet, Henry is currently studying for A-levels in the hope that this will allow him to study Russian at university in the future.
Henry's mother Sue said her son's lack of qualifications meant he would only be considered suitable for manual labour jobs, something that would risk exacerbating his injury.
Henry said: "Most of the money I am using is going on petrol to get me to college and back.
I am in a much better position than many people physically and mentally, but in my profession you need to be at the top of your physical health and without qualifications it makes finding employment almost impossible."
The family previously faced struggles regarding state benefits in 2007, when Mrs Perkins was advised that child allowance for Henry, who was studying in Moscow, would be withdrawn.
David Cameron, who was then leader of the opposition, invited the family to the House of Commons over the issue, which eventually saw the them retain their benefit.
Henry's current plight saw the family once again write to Mr Cameron two months ago, with Mrs Perkins claiming she is yet to receive a reply.
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions however said people suffering debilitating injury or illness would not be required to apply for manual labour jobs.
He said that while it was impossible to generalise about individual cases, there were a number of options open to someone in Mr Perkin's position, added that switching to Job Seekers Allowance did not necessarily prevent people from studying, if it was decided that further education would help to improve a persons' future job prospects.
He said: “We are reforming the welfare system to ensure no one is left trapped on benefits. If someone can no longer do the job they used to do, the work capability assessment looks at what other kinds of work they may be able to do.
"People who are too sick or disabled will receive our unconditional support and those who are able to work will get the help they need to find a new job. Anyone who disagrees with their assessment can appeal and present further evidence.”