Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Benefit cuts, ATOS and the government attacking those who need help the most

We've all watched the news, seen Daily Mail headlines screaming out from newsstands, all talking about, arguing about and attacking benefit claimants.

I'd like to talk about the benefit claimant debate, from the side of the claimant. Yes, before you all start tutting/screaming abuse at your screen, I do claim benefits. Specifically illness and disability related ones. Let me tell you now though, this post will not please you if you expect me to say that I live the high life. I don't, not by a very long shot.

I'm virtually housebound, needed to get an NHS wheelchair as I cannot walk more than a few steps, and even those few steps I cannot walk unaided. If I need to take a few steps, I need to use two walking sticks, or to be held up by my husband. I can no longer get up the stairs in my home, so I have to sleep downstairs. I have to shower at my 93 year old gran's house as she has an adapted bathroom with a shower seat! After showering (with hubby as I can't manage on my own, even showering!) I am left exhausted and go to sleep virtually straight away. At times I don't remember getting home as I am so exhausted I end up like a zombie. I am not doing all this just to get benefits. This is not fun for me. This impacts my marriage, I feel immense guilt for putting my husband through this. He didn't sign up for this. When he met me I could walk, I used to drive almost 40 miles most days to see him. I had a life, I was independent. That's the woman he married. That is no longer me sadly. The benefits I get amount to approx £400 pm. My husband cannot get a job. Oh he's tried, to the point of repeatedly reapplying to places that have ignored his previous applications and simply relisted the job. Now, however he can't leave me for very long as I need help to stand up and move around. I wouldn't be able to go for a pee without him here for goodness sake! He is my fulltime carer, and until last July, received the princely sum of around £55 per week to care for me. Not ideal, certainly does nothing for self esteem, for someone who WANTS to work but can't get a job that would allow him to care for me.

Due to a seemingly invisible renewal form I sent to the DWP for the DLA I was entitled to, we lost both DLA  (Disability Living Allowance) and Carer's Allowance last July. We have spent the intervening months trying to sort this out. In the end we have had to make a new claim for the replacement to DLA, PIP (Personal Independence Payment...no I have no idea why they have spent money changing the name etc of DLA either). My form was received by them on the 15th March 2014. When we borrowed my dad's phone, as we can't afford credit for my phone, to phone them to ask if there was any news, we were told it was with a 'decision maker'. Sounds like progress, no? No. The current timescale for 'decision makers' is 16 weeks from receipt of the form. Worse still, these people just decide if you need a face to face assessment, which they pretty much always do as they try to drag things on and make it more difficult for sick and disabled people to cope with. To get the original award of DLA, we had to attend a 'medical assessment' (and no I was not shown any evidence of the assessors medical qualifications...but its ATOS so it could be a sodding dental hygenist for all I know) in central Manchester, early one morning. Now, bear in mind that I am in a wheelchair, we don't have a car, nor money to make the journey on public transport. Luckily my dad stepped in and drove us to the appointment. I ended up in tears from the pain of trying to do the things he asked. He insisted I stand unaided. Something I told him I could not do.  Still, I tried, and my husband had to catch me when my legs gave way. He wasn't unpleasant to me by any means, but I also didn't feel any interest or compassion from him. We eventually learned that I had been awarded DLA, quite a considerable amount (well for us, it was approx £400pm), which helped us greatly. It also meant that my husband could claim Carer's Allowance, all of which helped us greatly. We weren't going cap in hand to family, needing help to get us to our next payment. Sadly, however, as the DWP decided to conveniently ignore my renewal form, we lost it all and have been back to struggling through. So now we are back to waiting for news, waiting to be told I need to be examined, which I struggle with due to my severe anxiety issues.

I fully expect to be told I don't qualify. That is their MO. They turn you down, as, sadly, many ill and disabled people cannot cope with asking for a review and then possibly waiting for a tribunal. So they give up. They struggle on alone. The ones that do fight back generally win, a lot of the time the DWP cave before a tribunal date arrives as they know they will lose. So its obvious that they are trying to avoid paying out.

I kniw there isn't infinite money for benefits, and I know some people lie and cheat and swindle, but not the majority. The majority hate the fact that they have to claim, but it is either claim or be homeless and starving. Nobody asks to be ill or disabled, if we had a choice we'd be healthy and independent. This is no life. Maybe a start to find the money needed to support people when they are in need, would be to stop sending aid to countries with their own space programmes....


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