I will start by telling you a bit about myself, let me introduce myself to you, my name is Penny, I am 55 years old ( I’m not sure how I got to be this age, it sort of crept up on me) I am a wife, mother to 3 grown up daughters and grandmother to 4 grandchildren.
I am also a Doctor of Psychology, after returning to education later in life I achieved a diploma in counselling, an MA ( distinction) in Psychology, a BA ( ist class Hons) in Psychology before reaching the level of PsyD.
I don’t tell you this to gloat or make myself out to be something special, I tell you this to show you that disability and the need to claim support from the state covers many walks of life.
32 years ago I was diagnosed with pustular palmer planter ( basically pustular psoriasis on hands and feet) this condition flares and then calms for periods, it is not curable and being one of the rarer forms of psoriasis it proved rather untreatable too. I worked at this time and continued to do so for many more years. 18 years ago I developed Psoriatic arthritis, a percentage of people with the skin condition do then go on to develop the arthritis and I was one of the unlucky ones.
Still I worked, the first joints affected were my legs, hence my mobility was the first thing to go, still I worked. Over the years more of me has become affected by the psoriasis and the psoriatic arthritis, I adapted my lifestyle, I fought for (and got) DLA mobility and therefore an adapted car, the disabled parking badge and still I worked.
2 years ago after many years of consultants trying many different forms of treatment and my body being engulfed by these conditions I was told by my GP and consultants work was now out of the question, I had adapted as far as I could to remain in employment, I had no options left. My hands now suffer with horrific psoriasis and also arthritis so I am virtually unable to use them, one by one my other joints were damaged by the arthritis and I became more and more limited in what I was able to do for myself.
Why am I explaining all this? Well mostly to help you to see that life is not easy for a disabled/sick person no matter what that disability might be we face huge changes, losses and challenges every day as our health dictates what we do on a daily basis.
If you can perhaps put yourself in my place just for a moment can you imagine the emotions involved in having to adapt every time your body let’s you down a bit more? I have to have a quiet period where I’m left alone to get my head around the next thing I can no longer do, work, drive, bathe myself, walk, cook, etc etc
Each thing has to be processed, mourned for and then accepted, this takes time and understanding on the part of my family and friends. Now add in to this concerns about finances, my husband had to stop working to care for me so now we are dependent on benefits. Our circumstances have changed but in myself, in my head I haven’t changed, I’m still me, still the same human being I ever was, I still want nice things, I still need certain things but we can’t live beyond our means so we adapt again, I still get nice things, takes me longer, my family may have to help out but I still get them when I can, is this wrong?
The government are making me and many others like me question our right to live as we wish, the government and the media are filling our lives with fear, very real fear.
You will have seen all the attention our benefits system has been getting, the figures that are being bandied about, the hype regarding the fraud, the changes that are already affecting some of us? Are you aware of the ATOS assessments? The problems with them? The people that are being declared fit for work when they are clearly not? The majority of cases being overturned at appeal. The fact that this government pushed on with this even though they were informed that it wasn’t fit for purpose? Did you read the false figures that were put out by the government department for work and pensions that the media splashed all over their front pages declaring the huge amount of money fraud was costing the tax payer ?and then the tiny apology that followed when they were forced to admit their figures were wrong?
Have you read the sensational stories that have appeared almost daily about the ‘benefit cheats’ their flat screen tv, iPhones, holidays etc etc, how about the limousines we are all supposedly driving around in? The latest is the task force that is going to have the right to enter our homes if they suspect we are living beyond the existence level of benefits payments?
Let me show you the other side of this….
Let me tell you how hard it is to get these benefits to start with, the forms for DLA are 50 pages of very intrusive, detailed questions, this has to then be backed up by your GP and/or consultant, this process if you are awarded DLA is generally repeated every 1,2 or 3 years unless it is obvious you have a condition that is never going to improve ( medically proven)
ESA that has taken over from incapacity benefit is again a lengthy form, an assessment by ATOS and then there are 3 categories you can be placed in
1) fit for work
2) the work activity group and
3) the support group,
let me expand on this from my own experience, I attended an ATOS assessment where I was seen by a doctor ( this isn’t always the case) who luckily was knowledgable about my condition, she talked to me, she examined me briefly and she wrote a report stating that my condition was degenerative, I would get worse and would NOT be able to return to any form of employment.
The DWP then placed me in the work activity group, this is a group that is supposed to take part in activities to enable them to return to work in the near future!
Here is what they would have offered me had my job centre interviewer not been so sensible
1) a years subscription to the gym (I can barely move)
2) a years college course on basic skills (I’m a Dr of Psychology)
3) a job centre run workshop on job seeking skills ( I’m well educated)
so in actual fact it was ludicrous, they could do nothing with me so why was I in this group?
Because the DWP worker informed me “you only get in the support group if you have less than 6 months to live” And we all go through this whole process yearly, so is it easy to falsely claim benefits? Not by my experience no.
So why are the sick/disabled and the unemployed so worried, no not worried scared, why are we scared? Because we are being made scapegoats, scapegoats by this government for the state of the economy, we are being attacked for the fall of the banks, we are being blamed for rising costs, in fact if you listen to the government and the media you would think we are to blame for everything that is wrong with the country. Who else have you heard being belittled, abused and attacked by government and media in this way?
The impact of this? Rumours are rife, all over Social networking sites you will read horror stories of what is going to happen to us, Activists are organising themselves to fight the threat to us, people are searching for information as we all ask how is this going to affect us?
People are already being wrongly assessed and losing their benefits, sick people are being forced onto job seekers allowance or dropping off the benefits radar altogether, appeals have tripled against DWPs decisions and the majority of them are won.
There have already been deaths that can be contributed to the fear and the treatment of not just ATOS or DWP but also society. We are being abused in the streets, some are scared to do the small things they can do on a good day incase they are then seen as cheats.
The charities have all appealed to the government to rethink their plans or slow them down to give people a chance to understand and make the changes easier to take but the government are not listening, not to them, not to us.
The government say we are only fearful because we don’t fully understand the changes but no where will you find the answers you seek, the governments own ministers can not answer our questions, it is a badly thought out, costly exercise that is not necessary, not welcome and unworkable but it is affecting the most vulnerable people in society and we are scared,scared for our future, scared for our very existence.