Friday, August 27, 2010

CAB Report on the Coalition Budget 2010

The Citizens Advice Bureau has written a report on Key welfare changes and their impact on low income households.

It makes for very depressing reading, and while it does not look specifically at disability benefits, it reports on the reductions and changes in Housing Benefit, JSA and tax credits, all of which are claimed by many disabled people. For instance,
From 2013/14 any claimant on JSA for more than 12 months will have their HB entitlement cut by 10 per cent. This will continue until they have “left the benefit system and been in work for a while”.
This seems a crude measure as it appears that it will apply even where the tenant is fully complying with their JSA requirements to actively seek work. The cut will fall hardest on those who face disadvantage in the labour market, such as people in poor health or with a disability who have failed the harsher medical tests for incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance, and have therefore been moved onto JSA.
It also explains why changing benefit levels from rising in line with the Retail Prices Index, to the Consumer Prices Index, will result in a reduction in the value of benefits and tax credits.

At the end of the study the report highlights scenarios illustrating the impact of the cuts on specific households, and several of the case studies include the issues of people who are ill or disabled. For instance,
A 50 year old man with mild learning disabilities and literacy issues has done manual work all his life until arthritis in his knees, hips and shoulder forced him to stop work. He has worked and paid contributions all his life until that point. He pays rent of £110/week and council tax of £18/week.
He claimed ESA but was found fit for work, so is now claiming JSA. The number of jobs he will be able to do is severely limited. He also has no access to his own transport and finds public transport very difficult because of the arthritis. His Jobcentre Plus personal adviser finds it difficult to suggest jobs for him. He has been out of work since his arthritis made it impossible to continue in his job two years ago and he has been claiming JSA for a year.
After housing costs he has a disposable income of £65.45 a week (his JSA). After a year as a result of changes in up-rating of JSA and also the LHA rates, his disposable income is likely to drop in real terms to about £64. However he may well also lose a further £8 off his HB as the 30th percentile rate is used to calculate the LHA rate. If he is unable to find a job after a year he will lose a further £10 a week of his HB. If he can not find somewhere cheaper to live he will have a disposable income after housing costs of about £46, a 30% reduction. Even if he can find somewhere cheaper to live, his disposable income will drop to £54, a 17.5% reduction.
If he had been allocated to the work-related activity group for ESA, his income would be £91.30 a week.

(cross-posted at Where's the Benefit?)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Intrusive Questions


1. Making an unwelcome manifestation with disruptive or adverse effect.

2. (of a person) Disturbing another by one's uninvited or unwelcome presence.
Intrusive comments from strangers about my breasts began pretty much as soon as they grew. Intrusive 'are you anorexic?' questions happened when I was slim (and yes, some of that time, I was. Did you really want that answer?). Intrusive comments about my weight are different now, but still intrusive and rude.

But lately, the subject of the vast majority of intrusive questions I get asked are related to being disabled.

Practically every time I go out, someone asks me, "So, what've you done then?" and nods to the crutch. This happens disproportionately in the bus queue, oddly. But can happen anywhere - last week by the guy serving me in Subway, and he didn't even stop there.

I am never quite sure how to answer. In my head I come up with clever and funny stories to answer this question, involving shark attacks and being trampled by donkeys, but in reality these rarely come out of my mouth. I sometimes say, "I had an operation on my leg" which, while true, isn't entirely relevant. For what it's worth, regarding that actual question, I haven't done anything.

I could tell the truth of course, but it's a long, complicated and in depth story, and people wouldn't actually want to hear the whole thing. Not that I'd do this, because it's none of their business. If you are a complete stranger, you are not entitled to my medical history.

Some, like the Subway guy, go further. "What was the operation for?" "What does it feel like?"

Then there's the unsolicited advice that so frequently follows: "My mate had something like that and when he stopped eating *insert random food group here* it got better"; "Have you tried *insert unproven alternative treatment here*?"; "You want to be careful using that stick, you don't want to get reliant on it".

Look, I have a consultant on the case, and she knows a lot about this stuff. You don't. Just drop it.

Think about it this way, if you were waiting in your GP's surgery waiting room, and someone asked you what you were seeing the doctor for, you'd feel that that was an inappropriate and overly intrusive question. It's the same - perhaps worse - at a bus stop, or a sandwich shop, or in the park.

Just like telling me I have big boobs (as if I didn't know) is inappropriate, and telling me to eat less is inappropriate, and telling a slim woman to eat more is inappropriate, so asking a complete stranger about their impairment is also inappropriate.

Sometimes young kids ask me questions, and I don't mind that as much. They mainly want to know if it hurts. Then they get on with whatever they were doing before. Actual friends asking me questions is fine, and actual friends offering me advice based on something they've read can be helpful, because they know what I've already tried and what I'm likely to want to try.

But the man at the sandwich shop and the woman at the bus stop and every other stranger who feels entitled to know, it's not fine. My body is mine, in all its weirdnesses and failings and successes. Some of its details are visible to you, but it's still not ok to just tell me what you think because you can see that I have breasts, a big tummy, a limp, scars or a mobility aid.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's not benefits that are outrageous, it's the cuts.

The Guardian reports on attacks on people who have been on disability benefits for 10 years or more.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling described the figures as "outrageous" and promised action to get people off benefits and back into work.
There is a shocking lack of acknowledgement or awareness that if someone has been on disability benefits for 10 years are probably pretty ill, have significant impairments, or face massive barriers.
"Thousands of people who have simply been cast aside by a welfare system that does nothing but put them in a queue for benefits and then forgets about them.

"Well those days are over. We will no longer accept a system which writes people off at a drop of the hat and expects the taxpayer to foot the bill."
With statements like that, they appear to be trying to cloak their attacks in the guise of concern for the benefit recipients, but it is a thinly disguised threat where the biggest concern is clearly the 'taxpayers footing the bill'.

It shows a complete lack of comprehension of the reality of the day to day lives of those who have been on long-term sickness benefits, and of why people are in this situation. There are many things the government could do to improve disabled people's lives and, yes, their chances of eventually getting back to work, but cutting off benefits helps no-one.

To put the £4.2 billion in context, we also know that £16 billion worth of benefits go unclaimed every year.

(Cross-posted at Where's the Benefit?)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not fit for work, not fit for benefits.

Many disabled people are currently terrified of the threats to their benefits, and those with mental health problems are especially scared. The benefit system has always been more geared up towards assessing physical impairment, and the new ESA assessments appear to have reinforced rather than reduced the discrepancy.

Meridian Tonight has reported on the case of Nicola Hobbs, who after years of anorexia applied for a job. However, she failed the health test and so was not given employment. As a result of this she applied for benefit and in this case was found fit for work.

A very confusing situation - judged too ill to work when applying for a job, yet fit for work when applying for benefit. But to add insult to injury, these two opposing judgements were made by the same company - ATOS Healthcare, who do the ESA assessments for the government.

Meridian Tonight has a two minute video covering the story on their website. Worryingly, it is not the first time I have heard of cases exactly like this, with ATOS declaring the same person unfit for work when doing an employment health review, yet fit for work when doing a benefit assessment.

(Cross-posted at the new blog, Where's the Benefit?)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Being Fat

Ten years ago I thought I was fat.

Today, I know I am fat.

Ten years ago, being fat was the worst thing I could ever contemplate.

Today, being fat is fine.

Ten years ago, the word fat was loaded with fear and disgust.

Today, the word fat is a descriptive word only, with no moral judgement.

Ten years ago, the idea of getting fat terrified me.

Today, I don't fear getting fat, because I already am.

Ten years ago, despite being 'underweight', I hated the fat I thought I could see all over my body.

Today, I know there is nothing to fear.

Ten years ago I would have chosen to stay ill rather than take the medications which would help me to get better, but cause massive weight gain.

Today, I take those medications daily.

Ten years ago I thought that fat was the ultimate unhealthy thing I could be.

Today, I know that that anorexia was way more self-destructive, damaging and unhealthy.

Ten years ago, I thought that telling other women how fat I looked, and how awful that was, was normal and ok.

Today, I know that moaning to other women about my body's appearance reinforces the view in all of us that women's bodies should look a certain way.

Ten years ago, the word fat was nothing but an insult.

Today, the word fat is nothing but a descriptive term.

Ten years ago, if someone told me how flattering an outfit was on me, I'd be pleased.

Today, if someone tells me how flattering an outfit is, I know that they really mean it hides the areas they don't consider acceptable.

Essential Reading: