Last time I wrote about having my Personal Independence Payment assessment I said it felt like an exam I had to pass. As it turns out, this time I seem to have failed.
Yep, after doing my renewal application for my PIP, I was declined. I was half expecting this anyway but it still came as a shock. So now comes the mandatory reconsideration period and the appeals process. I’ve also requested a copy of my assessment to see if it’s as comedic as the last one was.
As an ill person, the expectations the DWP have of me are a bit confusing. I’m told that in order to be a productive member of society I have to work, that working is the best option for everyone and that their aim is to get everyone working. Yet, as soon as I try and be productive and proactive, I’m told I’m not ill enough to be receiving any help. Which means you cannot win. You cannot be productive while also being ill as the DWP don’t have a box for that. You can’t be a professional, an educated person because if you’re able to be educated and have a profession then you’re clearly not ill. The truth, as it always is, is far, far more complicated than that.
Me doing an MA does not means I don’t still have chronic pain. The fact I can write a blog entry doesn’t mean I won’t have to go to sleep for the afternoon due to chronic fatigue. Reading a book doesn’t mean I don’t need my pain medication. You’re told to be productive yet that means you’re not ill. If you’re ill you’re told you have to be productive.
**DISCLAIMER: All the opinions and experiences in this post relate to me. Everyone’s experiences of disability and illness are different and no two people will have the same views, opinions and feeling about the topic.**
Next month, I won’t have worked for two years. It really doesn’t seem that long but it also really does seem that long. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I don’t know what happened to 2014 and 2015 – a year spent working out what my illness does and how I could live with it, and another year trying to get myself back to as “normal” as I could be while still making accommodations for my condition. Time moves fast when you’re doing very little, it seems.
I’ve had two ATOS assessments in that time, both for PIP. The first one was kind of a blur – I’d been ill for a few months, I didn’t really know what was going on, what medications I should be on, how I was going to pace myself, all the things that you eventually pick up and learn the longer you live with being ill. My second assessment was last week and it was a different experience. Not because it was conducted at home rather than at their offices, or because the questions were different (they weren’t) but because I’ve lived in this body with this condition for nearly two years and I know it a lot better now.
I’ve gone through different stages of dealing with being ill. For a while I was just “ill”. One day I could do something, then over the course of a weekend I just got ill. I can remember the weekend clearly as the Monday was the final time I went into work. Then you start looking for reasons and ways to help. Diagnoses, medications, pacing, reducing the amount you achieve in a day. Resting a lot. Sleeping a lot. Getting into the groove of “being ill”.
And then once you’ve got the rhythm of your illness – you’ve worked out that your big flares usually come a week after the event that triggers them, that if you spend the morning in town you’d better not plan any activities for the afternoon, that if you’re going to need to be clean and showered for some reason you’d best plan that into your previous day (also your definition of “clean” gets reeealllly loose…) – you start to live with it rather than fight against it. This doesn’t mean everything is roses and happiness, far from it. You get days of pain and days of exhaustion, you can’t drive as far as you used to or walk as far or be able to use your brain and think after 3pm. But you have what I called my “new normal” – and you forget that this isn’t other people’s normal.
I’ve found myself stuck in a really bizarre place. I’ve just finished a postgraduate degree and I’ve worked for ten years in a profession (granted the profession has been ripped to pieces by the Tories but I digress…) and so my desire is to work, because I love my profession and I want to be able to practice it. But then, you’re put in a position with your ATOS assessor where you have to describe in minute detail how you can’t always cook your own meals, how sometimes you don’t have the energy to wash your own hair, how someone else has to come in and do your vacuuming for you. I’ve found it very difficult to take both the realities of being a professional, and of someone who is ill and needs assistance and help with everyday tasks, and apply them to the same person – me. How can I be both those people at once?
And I know where this confusion comes from. Having an ATOS assessment makes you constantly second-guess yourself. Can I walk further than I said I could? If I can open a can now does that mean I can actually cook? Am I better than I was, am I more able than I think I am, am I being lazy? The constant second-guessing and the need to prove that you’re ill or disabled makes you stand face to face with the worst bits of your illnesses. I can’t leave the house for days, I can’t wash my hair more than once a week, I can’t cook my own dinners. It’s almost impossible, to me at least, to take that view of myself and pair it with “I’m a professional with a postgraduate degree and the desire to work”. The DWP make disabled and ill people justify the worst of themselves and then they expect them to “pull up their bootstraps” and make the best of the situation. After you’ve been repeatedly shot down by churning out all the reasons your mind and body is unable to work properly, under the fear that you won’t be believed, it’s a difficult task to turn that around and be motivated and positive.
But hey, maybe that was their plan all the time. Motivated and positive ill and disabled people get ideas and opinions and the means to express them, and we can’t be doing with that.
Tomorrow, I’m having another assessment by ATOS to see if they want to give me disability benefits for another year. In “celebration”, let’s look back at what they said about me last time…
Today I received the most entertaining and most depressing document of my life. The ATOS report for my Personal Independence Payments assessment.
You may remember I went for my assessment back in July. The guy who assessed me was really nice, he was relaxed and chatty and not like a driving examiner or someone terrifying, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that the document I received today was not due to his incompetence, but due to a broken system that does not allow people to do a good job.
Or spellcheck their documents, apparently:
“…she will manage to put out a bowel of cereal for herself.”
Right. Sounds…disgusting, really.
The guy was typing this as I watched so I know he didn’t try to type it with his head or with both hands tied behind his back.
“Has who cats”. I first…
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It’s strange, because obviously I have a lot of things to say about this. I have to go for another assessment after having been on PIP for just a year which really wasn’t expected, but they were a hell of a lot faster this time than last I’ll give them that. I’m going into this one having already had one assessment and so I know a bit more about how the process works, but I feel like I can’t talk about much of that at the moment. Because the internet has ears. And the paranoia of ill and disabled people is high. And I’m worried that my concerns about my assessment will be taken the wrong way. So instead, I thought I’d talk about something else.
I got ill almost two years ago now. It seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago at the same time. When I look back at how I was before I got ill, the work I did, the activities I did, how busy I was, it definitely seems like another life. And the problem with that is, the way I am now has become normalised in my mind. And so I forget that I still do things differently in order to accommodate my condition because I’m now not aware that I do them.
I don’t go into town because I know it’ll make me tired and I have things to do at home. I have to plan my showers days in advance sometimes, to make sure I’m actually, y’know, clean but to make sure I have time to rest afterwards. I get tired in the afternoons. I get pain and fatigue when it rains. I take strong painkillers, I don’t clean my own house, and just today I vetoed a trip to the supermarket at the end of the road because I felt in too much pain (even though I would’ve driven there rather than walked).
But that’s now my “normal”. I do all these things without thinking about it because it’s habit. Which worries me that I might miss them when I’m talking to the ATOS person.
Last time I said it felt like an exam. So I guess it’s time to start revision.
I spent more than half of 2014 blogging about the ongoing saga of my PIP application. I first applied in January and through a complicated form, a poorly-recorded assessment and nearly nine months of waiting I finally ended up getting a disibility benefit.
Twelve months later and it’s time to go through it all over again.
Yes I have the photocopies of the last form. Yes I still have the Word file with all my written answers in, and copies of my letters. Yes I know they hopefully won’t ask me in for another assessment.
But still. Another few months of wondering how long it’ll take and if I’ll actually be re-awarded.
I’m still exhausted from the last time.
My favourite little factoid about the House of Commons has to do with Budget Day, and it’s this:
“Members may not eat or drink in the chamber; the exception to this rule is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may have an alcoholic beverage while delivering the Budget statement” (Wikipedia)
Today, it may be the rest of us that need the alcohol.
In 2008, the British government approved a rescue package to British banks. The banks had lowered their credit standards, given out more money and brought in profit for their shareholders. Then the housing bubble went pop. The greed of bankers and shareholders who wanted to lend out more money to bring in more profit, meant that the returns weren’t coming back in. And the banks were running out of money.
£500,000,000,000 is what it look like when you write it out. It’s a whole load of zeros. Let’s look at another number that has a lot of zeros.
£16,000,000,000. That’s sixteen billion. Which is the amount the banks paid out in bonuses the year they received the bailout.
How about another number.
£50,000,000,000. Fifty billion. That’s how much the government gave to the banks in 2009, for the second bailout.
£93,000,000,000. Ninety-three billion. The amount handed to businesses in subsidies and tax breaks.
£12,000,000,000. Twelve billion. The amount Osborne is expected to cut from the welfare bill before 2017. The money that goes to the poorest people in society.
Because when you’ve given £516 billion to the banks to fix their mistake, and £93 billion to businesses to make sure they’re alright, someone has to foot the bill. And the people footing the bill are the people who never had any money in the first place.
More numbers? Alright then.
£20,000. Twenty thousand. The amount of money a family outside London is expected to live on. (Here’s a previous blog post about how that pans out)
3,500,000. Three and a half million. The number of children in the UK living in poverty.
1,084,604. One million, eighty four thousand, six hundred and four. The number of people who had to receive emergency food and support from the Trussell Trust food banks in 2014-15.
15,955. Fifteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety five. The number of benefits sanctions in the FIRST THREE MONTHS of 2014.
One final one? Gladly:
We’re two months in to a Tory government, and the gloves are coming off. There’s a budget in less than a week and I can’t decide if the news stories that have appeared over the last couple of days are to gently ease us in to the horror, or if they’re cleverly designed to turn the country on those in poverty so when the budget comes they can say “Yeah, those workless, they’re the cause of all this country’s problems!”.
I plan to write a more detailed post for budget day. But this part couldn’t wait.
Let’s look at some of the news stories from the past few days:
- The Independent Living Fund (ILF) has been scrapped, leaving many disabled people reliant on local councils that have no funds to provide care for them.
- Jeremy Hunt has announced that prescriptions will now have the actual cost written on them along with “Funded by the UK taxpayer” in what seems to be an attempt to shame chronically ill people into no longer being ill.
- A leaked DWP memo seems to suggest that the government want to scrap the Work Related Activity (WRA) group of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Let’s have a quote from that article, presented without further comment:
Charlie Pickles from Reform, a think tank focusing on public service delivery that was co-founded by Conservative MP Nick Herbert, said the current system encourages people to stay on the benefit rather than finding work.
- The government seeks to re-write the criteria for child poverty, concentrating on the amount of worklessness and educational attainment in the household rather than material poverty – which fails to take into account that a lot of people are in work and still in poverty.
This has been happening for years. The government has been scapegoating people in poverty and saying “it’s your fault the country has no money”. But the stories are coming thick and fast, the cuts are becoming more brutal and next week’s budget is going to hurt. A lot.