Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Where do the chronically sick fit into the new Welfare State?

Blog time again. My topic? The much published welfare cuts. Something small eh?

Anyone who has read my blog regularly knows that I receive two benefits, namely Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and ESA, having recently been successfully migrated into the Support Group of ESA for Incapacity Benefit. For me the migration went incredibly smoothly, they took less than a month to make a decision, didn't call me for the dreaded WCA assessment with ATOS. I filled in the form, it must have gone very quickly to a decision maker and the rest as they say is history. Although it was a huge relief to be migrated so easily compared to so many others, I have to admit that it is a very sobering and upsetting realisation to have it acknowledged that I am so bad I was an automatic 'to support group'. Yes, I know I'm realistic about my situation, but the numbers of people who have got into the support group without a battle is small. Really small. And I was one of them.

I also get a paltry Teachers' Pension (on which I pay tax I hasten to add!). We don't get housing benefit, council tax or anything else. Eric gets no help from social services (we did get some money to pay for a cleaner when he broke his arm but that has stopped and didn't cover the cost anyway) despite the fact he cares for me 24/7 with no respite at all. His Carers' Allowance ended when he reached 65. Apparently you are no longer a Carer once you've retired. Of course for him nothing changed. His care for me is the same as ever.

Get to the point I hear you cry! Here goes....
I am getting more than a little sick and tired of being branded as someone who is 'a skiver', 'sees benefits as a lifestyle choice' or any of the numerous, derogatory phrases and arguments being banded around in the press and on the news. It seems that anyone on benefits is fair game, we are targetted by politicians, newspaper columnists, and numerous others. Too many to list here. Google welfare state, look at Twitter or FB, the evidence is all there to be seen. I, like every other genuinely chronically ill  person find myself being lumped in with everyone else simply because I can't work. I detest being disabled, I wish I could work. It'd be there like a shot!! It certainly isn't by choice that I live as I do!! To be blunt nobody would want to live as I do. I don't want to be dependent on benefits, I want to still be teaching, making a difference to children's lives. Not a burden on my husband, dependent on him for everything. All day, every day....

I can't dress, get up, leave the house without significant help. I can't access the kitchen, let alone cook. I live in a reclining chair with my legs up because this is the only way to make life 'easier'. I take so many powerful drugs I would be a health and safety risk. 50-60mg of Morphine are flowing round my system 24/7 and 14 plus other drugs which try to counteract the symptoms. There is no cure, I will be like this to my dying day. That's me being realistic. Something may come along that will help more but my CRPS is so entrenched that nothing will get rid of it. My Consultant has said as much. I challenge anyone to be able to concentrate for any length of time, hold down a job or simply have any quality of life living as I do. Yes I do archery and go to speedway but only because I'm a cantankerous, stubborn wotsit who doesn't care just how bad I will feel for days after. I know I shouldn't be trying to do these activities, they are way too much to cope with but I will continue one way or another. Until I really can't, which I fear inevitably will be the case.

So why am I and other genuinely chronically sick and disabled people constantly being lumped in with those who are able to go out to work but don't? Treated as second class citizens, unworthy of a place in society, let alone have a voice. 'Those who go out to work do the right thing, those who don't are doing the wrong thing' George Osborne recently said in a speech. So I'm doing the wrong thing? How insulting is that? But what recourse do I have? None. The British public agree with the changes to the welfare state we are constantly being told. 'Working people are sick of being worse off than those on benefits'. Does this mean everyone who gets benefits of one sort or another? Those on JSA? Housing Benefit? DLA?Who knows? About the only acknowledgement to those who really are too disabled to work is the rather throwaway 'we will help those with genuine need' or something similar. Can't remember the exact wording because it is always the other  comments that make the news etc.

Don't get me wrong, I want a system which encourages people to work and rewards those that do. As I've already said I would be working if it were at all possible. Please, catch the fraudulent claimants, those who screw over the system and should be working. Those who claim to be too ill to work when really they could. I don't want to be associated with them. But we are. It has also been well documented that large numbers of people have been declared fit for work or placed in the work related group when claiming ESA, only to have this overturned on appeal (approx 40%). The system isn't working but this is largely overlooked because the Government never publicises it. It instead constantly tells us what a burden those on benefits are as I discussed above. 

How on earth do you try and raise awareness about cuts that are having a devastating effect on disabled peoples' lives? For example, the bedroom tax. When you phrase it in the manner the Govt has it seems to be a no-brainer. I didn't actually know that housing benefit paid to those in private rented accommodation excluded spare bedrooms. So on the face of it that sounds fair enough. Do the same for council houses. But what happens if you have a Carer who regularly stays overnight because the the person can't be left? Or your partner and you can't sleep in the same bed because your illness or disability make it impossible? Or you have lots of medical equipment that needs to be stored somewhere as is the case with a lot of conditions. My electric wheelchair takes up loads of room. Oxygen tanks, monitoring equipment, the list goes on and on. Surely there is a case for those with 'genuine need' to be exempt from the bedroom tax? Apparently not, we are all lumped together. 

I do wonder sometimes if the politicians actually believe there are people 'with genuine need'. Those who are placed in the work related group of contribution based ESA get their benefit for a year. These are people who are believed to be able to get back to work with appropriate help. Unfortunately a significant number of people placed in this group simply won't be capable of achieving this. Once the year ends their benefit stops and, as if by magic, they are supposedly healed and now fit for work. No review, that's it. I'm not sure what they're supposed to do after that, disappear into the ether I suppose. 

I could provide so many more examples of how the welfare changes are not fair for those in society who cannot work because of illness or disability. The Govt would have us believe that their changes will make the system fairer and that it will 'always pay to work'. Spare a thought for those who will face serious hardship having no way of going out to work if their benefit were to be reduced or suddenly stop. If my benefits were stopped I could do absolutely nothing to bring income into the house. No matter how much I might want to, it would be impossible. Where would that leave us?

I shall end with this for you to ponder....
The underlying principle of the welfare state has always been that a caring society looks after those who cannot provide for themselves or acts as a safety net for those who have fallen on hard times. Does the new look welfare state really do that? What does this say about our society, is it really a caring one anymore?

1 comment:

  1. Well said Jane, we don't seem to 'fit in' anywhere do we? We are fast becoming the invisible people, not seen or heard and unfortunately I believe it is just what this government wants. All you can do is to keep highlighting what is happening as it happens and lets hope that someone somewhere is listening.
    It's very brave of you to talk about this in a personal way and I admire your courage. Xx


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