Some say money isn’t everything, some say money can’t buy you happiness and some say that money is the root of all evil.
There is a huge benefit culture in the UK, and the press would have you believe everybody in receipt of benefits is a scrounger. They would also have you believe that all people on Incapacity Benefit are fraudsters. I am well-known for getting on my ‘soap box’ about this kind of thing, I have a valid reason to do so. The reason? I am on Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance (DLA). I cannot work due to my health issues, I would love to work just so I could receive that lovely pay cheque at the end of every month. I would to be able to moan about having to get up for work. I can’t, but I want to.
The media leads you to believe being on benefits gives you loads of money. If you are on, the now defunct, Incapacity Benefit (you cannot apply for this anymore and are placed on Employment & Support Allowance) with no Income Support top up or on medium rate care component DLA and above you do not get a lot of the so-called ‘freebies’ others on different benefits receive. The reality is harsh, you get about 88% support on both Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefits; you have to pay for your own dental; optical and prescription (unless medically exempt) fees. This can lead to IB claimants suffering with awful dental issues and wearing glasses that may be incorrect for them damaging their eyesight further. Of course, there are schemes in which the NHS helps those on low incomes but you still have to pay out for it. IB is a bizarre benefit in this respect. Whilst yes, you do receive more than say someone on Jobseekers Allowance, you lose a high proportion of you income to rent etc.
If you are lucky enough to receive DLA you know how ridiculously hard it is to get a positive decision these days. Last year, in February, I applied for DLA but was rejected so I had no choice but to appeal. I ended up having to go all the way to Tribunal. I had help from a Benefits Advisor under the Legal Aid scheme, something I will no longer be able to get as the government have cut such schemes making it harder for the likes of me to get assistance for such matters. It was, in some respects, handy for the people at the Tribunal to see me but it does beg the question why are so many people having to go through such Tribunals despite their chronic conditions. I fully believe that this is down to the government making it harder for people to get the help that they rightfully need. It is also down to the few silly idiots, and it is only a minority, defrauding the system. Honest claimants are, rather sadly, tarred with the same brush. It is the same when you have been homeless as well, people automatically assume all homeless persons are addicts. That is not the case.
We have all read the newspaper articles about the sickness benefit cheat who skydived, or the headlines that said 75% of all those applying for Employment and Support Allowance are actually fit for work when examined medically. The reality is benefit cheats ARE a minority within benefit claimants and the figures given to the Press are over egged.
I do not condone benefit fraud but I do actually understand why people do it. Let’s face it, benefits are pittance. It gives you enough for food, bills etc. If you are lucky enough to have enough left over to have a few luxuries then you should be allowed to do so. Just because you are on the Dole or off on long-term sick does not mean you must have no life or sit there with no TV on. I insist on giving myself one treat every fortnight on benefit day because I do not have anyone to treat me in any way shape or form. I cannot afford a holiday and will not be doing anything on my 30th birthday in September because I cannot afford to do so. Hell, I cannot even afford a new pair of trainers despite my current (and only) pair of shoes being incredibly smelly and having holes in them. I will often try to walk places as opposed to getting the bus, even if it hurts so much I have to use Oramorph. I do not live on benefits, I exist on them. There is a huge difference, one that not many can actually see. I get my best friend to do my food shopping with my paltry food budget, she is far better at shopping on a budget than I am. I know that if it was left to me I would be eating crap all the time, this way I get 3 decent meals everyday. I always see friends as being true friends when they are willing to help you in your hour of need, even if they cannot really do anything because the thought is sometimes more comforting than the actual deed.
I want and would very much like to meet quite a few people off Twitter, some of them though live far away so it may not ever be possible. I hope to be meeting another charming chappy (just a friend) in a few weeks, he is a sweet man and excellent photographer too. He works within the Housing sector, a sector I have had a lot of dealings with in recent years through homelessness. There are some amazing Housing Officers out there, I am lucky enough to have come across them. They are meant to see the good in everyone, even if they know what a wotsit that applicant can be. They have to assess your housing, as well as welfare needs. I appreciate the roof over my head a lot more now than I did even 5 years ago, I am lucky that I have an excellent landlord too as well as a great Housing Support worker who I meet with on a regular basis from a local housing charity. For me now, it is a case of homelessness prevention. I would ask you to consider thinking of the hard-working housing teams at councils all over the UK affected by the government cuts, their job is hard enough already.
I am not one who actively seeks help. I am, in fact, a little scared to ask for help for the fear of rejection. If I get help I feel guilty for it, I shouldn’t feel like that but I do! There is help out there but there are many restrictions to getting the help.
Friends who have never been on benefits do not fully understand how being on benefits can affect you as a person. Different people handle it in different ways. It has got to a point where I have said “Ahh sod it, I would be better off working even if it kills me!” One day I will work again but at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, I remain in the existence I currently have.
Like many other Incapacity Benefit claimants, I shall be migrating over to Employment and Support Allowance within the next few years. I have heard horrific stories of the medical examinations and subsequent decisions. The medical examinations are not carried out by a doctor who knows you, they are carried out by some company who have a history of getting it very wrong. I heard of one woman who is blind, and has been from birth, and after her examination she received a letter saying she was fit for work (she had other health issues too). She was willing to try to see if she could get some work, she went to the Jobcentre and they sent her for an interview at agency. Thinking it would be secretarial work, she was excited – it was a DRIVING INSTRUCTOR agency. There have been many horror stories of those who are definitely not fit for work being ticked as fit for work. If you try to appeal remember, you cannot get any assistance as Legal Aid has been cut from such legal matters! (any legal eagles please feel free to correct if am wrong on this matter). I am also going to be asking for a review on my DLA as my health has declined in recent months and I am having to go to more and more hospital appointments which is proving a negative impact on my finances as am sure you can imagine!
I fully believe that benefits should be given to those in most need, whether it be because they are looking for work or because they are going to be long-term sick/disabled. Yes there is a lot of debt in the country due to overspending by previous governments (we all know who am referring to) but I am not sure who decided £65 a week is enough to ‘live on’. Food, bills and rent are going up for everybody, not just the working population!
So next time you hear of someone defrauding the system, please do not tar us all with the same brush. I receive benefits due to my failing health, I live below the poverty line. I will, later this year, more than likely be faced with having to make the decision between having the heating on and buying food to eat! Not a decision I am looking forward to making that is for sure.
I know that benefits are a somewhat touchy subject, I would welcome positive feedback about this blog but will be monitoring comments closely on this one!
Keep well, and try to smile!