In the UK we are currently undergoing a period of discussing Welfare Reform. It is scaring me stupid. I am in the very fortunate position of having a partner who has a good job. When this welfare reform comes in, I will lose my benefits and I won't starve. The new Bill will mean that if you are ill and can't work you won't get unconditional financial support after 12 months, your household income will be assessed to determine if you require additional funding. This all sounds very reasonable until you hear the actual figure at which financial support is withdrawn.
£7,500 pa - to support at least the person earning it and the sick person. Then you have to take into account that there might be children involved. How the hell is a family supposed to survive on £625 per month?
Scottish Power, the first of the main power suppliers in the UK to inform us of changes, has just increased it's rates by a whopping 19% pushing their average household bill from £1,150 pa to £1,320 pa. They aren't the only ones increasing their rates this year. So just heating an average home will cost £110 per month and sick people, who are indoors a big part of the time and feel the cold, will probably have a much greater need for heat and power than this "average" amount will account for.
I won't go into any more details about the cost of living but I think you get the picture. Essentially the current Government is slashing the support you can expect if you are sick or disabled, at a time when the costs of living are increasing massively.
I applaud the sentiment that is behind the part of the Act that they will give aid to sick and disabled people to help find work, but I think they are ignoring a massive part of that group who really can't work, no matter how much they may want to.
Taking myself as a case study. I am 38 years old and during the last ten years I have had 6 sets of abdominal surgery. Each time I have surgery I have to spend a few months recovering, and that recovery involves lying flat on my back and counting the days until I can start to move around again, without whimpering in pain. It is likely that during the course of my life I will continue to require surgery.
I take 4 different types of medication to control my pain. One of those drugs is a heavy duty opiate that leaves my brain foggy and makes it hard to verbally articulate ideas and causes me to lose concentration. Another of the drugs is a tricyclic antidepressant which is used in small dosage to aid sleep and manage pain. One of the side effects is drowsiness. The next of the drugs I take is for the neuropathic pain caused by damage to my nerves, and it causes dizziness and drowsiness. It is unlikely that my chronic pain will ever go away. I'm probably going to be taking these drugs in some measure or another for life. I live with the side effects because without the drugs I would be a screaming ball of pain.
The combination of these drugs makes it hard for me to contemplate working for someone. In order to manage the pain enough, to sit up at my computer and blog three times a week in a reasonably coherent form, I have to take these drugs. When I say "sitting up at my computer" what I actually mean is reclining back on a sofa with the keyboard on my lap. If I can only manage this kind of mental activity a few times a week, then how would I manage if I had to leave the house to work? Leaving the house increases my pain levels dramatically.
I leave the house around 3-4 times a week and at least 2 of those times is just a short trip on my mobility scooter to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread or similar. My one or two social activities a week never last more than 3 hours at a time, because by then the endorphins levels that are increased by seeing people I care about and having fun, are not sufficient to control my pain. I go home whimpering in pain, but cheered from escaping the house for a few hours. I then spend a day or so recovering.
How many employers want to take on someone who;
- can't manage any physical tasks
- will a require special comfortable workstation
- can only perform tasks that use little brain power
- won't mind if a drift off in the middle of a phone call to a client
- won't mind if I add up things wrong, or misfile documents because of a lapse in concentration
- can only work for around 4-6 hours a week
- won't be able to work the same hours every week because they can't predict when the "bad days" are going to be?
This Government thinks that everyone should be able to work. It may be right, but in our current system of employment there are no jobs that will allow the flexibility that a sick or disabled person would require to work. When you consider that the Government wants people to find employment within our current limited system, within 12 months, it makes you wonder if they care. If you read the notes of the meeting held on 3 May 2011 by the Welfare Reform Committee, you would probably gain the same impression that I did, that the current Government really doesn't care. They just want to get the cost of Welfare down. They don't care how they do it, and who pays the price.
My reality is I am unable to work. I am not alone. There are an awful lot of people out there who have very similar stories. They are invisible because they can't get out the house. They use every last ounce of their energy helping raise their children or trying to support their partner. They have no voice because they are too tired to shout.
There are a small group of sick and disabled people who are sacrificing every ounce of their energy and enduring massive levels of pain to try and speak for the invisible ones. The ones who will suffer the most when these welfare reforms come in. One voice is The Diary of a Benefit Scrounger. This blog has alerted me to the horrible changes that are being contemplated. If you live in the UK and do nothing else about my post, please just read ONE entry on that blog and then tell me your blood isn't boiling.
I don't think I will like living in a country that cuts off financial support to a person, who is suffering from cancer, because they don't get better in under 12 months, and their partner happens to earn £8,000 pa.
The only way that these reforms will go through is if the electorate make it possible. If we ignore what is going on, we will end up with the system we allowed to happen. This isn't just tweaking the existing system, it is throwing it out completely and replacing it with something wholly inadequate. The poorest, sickest and most vulnerable people will suffer even more than they already do. Is that the country you want to live in?
If you care, talk about it, blog about it, tweet it, and write to your MP. If enough people cry out maybe the Government will reconsider, the way they did with NHS reforms. On our own, sick and disabled people feel very isolated and voiceless, but if other people join in with their cries, just maybe we will all be heard over the bellowing of DEFICIT in the House of Commons.