Sunday, 4 March 2012

Frightening times ahead...

Before I go on, let me make it clear that I am not left wing, right wing, or anything in between when it comes to politics. Like most people I read about what's going on, take a mild interest in the laws that are being passed. I always listen to the Budget to see how it affects us. Of course we all have opinions on whether a particular law is good or bad, but as a general rule, it doesn't have a life changing affect on your life. You get on with life as normal. The Welfare Reform Bill currently being forced through (now passed into law) by the Coalition Government completely blows that philosophy out of the water. The more I read the more shocked, appalled and saddened I become. It beggars belief that in the 21st Century some of the most vulnerable members of society, disabled people like myself, are being branded scroungers, the lowest of the low with no place in normal society. They claim we are a drain on resources, like leeches, taking money from the tax payer for no reason other than we can't be bothered to work.

Prior to developing CRPS I had spent many years working full time, paying my taxes, NI and pension contributions. Not for a second did I think I would be struck down, my life turned upside down, changed forever. I never thought I would become disabled, well you don't do you? Never in a million years did I think I would be totally reliant on someone else for everything. I can't get up without help, can't get dressed without help, can't prepare food for myself, can't bathe without help. Can't walk without help, can't leave the house without help, can't get in and out of my wheelchair without help. I could go on but you get the idea. Every facet of my life is now dependent on someone (namely my husband Eric) helping me, accompanying me and/or doing it for me. There is no spontaneity in my life. Life consists of a constant battle against everything that CRPS throws at me. I hate being disabled, no, I detest being disabled with every fibre of my being. I don't want to be and would do anything not to be.

The Coalition Government would have you believe that I am, like every other unemployed person in this country, a scrounger. Too many people are claiming sickness benefits when really they aren't disabled/ill enough to warrant it. They show examples on TV, people who claim they are unable to walk yet manage to run marathons. People getting every benefit under the sun, receiving goodness knows how much. They talk about getting those who can work, back to work. They also talk about providing more for those who have genuine need. Don't get me wrong, I totally agree with the principle of weeding out those people who are playing the system, claiming money they aren't entitled to. In fact I have more of a vested interest than most, because these people give real disabled people like me a bad name. Unfortunately the main cruz of this reform seems to be more about cutting the cost of the welfare bill by however many billions.  Given that fraud for Disability Living Allowance is just 0.5% this surely means that they are going to refuse a large number of genuine claimants using their new criteria with all the fallout that will cause?

I am currently in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance. Both of these have been re-branded as ESA and PIP respectively. I will at some point go through the process of being transferred to these new benefits. The criteria have changed, as have the way they are assessed.  As I said at the start the more I have read about the Welfare Refom Bill, the more concerned I have become. The adage 'scrounger until proven otherwise' seems to be the standard, whilst the process seems geared up to reject people, who are then faced with trying to appeal.

Incapacity benefit is just that, you either qualify for it or you don't. Simple. ESA has two levels, the 'support' group, which I guess is a direct swap for IB. Here you are declared unfit for work and get the higher level of money you can get. Incidentally it's less than you get on IB but that's to be expected. After all this is a money saving exercise. To get IB you had to get 15 points based on how well or not you could carry out various tasks. In other words I filled in a form, sent it off and waited for a decision. The first time round I had a medical as well. When it was due for reassessment I filled in another form, but wasn't called for a medical. I presume this was because the Doctor I saw said that he would state that I shouldn't be called back for a medical because it was inappropriate. Too much of an ordeal. I have looked at the criteria for ESA and I should comfortably get sufficient points to be placed in the Support Group. Nothing to worry about then, simple switchover? The reality seems to be very different, the more I read and talk to other disabled people on Twitter.

There is a second group of ESA, known as the WRAG. It stands for Work Related Activity Group or something like that. If you don't get enough points to go into the Support Group you get dumped into this one. There is also a cutoff below which you don't get ESA at all. In which case you are deemed to be immediately fit for work and have to sign on. The Govt would have you belief that the WRAG group is a really supportive initiative. They will help people who could work, if given sufficient support, back to work. A noble idea surely? Sadly not. Terminally ill people who have more than six months to live are placed in this group. People undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer are placed in this group. People with progressive and chronic conditions such as mine are put in this group. People with severe mental health problems are placed in this group. We are talking about large numbers of people, like me, who struggle to live, let alone work. Not scroungers, hypochondriacs, those who can't be bothered etc.

Let me give you an example. One of the good friends I have made on Twitter is currently seeing the full horror of this new Act. For obvious reasons I will not divulge personal or extensive details about her condition. Her case though shows everything that is wrong about the WRAG of ESA and the Welfare Reform Act in general. It also shows why there are terrifying times ahead for me and every other genuinely chronically disabled person. A combination of severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (affecting 95% of her joints) has reduced her to being dependent on her husband for 24/7 care. Virtually housebound, her mobility, like mine is totally compromised so she relies on a wheelchair when walking is required. Her hands and feet are particularly badly affected. In other words living day to day is not only a huge challenge but a very painful one. She was working up until she became ill, is a Doctor of Psychology, and had paid all her contributions. ATOS, the new company brought in to carry out asessments for ESA and PIP stated on her report that her condition is progressive and she will never return to work. It would seem a no-brainer that she be put in the Support Group. But no, the DWP put her in WRAG. How can this happen? What happened to the 'we will provide more for those in genuine need' rhetoric? The mind boggles how they define genuine need if she doesn't qualify. She was also told not to bother appealing as it would make no difference.

To cap it all, she was contacted by the DWP a couple of days ago to be told that having been in the WRAG group for the maximum time allowed, her money will stop at the end of April. Miraculously cured and fit for work because the time limit has been reached, nothing to do with her health and completely ignoring the fact that she is now less able to work than she was when it was first awarded. What exactly is she supposed to do now? Reapply? Sign on for Jobseekers' Allowance? Or just do nothing and lose her only source of income? I could talk about PIP, the replacement for Disability Living Allowance but the same horror stories abound, with people being turned down when it is blatantly obvious that they should receive the benefit or at a higher level.  What civilised society treats people like this?

With me facing transfer onto both ESA and PIP at some point, do you now see why I find the future so terrifying?

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