by Alice Thomson

cw: mentions of suicide

Hurray, 2018 is upon us. January always seems like a month of reflection and contemplation to me, mainly because nothing much happens, and most people are recovering from December. Although, I feel this way as I type, there is a niggling dread at the back of my mind for 2018. I’m probably not the only one that feels this way. A new year invites new opportunities, but it also means that these openings provide an element of risk or failure.

In June 2017, Theresa May famously said in response to nurses pay freeze that there was “no magic money tree”. Not only was this patronising and outrageous of her to say, but it also highlighted where the current governments priority do not lie when distributing public funds. With many nurses relying on foodbanks and loans to help them through each month, it’s no surprise that many  are dropping out of the profession or that they agreed to strike. It scares me to see how a group of people who are seen by the public as hard-working and dedicated to their job be so let down by their government. It scares me, not just because I have sympathy for them, but it also makes me feel very vulnerable in my financial situation.

the government has not made any efforts to iron out the life-changing effect it will have on many disabled people.

Often disabled people are seen as “workshy” or “faking it”, which can lead to vulnerable people being persecuted. With ESA Work-Related Activity component completely abolished in April 2017, more disabled people are being placed on Job Seekers Allowance and deemed “fit for work”, when they’re anything but. This change has been in the pipeline for many years, and in that time the government has not made any efforts to iron out the life-changing effect it will have on many disabled people. Already in 2012 and 2013  Disability Rights groups were warning of the dramatic, negative consequences this change will have, resulting in disabled people struggling to pay for basic, but essential, things like food and heating. ESA Work-Related Activity component was designed to fully support disabled people back into work. This involved training, financial support, and help with support once a job was found with and changes needed made to the working environment. It was  a great idea. By abolishing it to save the government a bit of money, they are in fact making it harder for people who were receiving it to obtain a stable and supportive working environment. Not only will they be denied this support, they will likely incur into sanctions not completing all the required criteria that is expected with the Job Seekers benefit.

It might seem that a few people are worse off, but the effects are more insidious than this. People are dying. A non-disabled person’s health would easily decline under these circumstances. When your health is already compromised, the consequences are dire; leading desperate people to suicide, or death from stress on their already existing health conditions. 70% of claimants believed their health would decline under these cuts and nearly 100 charities opposed the changes. Since 2012 over 40,000 disabled people have lost their support through the change to Universal Credit, and the 2016 figures tell us that over half of the appeals for this decision were successful. It just shows how needless this suffering is, and how tough the assessors are on disabled people.

( Norwich Jobcentre protest in 2016 CC BY 2.0 Roger Blackwell )

Thankfully the change to ESA doesn’t affect me as I am in the support category, which means they acknowledge I have a life-long disability that impacts my mobility. So why am I scared, no terrified? I, like many people, am up for review. When any major change is made to a benefit, it isn’t rolled out throughout the UK instantly. Little pockets of the country make the change and over a few years the change spreads until the whole country is in sync. This is what happened for ESA and what happened with the change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payments (PIP). Norwich was one of the first places PIP was introduced, and so I was one of the first to be moved onto it. Initially I was denied, like so many, but with the help of the charity Equal Lives, I was able to appeal and receive a full PIP benefit. My time is up, and my review is now due.

Although my medical circumstances have not changed, I now live waiting to find out if I will receive the same amount; don’t be fooled, it’s not a large sum.  You might think it would be plain sailing, if nothing has changed and I’ve been on PIP for many years. PIP has changed over those years: not only has the amount paid reduced, but the criteria for receiving it are tough to comply with. Unfortunately, the private companies the government employs to assess disability benefits are notorious for with-holding benefit. Often, those assessing disabled people are encouraged to meet a certain target of rejected claims, they miss out elements of the assessment in their final report, use cheat-sheets and tricks, like leaving doors closed to see if the claimant can manage for themselves. I know someone who works for such a company assessing PIP and the stories I hear are horrific. This person is struggling in their job because they are awarding PIP too often; even though they do so based on medical knowledge and understanding of the client’s condition.

I now live waiting to find out if I will receive the same amount; don’t be fooled, it’s not a large sum

I have a cold, which doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve had it for two months and I think I probably have conjunctivitis. I haven’t joined a local GP surgery because I am scared that this will affect my PIP review. Part of the process involved gathering evidence from my GP, but if I have a new one that knows nothing about me or EDS then this could have a huge impact on my application. As I sit in my home, feverish, unable to breathe, with blocked sinuses, in pain, running low on prescribed medications, trying to care for myself, I wonder who benefits from these changes the government makes. I know it’s not the people receiving them.

Featured image CC BY 2.0 Roger Blackwell


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