Posts Tagged ‘benefits’

Even before the cuts to benefits and the changes to DLA have taken place, they are having an effect on the people who rely on them. This is one woman’s story.

“It’s not as though I don’t want to work. I find it hard to imagine why anyone would believe that someone would live hand to mouth on benefits, without holidays, much of a social life, new clothes, etc., by choice. Why would I chose to spend time considering whether I can afford to turn the heating on (never mind up), when the temperature outside is minus something?  Why would I chose to debate the relative merits of fresh food versus a £1 ready meal from the bargain freezer shop? If it was a question of choice, I would most definitely have made a different one.

And now it seems that everything is about to get much worse. Changes to income support, incapacity benefit and DLA could well mean that by this time next year I will have even less to live on than now.  Friends and family tell me not to worry.  That the changes are intended to ‘weed out the cheats’ not target people like me. People who are genuinely disabled, genuinely sick. But that is not the impression I get from reading the papers or surfing the internet. No one can guarantee that I can maintain my current position.

So I worry. I lie awake and imagine what might happen if…

I keep applying for jobs.  Any job. Hundreds of jobs. Two interviews, one offer. A ridiculously inappropriate job but I am desperate.

I last less than a week. The physical pain so increased that I sleep downstairs for days, unable to face the prospect of climbing the stairs to my bedroom. My fears increase, my confidence crashes even lower. I am ashamed of my inability to cope with the uncertainties of the job….who is actually in charge? Would I get paid on time? Would I be able to pay my rent?

I am ashamed of my inability to cope.

More job applications.  Even with a degree I can’t get an interview for a part-time job answering the phone because of ‘the high calibre of the applicants’.

My mood begins to swing down into the grey fog that has hovered just over my left shoulder for most of my life. It wraps me in nothing and smothers motivation. All I want to do is sleep. And eat.

Most of the time I can hide from my family and friends. Smiles and chats distract others from the emptiness. I am still functioning. Still going out.  Still fulfilling my obligations. Mostly.

Until today.

When even sitting still seems to require more energy than I can muster. My thoughts dwell constantly on the thought of medicals, reviews, a change to JSA, the loss of DLA, a reduction in Housing Benefit after twelve months, growing dependence on the charity of others. It might not happen.

But it might. It could.

And I am scared.

I feel helpless, vulnerable.

I feel myself sliding further into the fog.

The future looks bleak.”


I’m good at guilt.

Whether as a result of my Catholic upbringing or because of a predisposition caused by  faulty wiring in my brain, guilt is my default setting.  I tell myself that it is a kind of egotism that makes me think that whatever it is must be my fault.  After all, I’m just not that important and my actions and thoughts do not exactly rock the world. I flick mental peanuts at the paranoia that tries to sneak up on me and whisper ‘it’s all your fault’ in my ear whenever I notice its stealthy step.

But as of a today, I have it on the highest authority that it is all my fault after all.  According to the ‘compassionate Tory’, Ian Duncan Smith, I, and everyone else who lives on social security benefits (otherwise known as handouts), are the people (hereafter referred to a scroungers, layabouts and shirkers) largely responsible for the countries current deficit.

‘In remarks that will spark controversy, he became the first cabinet minister to draw a direct link between our economic turmoil and the workless.’
‘BRITAIN’S shirkers’ paradise shame with hordes of work shy benefit claimants was blamed last night for much of our economic mess. ‘
…and so on and so on.
Those of us claiming incapacity benefits came in for particular criticism, because apparently our ‘handout’ is both too generous and too easily claimed by hoardes of workshy shirkers faking disability and illness.
So there it is.
Permission for the general public to blame and castigate the unemployed.
Permission to regard the sick and disabled as the cause of our economic woes.
After all, we live next door and so make a much easier target than some millionaire banker living large on taxpayers handouts in his elegant country mansion.

I am tired but unable to sleep. The BBC news channel drones on in the corner and one of my cats is curled up on the sofa next to me. Pain keeps me awake.  Anti-inflamatories would help to make pain relief more efficient but unfortunately they would interact with other essential medications, so I have to do without. Hopefully things will settle down soon. I have an early morning dental appointment and as I said, I’m tired.

My eyes closed, sipping hot chocolate, I was not really listening to the television until I heard Ed Milliband’s name and something about the Labour governments failure to reform the benefits system. I rewound the programme and listened more carefully to the interview. He said that there was still a minority of people who ‘refused to work’ and that this ‘hacked people off’.

Here we go again.

A shop worker was telling Milliband that she has to work hard to make ends meet but that someone who has never worked gets ‘everything given to them’.  Someone else talked of a non-working household ‘a few doors up’ where apparently designer clothes and holidays were the norm.

Here we go again.

Sometimes it seems to me that almost everyone I speak to knows someone like that. Someone who whether unemployed or ‘on the sick’ lives a full and worry free life on benefits. I wish they would let me into their secret. The current government and the right-wing press have done an excellent job of promoting this image to the point where ‘scrounger’, ‘unemployed’ and ‘sick’ have become interchangeable words.  Such conversations leave me feeling defensive and ashamed. When I point out to people I know that I am unemployed, I am claiming incapacity, the usual response is “oh but we don’t mean you” as if personal knowledge of me as an individual exempts me from the scorn and disapproval being meted out to ‘the others’.

Yet the majority of those ‘others’ are no different from me. Frustrated by their inability to work, whether because of ill- health, disability or the sheer fact that there are so few jobs and so many people looking for them.  Afraid of a future in which they will be punished for their situation by the reduction or even the removal of benefits. Forced to defend themselves from the constant cries of ……



‘benefit cheat!’

Give Ed Milliband his due, he did assert that this was a small minority of claiments. But still he seemed to feel that this small minority should be the focus of  his response on the subject of welfare.

here we go again.


Posted: November 21, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I am an artist.  Disabled.  Unemployed.  A part-time student.  A mother,  soon to be promoted to grandmother.   I have two children at university and one a recent graduate.

I am a socialist by instinct.

I believe in family, community, the connections between people and the fundamental duty of individuals and society to care for and support each other. I have mostly watched from the sidelines, too busy working, running a business and bringing up children to be an activist.  Leaving such things to those more suited, more passionate, more clever than me.

Some would say I am naive.

I feel compelled to add my voice to those of the people of this country who fear that the welfare state is being threatened. That the NHS is being transformed by stealth into an American style  insurance scheme. That their jobs will disappear.   That the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society are to be abandoned and that they, and our children, are to be made to pay for the follies of bankers and markets.   Who fear a return to the days of (Ken Loach 1966Cathy Come Home.

I am afraid.

This is not the life I planned when I was a teenager.   I had imaged  falling madly in love and marrying for ever.  A house full of happy children and pets on the private estate that bordered the council one where I grew up. A career as a short hand typist.  A holiday every year, perhaps even abroad, and weekends in London for shopping and the Lake District for relaxing.  I day dreamed of going to university and of being a novelist or a poet or a writer of profound thoughts.

But somehow I ended up here.

I have the happy children and pets, a divorce and a degree in fine art. I’ve travelled abroad a little, have not taken shorthand for more than thirty years and I live in a privately rented property.  Once, for a few years, I was my own boss.  I also have debilitating bouts of depression, spondylithesis spondylithosis and osteoarthritus. I live on sickness/disability benefit.


This is not the life I planned.