A lose-lose situation: the DWP’s Catch 22.

2015-09-23 13.05.22Last 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.

No win.

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Where do we go from here?

The dust is beginning to settle, and everyone’s looking around slightly shell-shocked and wondering where to go and what to do next.

First, take a breath. Also I recommend a cup of coffee. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We have five years to try and get things changed, we can’t all exhaust ourselves in the first two months.

Second, take a look at the #wecantmarch hashtag on Twitter. Sick and disabled people (as well as anyone who, for whatever reason, is unable to physically march) are creating an online space of protest to match the physical movement of people. Feet on the streets is brilliant and a very effective way of showing the strength of anger but not everyone can do it. So what can we do? Here are some ideas.

  • Read. Educate yourself. Learn about poverty, inequality, austerity and injustice. Learn why this is bad, so you can give educated and informed answers to people, as well as yourself. There are so many books out now around these subjects – you may not agree with all of them, but knowing why you disagree with something is just as important. Visit your local library, if you live in Bristol I heartily recommend Books for Amnesty on Gloucester Road as they have an extensive amount of books on these issues for a few quid each. If reading is a problem, have a look through Audible and see what audiobooks you can find. You can also get audiobooks from your library, either in physical form or electronic. Read.
  • Find your interest. We cannot all be experts on everything. The state of the country is complex and brings into play a lot of different issues. While you can be reasonably informed about most of them, you cannot know everything about all of them. Find the issues that you feel most strongly about, or maybe one that you already know about as you’ve worked in the field or studied it before. For me, it’s youth work. I’ve worked as a youth worker for ten years and I’m doing my MA in it – I like to think I know what I’m talking about. Know what your speciality is, and don’t be afraid to link people to other websites of people who have specialities different from your own.
  • Pick your battles. The internet is a busy place. People argue everywhere. You do not have to argue with all of them. We have a limited amount of energy. There will be people who will not listen to your point of view, and to spend time trying to convince them is a waste of your energy. It’s ok to say “I am not getting into this right now, bye.” Also, as a rule, Facebook and Twitter are terrible places for arguments on the internet (with exceptions, of course).
  • Write. This one usually happens on its own after you’ve been doing the above for a while. Writing is a good thing. Sharing information you know, giving a space to put forward a clear argument (rather than trying to do it in 140 characters) and a place to write down the frustrations you feel. It also means you have a space you can point people to when you get into aforementioned Twitter arguments.
  • Do something else. This is important. Campaigning and protesting is essential, especially now, but you have a life and health to think of and they should always come first. Take some time out. Spend an evening watching a film, go for a coffee with a friend, binge-watch some Netflix. Give your brain and soul a break every now and again. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Keep informed, keep active, but most importantly keep safe. Be angry, but look after each other. Be motivated but don’t exhaust yourself. Keep fighting.


Going Beyond the Barriers

They say things always come in threes…today seems to be no exception. Today a government minister showed us that you can in fact steal thousands of pounds from your boss and still expect to be in a job. Today is also my two month PIP-iversary. Bring out the cake!

But, most importantly, today is the release of the Spartacus Network’s second major report into benefit reform, Beyond the Barriers. This report describes in detail the failings of the Employment Support Allowance system, the major failings of the Work Capability Assessment and, crucially, makes recommendations for changes in the system so that instead of being a barrier to finding work, the system supports those disabled people who¬†can work into appropriate work.

Currently we have a welfare and support system for the sick and disabled that pretends to give with one hand and takes more away with the other. ESA was supposed to be a way for disabled people to get into work. Yet Access to Work schemes are underfunded and poorly run, and this week it was also announced that the Disabled Student Allowance – a vital means of support for sick and disabled students to continue accessing university and higher education – was to dramatically cut down on the list of things it would provide, meaning services such as note takers in lectures would now no longer be covered. With a welfare system designed to punish rather than encourage, it is clear that the ESA and WCA are not fit for purpose.

Beyond the Barriers sets out a visionary review of Employment and Support Allowance, making recommendations such as having a case worker that supports the claimant through the process of acquiring work rather than leaving them with no support whatsoever. It also suggests that claimants should be able to manage their own budgets so they can direct the funds where they would find most useful – getting appropriate equipment etc., and making sure their return to work is tailor-made.

This is a ground-breaking report. This focuses on treating sick and disabled people like people, not figures. This proposes a positive attitude by the system towards returning to work, rather than penalising those who can’t. It is vital that the ESA process accepts the fact that some people will never be able to undertake work. The stress and fear inflicted upon those who are pursued by the DWP means that ESA is viewed as a punishment for sick and disabled people, rather than a means to a better way of life.

See the full Beyond the Barriers report HERE.

Find out what you can do to support Beyond the Barrier and the Spartacus Network on Sue Marsh’s blog HERE.