A National Interest: Life As A Benefit Claimant

As 1st of April looms in just a few short hours, a sense of dread fills me. I’m becoming increasingly dismayed and disheartened by every news story demeaning benefit claimants as scroungers and thieves.

I should state I have a vested interest in the debate. I currently receive Employment Support Allowance & council tax benefit. I’m left to feel by the right wing politicians and ferral media like I should be bowing and scraping. I haven’t always been on benefit, nor do i believe it’s my devine right. In fact I used to pay my fair share of tax, and I never reclaimed my emergency tax back because I believed it it would serve others in need better than it would serve me. Ok so it would have been a small drop in the ocean,  but it was a drop the state wouldn’t have had if I had reclaimed it.

Following a stress related breakdown in 2000 I found myself diagnosed with various mental health conditions,  determined not to be stuck on the scrapheap I enrolled at my local college to study for an Access to Higher Education course. After more blood,  sweat and tears than I knew I had in me I started on a Social Policy degree at The University of York. During my first year and after a lecture (and heated debate) with my supervisor and mentor I could see that there was a crash in the economy due imminently.  I hate to say I was right, but I was. What I didn’t see, or know, was how it would affect me.

After 5 gruelling years, which included a leave of absence as a result of my post traumatic stress symptoms raising their ugly head I submitted my last piece of work and looked forward to celebrating my birthday in true student style. 72 hours later whilst I was visiting my parents I was rushed into hospital with suspected appendicitis. After a two and a half hour operation and 48 hours  inpatient stay in the hospital I was discharged with a 6 inch wide and 10 inch deep hole in my abdomen.  I didn’t realise that to return to my home it would take 4 weeks of playing hospital ping pong and 2 more operations,  nor the extra operation in my local hospital 6 months later. As you might imagine I wasn’t back to playing tennis and golf in the 6 weeks the consultant promised the morning after my appendectomy.

By the end of the summer 2010 id burnt every resource to secure myself, still heavily restricted by chronic pain.  I found myself turning to the Welfare State for help.  After 3 months on ESA I found myself being sent to ATOS to have a medical assessment to judge my eligibility for the benefit.  Nervously I filled  the form and made my way to the appointment.  After what was at best an unprofessional assessment I left thinking surely that was it. Imagine my surprise when the Department for  Work & Pensions came back to me telling I was fit for work. Here I was unable to sit for long without the onset of pain, nor could I stretch or lift without pain, ontop of this I was at the hospital regularly trying to establish the pain. At great emotional and financial cost to myself I lodged an appeal despite £75 to get all my hospital notes and a letter from my GP, DWP insisted I was fit and pushed me down the tribunal route. Almost a year later I was in court, on my own, stood before a judge and a doctor.  After giving evidence I was convinced that I wouldn’t get my appeal upheld. Imagine my surprise when the judge said I was right and DWP and Atos were wrong. As a result I was awarded full ESA and mandated to participate in work related activity group.

Although the stress of the appeal and personal problems had taken it’s toll on me, I was staving off my mental health problems I didn’t object to working with the WRAG provider, I understood my obligations at the beginning they were flexible with my health appointments.  It wasn’t long before I realised that everyone on WRAG was treated like an uneducated,  unskilled job seeker. At no point did they work on my real barrier to work, my health issues.  Things started to get to me, I was doing a ridiculous course 4-5 hours a day, 3 days a week. Sat at a desk inflamed my abdominal pain which would knock me out with pain induced fatigue for the rest of the day and then 3 days after the course week finished. As a result I wasn’t eating properly, making my IBS symptoms worsen and my abdominal pain worse. As a result I found myself on large doses of tramadol to kill the pain. What I didn’t realise, was my self esteem and mood starting to drop.  As I eluded earlier was the skill sets they treat you with. Constantly I was being told to dumb down my advanced vocabulary so the others in the group could understand. Now this course was about personal development,  as I pointed out, if someone asked me to clarify my point I would always gladly.  I couldn’t see how dumbing down developed me, but if someone didn’t understand and I explained to them, how that wouldn’t develop their vocabulary,skills and confidence.

During this time I was called to Atos again, I left confidently that the 15 points awarded by the tribunal were safe, I was wrong.  Again I found myself having to spend another £50 to get hospital notes in order to appeal against the decision. Before I even got my notes back from the hospital I found a decision against me was made and thus pushed to tribunal again. I have recently sent back the court papers but still don’t know where I am to send my hospital notes and basis for my case.

You may be thinking that it’s how all people should be measured, and I wouldn’t disagree.  However unless you have been through it I can’t emphasise how stressful it is for someone trying to prove that they aren’t well enough. The stress of having to prove I am not a liar has far reaching implications for me. No matter how articulate I may be I have my issues. As I have mentioned in other posts, I suffer from PTSD, being doubted about my condition takes me back to a child trying to make myself heard when I was being abused by my neighbour.  On top of the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal and other issues I’m left feeling vulnerable by my past, my mind and my emotions.  Life is hard enough without having to justify my existence to bureaucrats,  being vilified by the government and right wing media and the poisoned minds that believe their detritus.

So whilst I find myself weighing up whether I should can benefit from the offer of help from the local community mental health team  or whether life is worth living, I ask the dishonourable Ian Duncan-Smith what will you say to people that know me. Will you convince them hounding the vulnerable is in the national interest. Maybe you’d advocate me to take my life in order to save the national debt. Please IDS, tell me are your policies really worth it?

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