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Thursday, April 21, 2011

On being on benefits while fat

[Image is a vintage food advertisement from 1895. There is a drawing of a young woman with package of Loring's Fat-Ten-U food tablets and package of Loring's Corpula, a fat-producing food. The text says, "Get Fat on Lorings Fat-Ten-U and Corpula Foods".]

David Cameron today has said that taxpayers [feel that incapacity benefit] recipients should be "people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own", that is, not those who are ill because of alcohol or drugs, or because they are overweight.

According to these statistics, the number of people who claim disability benefits because they are obese, is 1,830. Compare this to 398,700 who claim for depression. It is hardly a raging epidemic. There may, equally, be other people who claim benefits for a particular impairment, while also being obese, and this is a whole other matter entirely. Yet here we have a new message of hatred from the government.

I am on benefits and I am fat. I am not on benefits because I am fat, but I am on benefits because I am ill, and I am fat because I am ill. This is many layered, but before I was ill, I was slim. Too thin for a good while, in fact.

Then I started taking psychiatric medication. The more common antidepressants didn't affect my weight, but when I started taking neuroleptic medication the weight piled on. At the time, Olanzapine was the 'wonder-drug' of choice by many psychiatrists, and I was put on it at a time when a lot of other mental health service users were. We all gained a significant amount of weight, very quickly.

I'm not on olanzapine any more, but I take other neuroleptics and a newer antidepressant, both of which have the same effect on weight. I have, at times, wondered whether I should come off them, to lose some weight, but I made a choice to do all that I could to prevent big relapses, and stayed on the tablets. Believe me, I would be costing the state a lot more if I came off all my meds and lost some weight, but spiralled into a paranoid psychosis at the same time.

These days I also have the added issue of more limited mobility, which means that I often can't do any kind of exercise. Many disabled people face this same situation, and many disabled people take medications which can cause their weight to rise - not just psychiatric meds, but steroids, certain painkillers and all sorts of others can affect appetite and weight.

And if I can't stand up for long enough to cook, or manage to chop vegetables or stand near the stove, then I also can't eat well. If I can't go out to buy fresh food, or can't carry anything home, it is virtually impossible to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Now, I don't have a problem with what my weight is. It is how it is, I don't hate it, it's just life. I don't claim benefits because of my weight, but if I wasn't ill or disabled I probably would weigh less. However, I am, and it's a small price to pay for relative mental stability (very relative!).

But because of Cameron today, as well as benefit claimants being written off as lazy, scroungers, liars, exaggeraters and malingerers, the Daily Mail readers of the world will be happy to assume that every overweight person on benefits is on benefits because they are overweight.

I don't have a problem with those who are, by the way, but there are many fat disabled people, just like there are many fat non-disabled people. But those who are believing the hype now have an extra line of attack against the country's benefit recipients. An extra line of abuse for us to receive.

(The image is in the public domain, and was made available by Chuck Coker. This blog post is cross-posted at Where's the Benefit?).


thermalsatsuma said...

I saw that article too - it's appalling that the BBC is parroting the government line uncritically.

Anonymous said...

It's frustrating that there seems to be compassion or even critical thinking in these things and the effects are devastating.
I'm overweight, but apart from a couple of health issues(like chronic depression which has been unmedicated now for years) I am fairly healthy. I exercise and eat well. There's some reason beyond *eating too much* at the root of it. But people judge. They decide one thing that sets another person they feel is undesirable apart from themselves. It's a kind of strange tribalism that dictates who is In and who is OUT.
It scares me that government has such a narrow and unintelligent view of complex issues.

Jenny Eatwell said...

Your situation is my situation, barring the fact that I can sit at my cooker and the advent of online shopping means I can access vegetables etc., so long as I can pay the fee for same. I'm one of those on a steroid, Prednisolone, for Polymyalgia Rheumatica. It's a catch-22 situation, I take the medicine to keep a condition under control, which in turn piles on the weight, which in turn keeps the condition on the critical side of good. I know that for every situation, there are a thousand different capillary situations that feed from it. One can only be glad for David Cameron that he has not had experience of being in such a predicament.