Thank Christ(ine) for Christine

A lot happened this week, but I have neither the time nor inclination to discuss it in detail. Perhaps next week. In summary: I saw Paul on Tuesday for our first ‘proper’ therapy session of the new stint. A bit of a weird dynamic was present – I babbled relentlessly, flitting from one random tangent to another rather than discussing anything remotely meaningful. Not that he agreed, of course; he opined, as he always does, that anything that runs through my mind (aside, perhaps, from “oh, look, the sun’s out” – though could that be read as an example of avoidance?) is worthy of raising in the therapeutic setting, and can give insights into my psyche. That said, he did admit at the end of the appointment that things had been a bit up in the air (I forget his specific terminology), and said we’d get down to some proper work next week. I await it with interest – but not at all without trepidation.

Last weekend I decided I was going to turn a corner of the kitchen into an office. I don’t think I can do much about it right now, but I think if I have a future, then I ought to have something to aim for – and I’ve decided that this will be professional writing. My dream: to register as a sole trader business, and make at least a part-time income from writing – and no longer have to claim at least some of my welfare benefits (I would like to think I could keep my Disability Living Allowance, on the grounds that the disability remains, but that in having my own workplace I don’t have to engage with general office tradition, which would exacerbate my illnesses). I know I’m capable of professional writing now – or, at least, I know other people think I’m capable, and that matters much more in this arena than my own self-assessments – and I’m building a few contacts. For now, that is all it is – a dream. A few commissions here or there doesn’t really mean much, but I’ve narcissistically (why is that not a word, spellcheck? Incidentally, why is spellcheck not a word when it’s the precise term WordPress uses to refer to this utility?) got it into my head now that I can achieve this if I don’t do myself in any time soon. When I mentioned the proposed office to A, he suggested that instead of setting it up in the kitchen, I actually reconvert our former study – lately, since the advent of The Everythinger, nothing more than a place for dumping stuff we can’t be bothered to sort out.

It seemed more palatable than the kitchen, admittedly: for one, it’s fucking cold in the kitchen no matter how long the heat stays on. Secondly, as I am not wont to be in the former study much, with a bit of re-configuration, it will feel more like an office than part of this house. Currently I do all my work sitting on the sofa with the laptop on my knee – but I do all my fucking about in this fashion too, and ergo it is difficult to associate the environment with work specifically. The study in many ways resembles – or will resemble, when I have it sorted – my office in my last job: small, but with everything necessary to get on with the task at hand. As such, I feel that I can ‘trick’ my brain into thinking that the proposed office will actually be a workspace, rather than a mere spare room.

We ordered a new desk, which arrived on Wednesday. I sat down to it last night and, aside from a few side panels that A had fitted, built the entire thing from scratch. It is (optionally) an ‘L’ shape, and has ample surface area, meaning that aside from the PC and laptop, I’ll have plenty of room to write by hand, consult the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, or study the professional writing course materials I bought several years ago.

All of that, particularly my suggestion about setting my writing projects up as a business, is a long way off – because right now I’m not a professional writer, but a professional mental. I even get paid for it! Though for how much longer?

As you may have gathered from the last couple of posts, things are dreadful. It’s at the point now where people are noticing: when I can no longer maintain a fa√ßade, then I know things are bad. My mother has even realised that the excrement has been liberally sprayed in the general direction of the thermantidote, and that is a tremendously dangerous sign, since I have always attempted to muster every last atom of energy my mind and body possess into convincing her that everything is fine (the reason being that she shouldn’t have to worry about me all the time).

As if things were not bad enough, therefore, when I got up yesterday morning and found an ESA50* form waiting for me, I thought I was literally going to have a heart attack – I hyperventilated so fucking much that I could see no way that my heart could continue to pump blood around my not-insubstantial body.

My ma immediately said, “we’ll take it to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.” Reasonable advice, to be sure, but she’d missed the point; the point was that, re-fucking-gardless of how competent the CAB may have been in the completion of the bloody thing, I would almost certainly still have to attend a medical examination with the fuckwitted social security agency. I know I’ve written in passing about one of my previous exposures to this immense trauma…where?…ah yes, here it is. (*This post also explains a bit about ESA ((which stands for Employment and Support Allowance)) to those of you outside the UK. Basically, it’s a disability/illness benefit – but it has two components that complicate it, which the aforelinked posts discusses). After that experience – and even regardless of it – I genuinely don’t think that I can go through another assessment of this ilk (or of any, come to that). Not any time soon; pipedreams or not, I’m still really ill. I told my mother that if I had to go through such an encounter, that I would end my life.

Fortuitously, I had an appointment with Christine in the early afternoon. Since the hospital in which I see her is close to the CAB, I took the form with me. I went in, sat down, when asked reported that since our last encounter everything was still appalling, uncopably (new word) terrible, and that “the icing on the fucking cake” had just arrived, at which point I pulled the ESA50 out of my handbag.

She shook her head in frustration – “everyone’s getting those bloody things!” – and I repeated my promise that if I was called to a medical I would commit suicide.

Christine said, “I’ll complete it for you. At least that will be a weight off your mind.”

“That would be brilliant, thank you,” I replied, “but won’t they still send for me anyway?”

She told me that she is getting the impression that the Social Securitcunts have been sending out the forms to weed out the few “scroungers” that exist in the system, and also to catch out those with a mild to moderate illness, who they (quite possibly erroneously) perceive as being able to work. She exemplified by telling me about a patient of her’s that has mild, borderline moderate, depression. “She’s been found fit for work,” Christine explained, “but honestly, Pandora, there are things she could do. Not everyone’s in that boat, and in fact most of my patients haven’t even been called to a medical, and these forms have been arriving through their letterboxes since the start of January.”

“Are you saying that you think I won’t have to go to an examination?” I checked.

“I’d make an educated guess that when I’ve finished with this” – she nodded with contempt at the form – “it’s highly unlikely.”

She smiled conspiratorially at me, but I pressed on with my concerns. She wasn’t saying definitively that I’d not have to go to the fucking thing, after all.

Eventually she said, when I had finished yet another monologue of social security-driven angsty misery, that if they did call me to an examination, that she and NewVCB would write to the bastards advising them that I would be unable to attend, as to do so would be “severely and dangerously detrimental to my mental health.”

I stared at my CPN in something akin to wonder. “Really?” I murmured in a small voice laden with disbelief.

“Yes,” she said definitely. “So don’t worry. I’ll deal with this, send it off to them, give you a photocopy at our next appointment – and if an ‘invitation’ letter turns up at your door, contact me, and we’ll make it go away.”

“Thank you,” I almost-sobbed. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

Christine dismissed my gratitude – not in an unappreciative way, just in the sense that she was happy to provide the service and information that she had – as part of her job. Then she said, “you’ll be horrified when you read what I’ve written. Try not to be. They need to hear the very worst aspects of your illness; yeah, some people could accuse me of extending the truth, but I don’t think that’s the case. The case is that all of what I am going to write has happened and even though you’re taking measures to control these things, the unfortunate truth is that they also have the potential to happen again…possibly at any point.”

“Why would I be ‘horrified’ that you accurately explained the most severe symptoms of my illnesses?”

She sighed. “The voices tried to get you to kill yourself. They tried to get you to kill your baby cousin. Cameras follow you wherever you go and GCHQ are obsessed by you. You’re endlessly suspicious of people, and are cripplingly anxious when you’re forced to be in any proximity to them. Some days you can’t get out of bed due to overwhelming depression. You have, at times, to be watched to make sure you don’t harm yourself. There will be occasions on which people have to remind you to take your tablets – or even make you do so.”

She paused, flicking through the form, then added that one of the key parts of the mental health section of the ESA50 was about interaction with other human beings. “Given the aforementioned symptoms, that’s not…er…well, it wouldn’t really work for you, would it?” Ah, the sweet scent of diplomacy.

We talked about other stuff. Paul. Writing. Mum’s cancer scare. Rhona’s operation (with which there were no complications but lots of pain followed by a hook-up to morphine, which was removed five days after the procedure and even then caused quite significant withdrawal symptoms). An increase in Lamictal to help me with this current vault of depression (she’s going to discuss this with NewVCB on Monday). The exact nature of how low I felt, not that I could quantify it in words. I was acutely aware that I was acting very differently around her from my norm; regardless of how I’m feeling, I usually witter on and on and on, engaging with her non-verbally too – often it belies the reality of my mental (ill) health, but it seems to come naturally around her anyway. This was completely different. I steadfastly avoided eye contact, one of their favourite observations, and apart from issues surrounding the ESA50, I didn’t speak much at all. In fact, to my abject horror and disgust, at one point I believed I looked like I was close to tears. I didn’t cry, thank fuck – I can’t imagine the shame that would have been wedded to that – but I suspect that Christine thought I was on the verge of it.

Anyway, she was brilliant. My current episode continues, and no doubt will not abate for quite a while – either more Lamictal will help, or the vileness of the low will end itself in some sort of cyclical fashion, or I’ll off myself before any improvement manifests. But for now, what would have been one of the most serious stressors this year – as if there have not been enough already – has been removed from my responsibility. I didn’t thank her enough, because I can’t thank her enough.

The only downside to her brilliance is that it makes me even more sad and distressed that thanks to non-sensical bureaucratic bullshit I may well lose her. Good mental health professionals like her, ones that actually seem to care about you, are sadly uncommon ūüė¶

I’m in a rush so haven’t proof-read this, for which my apologies are due to you. Please forgive the probable multitude of errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling in the foregoing. Thanks x

Fuck the Welfare Reform Bill!

I’ve deliberately stayed away from the politics of welfare “reform” on this blog for quite some time, because it’s such a nasty fucking business. But given the heinous, subterfugal, undemocratic fucking bullshit that has permeated all circumstances pertaining to the Welfare Reform Bill, recently and regrettably passed by the House of Cunts Commons, I can stay silent no longer.

A constitutionally and legally aware individual may well, at this point, cry, “but you’re in Northern Ireland! What the hell does this have to do with you?”

A reasonable query, since the WRB applies to Great Britain, not the UK in its entirety (does anyone know if it applies to Scotland? I really can’t find a definitive source telling me one way or another). However, I have a vested interest for a variety of reasons:

  1. Principle. This is fucked. The Coalition government are sending out a message of “we don’t give a flying rat’s arse what happens to the ill and/or disabled of this country”. More importantly, however, benefit claimants – who, according to the government’s own statistics, are 99 – 99.5% genuine in their claims – will be forced into poverty, homelessness and even death by the fuckwittery inherent in this steaming, fetid pile of bollocks. Who in their right mind can reasonably stand by, watch that happen and say nothing, regardless of how much it does or doesn’t affect them?
  2. I have dozens of friends – some online, some offline, some both – that will be directly affected by this. At least one of them has spoken tragically of how she would rather end her life peacefully than suffer the indignity of all that comes with being completely impoverished, as she would likely be if major amendments are made to UK social security. Obviously, I sincerely hope that she doesn’t kill herself, but I can certainly understand the rationale that has led to that line of thinking. In fact, the spectre of the WRB has already caused suicides. Or, should we say, murders?
  3. You’ll have heard the old adage that “when America sneezes, Europe catches a cold.” What you may not have heard is that whatever happens in Great Britain generally leads to the same happening in Northern Ireland. We’ll catch this pox: be in no doubt about that. My partner A works in drafting legislation (albeit in an entirely different arena than this), and some of his work involves adapting statutes from GB into workable legislation for NI. On most such occasions, this is simply revision, rather than significant modification. One might argue that as the Assembly starts to assert itself, this may start to change, but this is unlikely to be the case in terms of social security – and that’s even with the fucking Barnett formula! An independent Northern Ireland (whether officially or by extended devolution) could not afford to uphold its current finances, never mind better them. So, they will do what they’ve always done; they will copy Britain’s “welfare” laws, and the sick and/or disabled in Northern Ireland will be fucked, just like they will be on the mainland.

Why the Bill is a Steaming Pile of Horse Manure

Short answer: it will strip a very sizeable number of genuinely ill and disabled people of their only meaningful income – the money that keeps food in their stomachs, roofs above their heads and breath in their lungs.

Longer answer: there is so much. I would strongly recommend reading the blogs Diary of a Benefit Scrounger and Benefit Scrounging Scum for detailed, well-researched critiques and information. Sue and Kaliya (respective authors of the aforementioned journals) are two disability activist stalwarts who, despite their own profoundly disabling conditions, have fought steadfastly against this shit, even co-authoring the Spartacus Report which firmly shows the WRB up for the demeaning and threatening bollocks that it is.

In brief (ha!), and personally, though, here are a few issues.

  1. Benefits will be capped at ¬£26,000. That seems like a lot – and to many, myself included (my benefit income is circa ¬£10,500), it is. However, on a national scale, this could be An Issue. London has some of the most expensive housing in the UK, and arguably in Western Europe. If benefits are arbitrarily capped for claimants in that city, the place will be completely ghettoised, a la the 19th century and (backwardly-chronologically) beyond. This is because claimants will either have to leave London entirely, or move into geographically-determined social housing. Social housing becomes “council estate”-ish. People lack opportunities. The cycle of life on the line continues ad nauseum. Poverty, sickness, degradation and a slow, lonely wait for death abound. (Incidentally, this argument could have applied to Northern Ireland until relatively recently too; until the arse fell out of the housing market, we had ((after London)) some of the highest house prices in the UK. Things have come down a bit, and according to Ian Paisley Junior, only one person in Northern Ireland will now be affected by the benefits cap. But still; there are other people out there that this will affect, and affect horrendously. It demands our opposition for them alone).
  2. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will become “Personal Independence Payment” (PIP). On the face of it, that’s no big deal – a change of name, yes? No more and no less (despite the fact it’ll cost hundreds of thousands to re-brand the fucking thing, but let’s not split financial hairs, eh? It’s only people’s lives that could be saved, after all). Except that it’s not that simple. For one, there will be no ‘automatic’ entitlement for people with life-long conditions – say, folks who’ve had amputations, or people like A who have visual impairments. Clearly these are disabilities that one can overcome so easily, aren’t they?! They’ll all be fine in a year or two! On a related note, two: every claimant, existing or new, will have to undergo an examination by either the insidious, sinister ATOS (on the mainland) or the Social Security Agency (here). This will, despite an illness’s variation or otherwise, include re-assessments at regular junctures. I have already discussed why this is A Very Bad Idea Indeed, so see that post if you need further explanation (short answer: it will fuck people up). Three: DLA currently includes components pertaining to ‘supervision’. If, for example, you are too mental to take your medication as required, or to refrain from killing yourself during the night, you are considered to need supervision. This works in the realm of physical health too; let’s say you’re newly blind and need to climb the stairs to the bog or some such – you’ll understandably need guidance. Well, PIP will abolish any consideration of ‘supervision’, meaning that severely mentally ill people, or others with major disabilities, will strongly lose out.
  3. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will no longer be paid to young people with disabilities. Further, non-means-tested ESA will only be available for one year to any claimant (regardless of whether or not they’re still sick/disabled) – after which they can, presumably, go and top themselves to save the Cuntalition some money for fine dining in the Common’s restaurant(s). Of course, they claim that this is all fair and just, because people claiming this form of ESA are considered fit for work after a period of recuperation. Which leads me to my next point…
  4. Oh really? Assessments by ATOS and the SSA? Yeah. These fuckers really know how ill or incapacitated you are. After they (don’t) listen to you for 10 minutes, they throw some shite onto a keyboard, which, when processed by a computer that probably runs fucking Windows, then tells them that YOU’RE FINE. Seriously. This is the way these pricks operate. Again, I’ve ranted about this elsewhere – indeed, I’ve detailed my own personal experience of being shafted by a “medical assessment”, and how I had to fucking well fight, cunting my precarious sanity in the process, to be recognised as being ill – and to disprove the myriad of lies that the so-called doctor at the SSA had written about me, or told by omission. Furthermore, as noted in those posts, none of the medical “professionals” employed by the SSA/ATOS are specialists. So, effectively, they know shit all about psychiatry, gynaecology, gastroenterology, oncology, whatever. Yet they’re allowed to judge every aspect of your illness or disability to the point where it could affect the continuance of your very existence.
  5. This is perhaps tangential, but fuck it. Why is it that tax evasion is allegedly going on all over the show and glanced over, serving the usual gravy train of ludicrously well-off people, when all benefit claimants really want is a modicum of a life and a tiny dollop of dignity afforded in their general direction? And, at the risk of turning this entire post into a fucking clich√© – what about the gargantuan minuscule salaries and bonuses of the wbankers that twatted the economies of an entire half-hemisphere? I don’t see the Cuntalition demanding capital returns from, nor demonising, anyone from these demographics for failing to do their jobs or do things by the fucking book…never mind for simply existing.

Aside From All That, The Government are Arseholes Because…

…the House of Lords hated the fucking Bill, and consistently modified many of its proposals. The reality of modern British politics is such that eventually, the House of Commons would probably have got the Bill through Parliament anyway – but why wait when you can be backhanded bellends about it?

The Lords is an institution with many, many faults. I could go into them here, but I can’t be arsed – and in this context, it’s not entirely relevant anyway. One positive thing about the chamber, however, is that unlike the Commons, it has a fuck of a lot more members that are (at least ostensibly) independent of any one party (people known as cross-benchers). The alleged reason for the chamber’s very existence is that, as appointees rather than elected officials, the members are often considered to be “experts” in their field: business, religion, law, and so on. Now, in practice, that may no longer be the case – but regardless, it remains true that the chamber is the upper house of the UK Parliament, and still has a significant role in the scrutiny of our laws. If its amendments/revisions/whatever to a proposed statute are completely ignored, it means that Commons’ members are effectively sticking two fingers up to a long established and constitutionally proper protocol.

And, vis a vis the WRB, stick two fingers up they did. In fact, as observed above, ignoring things at the Lords’ last possible reading wasn’t even good enough, oh no. They had to pass the WRB now. So, in an epic piece of subterfugal, self-serving, ethically diabolical cuntery, they used a little known and desperately archaic little device – “financial privilege” – to tell the House of Lords, effectively, to fuck off.

Ah, such efficiency. Such respect for the legislature. Such respect for fucking democracy, for the fucking country, for that country’s people. NOT.

I could go on and on.

But I won’t. The Welfare Reform Bill is unjust, degrading, completely unhelpful and downright dangerous, and if it goes ahead, lives of vulnerable, genuine people will at best be made desperately difficult, and at worst ended.

But advocates for the ill and disabled, such as Sue and Kaliya to whom I alluded above, said they would do anything and everything to fight this. The only possible way to stop this fuckwittery now is to stop its Royal Assent (ie. where the Queen signs the Bill off into law). You and I both know that’s never going to happen; even if the Queen thought seriously thought about it for more than three seconds, she would correctly anticipate the constitutional crisis it would create, and put her name to it anyway. Even so, call on her to withhold assent anyway by signing this petition. It won’t change a thing, but we must exhaust every single possibility – and one never knows. Her Majesty might impart some words of wisdom onto these bastards that are meant to be her “subjects” and our representatives – not modern fucking dictators.

I feel ashamed to be British. If the Irish Republic wasn’t such a financial fuckhole itself (lovely in every other way, of course), I’d be banging on Enda Kenny’s door right now, begging for citizenship.

In short: FUCK THE WELFARE REFORM BILL.

Will I be Forced Back to Work?

***Beware of triggers: self-harm and (potential) benefit loss***

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about how the delightful Social Security Agency (SSA) had managed to fuck up my ongoing claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) rather epically.  The bloke to whom I spoke on that occasion advised that I would get the money owed to me since the fucking 12th of October within a week.

Did I?  Did I fuck.

In light of their continued failures, I sent my ma a text message from the Republic last week asking her to ring them and find out what was going on. ¬†I was fairly sure that they wouldn’t tell her anything – a correct assumption, as it turned out – but¬†still, I figured that it was worth letting the fuckers know that I hadn’t forgotten that they owe me over a fucking grand, so I got her to ring despite the likelihood that they’d reveal fuck all to her. ¬†In the end, they shockingly did advise Mum that they would get one of their people to phone me by Tuesday of this week; ie. 1st February.

No such phone call was forthcoming, of course, but as I was driving home yesterday (Wednesday), a blocked number did call. ¬†Of course as I was behind the wheel I didn’t answer it (though I’ve been known to do so in the past, to my shame), but when I got home I checked the answering machine straightaway. ¬†The message that had been left confirmed that the call was from someone who, it seemed, was allied to the¬†relevant¬†governmental department. ¬†On those grounds – ie. because I wanted to know when I was actually going to be deigned worthy of payment – I returned the call.

Oh dear.

I should have recognised the woman’s name from back in 2009. ¬†I should have known that she was not ringing about the SSA’s pathetic yet monumental fail. ¬†I should not have called her back.

Because she is not involved with payment of ESA, or any other out-of-work benefit.  She is there to get people back to work.

I’m not sure if I ever explained exactly what happened about this matter. ¬†I did rant a bit about it here, and a little more here. ¬†To cover it again in a very¬†rudimentary¬†sort of way (more details are here), there are two ‘groups’ of ESA – the ‘work’ group and the ‘support’ group. ¬†If you are placed in the former, you are considered to have ‘limited’ capacity to work; if the latter, you are essentially considered incapable of employment for the¬†foreseeable¬†future. ¬†I was initially placed in the work group; I appealed against this, and I won (see the second link at the start of this paragraph), thus seeing me placed in the ‘support’ group.

Those in the work group are required to undertake wanky “work focused interviews”, which are allegedly voluntary for those in the support group. ¬†When I first received correspondence from the woman that rang me yesterday, she had invited me to one. ¬†At the time, I wrote back and said that I was way too batshit to cope with such an eventuality, and she kindly agreed to postpone it for 18 months.

So here we are, o my little brothers. ¬†The 18 months is fucking up. ¬†Which would be terrifying but at least understandable if I was still considered to have ‘limited capacity’ for work – but I’m not. ¬†I’m supposed to be too mental to work at all, as the SSA themselves fucking decided.

I rang the woman – let’s call her Pamela – and quite innocently started wanking on about my ESA claim, wondering if she could confirm when it would be paid. ¬†She listened to me without interruption, to be fair, but when I finally shut my gob, she explained that she effectively has nothing to do with social security payments and was in fact¬†calling about work focused interviews. ¬†Did I recall, she asked, the correspondence with her about a year and a half ago in this regard?

My blood ran cold. ¬†I could almost visualise blocks of deep red ice falling out of me, tantalising me into a deeper madness. ¬†In a reverse of what are apparently cultural norms, I saw my future – not my past – flash before me. ¬†A Mental Bird being talked to by things that aren’t there and dissociating into a fucking child nervously opens the door to a large, cold office. ¬†The assorted, hard-nosed personnel turn to see The New Girl, staring her up and down, making crude and probably cruel judgements within seconds. ¬†The voices, probably rightly, scream at the Mental Bird about how much her new colleagues already regard her with utter contempt. ¬†They chatter, chatter, chatter – louder and louder – until the¬†cacophony¬†builds to a sickening¬†crescendo¬†that sends the Mental Bird running out of the office screaming. ¬†Bye, job. ¬†Bye, sanity. Bye, benefits. ¬†Hello, increased dosage of anti-psychotics. ¬†Hello, crisis team. ¬†Hello, hospital. ¬†Hello…suicide?

I must have thus ruminated for a few seconds, because Pamela broke through my thoughts. ¬†“It’s not a job interview or anything like that, Pandora,” she was saying.

“Right,” I murmured, pointlessly, pathetically and frustratingly submissively.

“It’s just…well, its just to see where we are with things, and how I can help.”

“Right.”

“I’ve sent the appointment letter out…if that date doesn’t suit you, sure you can let me know.”

“OK.”

In fairness to her, she is actually quite nice.  Having explained the situation with my lack of ESA payments to her, she said she would ring the fuckwits responsible for same and attempt to ascertain what had happened Рand when I should expect to receive the back payment.

“Can I call you back on this number?” she queried.

“Yes,” I said, with that same empty,¬†obedient¬†blankness.

When I had hung up, I sat down on the sofa and stared into space in a sickened daze. ¬†I simply can’t go back to work. ¬†I mean, I want to go back to work, and as noted with Paul in week 11, that is what I’m trying to work towards. ¬†But I can’t do it yet, no matter what the consequences. ¬†I have to sort my head out first, otherwise not only am I screwed, but my potential employers aren’t exactly going to have gained much advantage either.

So much ran through my mind, though if you’d seen me, you could have been forgiven for thinking I was catatonic. ¬†I thought of Ali Quant’s post on her proposed way out if her benefits were removed (ie. suicide), and how I now identified even more than ever with what she’d written. ¬†I thought of the lovely Phil Groom and his admirable idea to save her, which has now morphed into the wonderful charity-to-be, 5 Quid for Life. ¬†I thought of One Month Before Heartbreak and my own post for that campaign.

I had always known that all this stuff was worryingly close to home Рbut I thought I had a little bit of breathing space before it was knocking right on my own door.  That particular illusion has now been well and truly shattered, as if someone has thrown a rather large rock at a rather small mirror.

Once again, my nihilistic thoughts were interrupted. ¬†This time it was Pamela phoning back, having contacted the cunts at the ESA branch. ¬†She said that they were unable to give her any explanation as to why things had fucked up, but that they had claimed that they were checking the final details of the claim (given that the backpay is so large), and that I would get the money by what is now today at the lastest (I haven’t). ¬†I thanked her for looking into the matter for me and rang off.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the sofa with a tension headache of migraine-esque proportions. ¬†Not only can I not go back to work, I don’t know how I can even so much as meet this woman. ¬†I can’t bear the idea of it. ¬†It’s alright for her to say that it’s informal and friendly, but when speaking to anyone beyond your partner, therapist and, arguably, mother seems an impossible task, how can it be reasonably done with a complete stranger who by virtue of her job is meant to at least encourage you into something that is, for now, inherently dangerous?

When A arrived home, he had already read my despairing tweets on the matter. ¬†He offered to attend the meeting with me, which may be beneficial, and believes that it’s probably an exercise in civil service box-ticking. ¬†Maybe so, but it seems horrific to me that the simple act of a tick on some cunt of a form is allowed to create such appalling distress in those to whom it relates. ¬†I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: can’t they just contact one’s consultant or GP if they need to confirm your illness or disability? ¬†And in any case, if I’m supposed to be in the ‘support group’, why the fuck am I apparently required to do this? ¬†As noted above, it is supposed to be voluntary for such claimants. ¬†Have they fucked up my particular group designation as well as the last three months of my income?

I couldn’t sleep last night, so at about 3.30am I knocked back a Zopiclone. ¬†Mercifully, it worked – but when I awoke today it was with great horror and dismay. ¬†Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to notice my old friend the scalpel sitting there. ¬†I thoughtlessly picked it up, and within seconds was cutting my lower arms to complete shreds. ¬†When I say ‘thoughtlessly’, I mean it in the most literal of senses; I didn’t think “oh, I should self-harm here, yay” – I merely acted. ¬†Perhaps it was as if I were a robot – behaviour on rote, I suppose, with apparently nothing to actually consider. ¬†As I later sat with disinfectant and bloodied paper towels lying all around me, in a classic example of “too little, too late,” I considered what I had done. ¬†I had cut my arms,¬†which not my MO at all. ¬†The actions of my subconscious now seemed cynical, even manipulative; if I was self-harming to relieve anxiety (and, to be fair, I think at least to some extent I was), then why not cut my abdomen or upper legs as normal? ¬†Why slice my arms? ¬†Stupid, pathetic, borderline,¬†attention-seeking freak. I have clearly cut myself in this particular location in order to ensure that people will see the fucking things (even though this evening, when out for coffee with A, I went to great pains to try to hide the fuckers).

I am scared. ¬†I am really, really scared. ¬†I don’t blame Pamela; she’s just the messenger, doing her job as dictated by our wonderful cunterngovernnment. ¬†But whoever is to blame, I am still – potentially – in a great deal of trouble here. ¬†I am making progress in therapy, but I am very far from recovery – nowhere near enough to even begin¬†to deal with basic human interactions, nevermind the complex stresses often observed within working environments. ¬†If I have to go back to work or face losing my benefits, I have no idea what I will do. ¬†The ‘s’ word strokes my mind from the fringes, despite the campaign that has resulted from Ali Quant’s discussion on same (see above). ¬†One way or another, I don’t think I can cope with the worry, the degradation, the anxiety and the results of everything that this impending meeting is likely to bring.

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Benefit Claim EPIC FAIL

Finances utterly depress me, a reality that makes them even more impossible to understand that they were in the first place. ¬†For the past few months I seem to have gone right to the line of no income, despite the fact that Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) should, together, provide me with a decent-ish income. ¬†I mean, their existence doesn’t allow me to live any sort of luxurious life, as some right-wing commentators appear to erroneously opine. ¬†But, until fairly recently, they allowed me to survive financially; my basic needs, cautious payments of debts and even the occasional treat were all within my budget.

However, mental illness that includes a large and chronic dollop of depression makes keeping track of these matters, something of which other people seem to be vaguely capable, very difficult. ¬†Especially during the winter, when depression, anhedonia and listlessness seem to reign supreme. ¬†This is a typically pretentious and verbose way of me saying that I haven’t been keeping track of my finances at all of late.

Sometime in November, I started to struggle with money even more than normal. ¬†I blamed it on the then-upcoming capitalist festival that is Christmas, and on occasional on pretty expensive expenditures such as flights, and didn’t really think much more about it. ¬†By December, I was kind of perplexed by just how little money there consistently was in my account, but I still didn’t have the wit/couldn’t face any form of investigation into same, and continued trying to evade my debtors – something at which I became extremely adept as a student.

However, today I received a text message from my bank informing me that I had received a payment and since this is a Wednesday, I assumed that this was my monthly DLA payment (which it indeed turned out to be). ¬†Its arrival caused me to casually wonder if this fortnight’s ESA had arrived – and for the first time since I moved to e-banking and statements, I decided to check.

After the usual faffing about of forgetting my username, password and PIN that grant me access to my account, I was finally presented with the dubious details of same.  I clicked the link to statements, and a dull, code-like document duly stared back at me, mocking me with its desultory language of numbers.  I ignored this frustrating but expected element of the matter and read it, looking for ESA payments from the Social Security Agency (SSA) of doom.

There were none to be seen.

I went further back – back to last month’s statement. ¬†Maybe they paid me double before Christmas, similar to the way that employers pay December’s salary at that point rather than at the traditional end-of-month juncture.

But there were still no references to it to be seen, aside from a pathetic cold weather payment of ¬£25 (because that’s really going to pay for all the fucking oil incurred during those seemingly interminable hideous weeks of snow and ice).

By this time I was in a state of panic. ¬†Oh my fucking God. ¬†They didn’t re-approve the application and they didn’t tell me. ¬†Fucking hell. ¬†Oh God almighty. ¬†I’m going to have to go to one of those evil, suicide-inducing social security tribunals of fucking evil. ¬†Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. ¬†They think I am some dolescum waster. They don’t believe me, they think I’m a liar! ¬†I’m not, this is real! ¬†Fucking real! ¬†Jesus! ¬†Why do they think this? Who have they spoken to? ¬†Oh my God. ¬†I’m going to have to kill myself, I can’t afford to even pay off a fraction of my debts without ESA, never mind actually bloody well liveetc etc etc.

Filled with trepidation, I went back to October’s statement. ¬†And there it was: ESA, paid at the normal support group rate. ¬†But – the last payment was on the 12th of October. ¬†For the calendar-understanding-challenged amongst us, that is over three months ago!

I could hardly breathe. ¬†October was at about the time they had inexplicably asked me to apply for a renewed application of the benefit, so it seemed definite that they had received the 7,000,000 light-year long form and decided it was full of lies, or that my ability to even half-complete it demonstrated occupational competency. ¬†I say that their request for a re-application was ‘inexplicable’ because, after I had threatened to appeal their earlier decision to allocate me to the work group, they had backed down only in June 2010 and agreed that I was, in fact, meant to be in the so-called support group (here is an explanation of the support versus the work group, if you care). ¬†What could they think had realistically changed in a mere four months?

12th October.  I was sure that they should at least have informed me of their decision to cancel or otherwise withhold the payment.  To that end I quickly navigated to their website to look for an email address to which I could direct a complaint and a request for clarification.

Not that I found one, but as I looked anyway, my panicked mind at least allowed me to consider one rational point: these are the most fuckwitted people in the Northern Irish public sector, which believe me is fuckwitted enough in the first place. ¬†If I were to email them, they wouldn’t respond until about August 2038 – if they even responded at all, that is, employing the old excuse of, “oh, I never got that email…”

I knew then that I would have to phone them.  This is about as bad as it gets.  My serious and extremely debilitating phone phobia has not reduced in any way since I first discussed it here Рif anything, I hate and fear it all the more.  The thing is evil.

Evil Phone

But what choice did I have? ¬†For some horrible reason, I’d just discovered I’d lost three months’ worth of my income! ¬†The ridiculous situation had to be resolved, and had to be resolved quickly.

So I reluctantly picked up the phone, my anxiety building, my revulsion at the device in my left hand palpable. Even Boy Cat looked at me as if the few marbles that I’d somehow hitherto retained were now lost. ¬†I ignored his cynical glare and dialled the number.

It rang.  And then:

Hello, welcome to the Employment and Support Claim Line. ¬†Please note that this number only accepts calls from new claimaints, and cannot deal with enquiries regarding existing claims. ¬†Please also note that we are unable to transfer calls relating to existing claims to the relevant department [yes, that is a supremely difficult task, after all. ¬†You don’t just press ‘Transfer’ and enter an extension or anything, do you? ¬†No, you must first outline the mathematics of the theory of relativity on the telephone’s key pad, then type out War and Peace on same as if you were writing an exceptionally long text message. ¬†Demanding stuff, indeed]. ¬†If you are calling regarding a pre-existing claim, please call 6-21-3-11 25-15-21. ¬†For all new claimaints, please hold the line and have your National Insurance number ready…

I audibly cursed the day that Innocenzo Manzetti or Antonio Meucci¬†or Alexander Graham Bell or whoever actually invented the damn thing took his or her first breath. ¬†Though the fact that the actual inventor of it is so heavily contested presumably proves that some other hateful being would have invented the piece of shit sooner or later anyway. ¬†Not, to be fair, that it’s their fault that the Social Security Agency are wankers, but who cares? ¬†They still suck donkey balls.

I dialled the second number in a dysphoric mix of near-paralysing anxiety and rage.

Hello, and welcome to the Employment and Support Allowance Customer Service line. This line is only for existing claimaints and we are unable to deal with queries relating to new claims.  Neither are we able to direct new claimaints to the relevant department.  If you are a new claimaint, please call 19-21-3-11 13-25 4-9-3-11.  For pre-existing claimaints, please hold the line and have your National Insurance number ready.

I did, and I had.

Thank you for holding! ¬†We are sorry, but all our lines are busy at the minute. ¬†Please phone back later. ¬†We are open from 9am to 5pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 10am to 5pm on Thursday. [I’m sure you do really useful stuff during that extra hour on Thursdays]. ¬†Thank you for calling. ¬†Goodbye!

Cunts.  Such complete and utter cunts.  I called again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  And AGAIN!

On my seventh call, having got through the above message, I was presented with this:

Thank you for holding.  All our Customer Service Representatives [!!!] are busy with other callers at the moment, and your call is in a queue.  Please hold, and someone will be with you as soon as possible.

The false cheer in the robot-woman’s voice made me want to stomp round to their offices, establish her identity, and then rearrange either her face or her motherboard, depending on the type of voice she represented. ¬†I waited.

Twice more she rolled out this patronising bollocks, her mutterings interspersed with enraging repetitions of Vivaldi.  But hark!  Hark!  Finally I heard actual ringing.  Who knew it was even possible?!

Of course, this suggested that I would soon have to speak, and thus my infernal wrath subsided back into extreme panic once again.  Given that I claim benefits for being mental rather than being fucking raging, this was on reflection probably a good thing.

A miserable, fed-up sounding git apparently called Jonathan eventually answered.  He asked me my National Insurance number and about 28,000 security questions before finally establishing that I was, shockingly, actually me.

“How can I help you today, Ms Serial-Insomniac?” he ¬†asked insincerely and distractedly.

Through tears, stammers and a general inability to articulate myself in any meaningful way, I explained to our righteous and good friend Jonathan that I had been very unwell over the last few months, and to that end had only today realised that his organisation had failed to pay me any money since 12th October.

“I’m supposed to be in the support group, but you asked me to re-claim only a few months later anyway, I don’t know why. ¬†I sent the form and everything, but never heard anything from yourselves, so I assumed everything was in order. ¬†Could you please explain what has happened?”

The above paragraph is redacted to remove all the ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, sobs, stammers and nose-blows that characterised it.

I heard Jonathan clattering something into the keyboard he presumably had in front of him. ¬†Then he said, “just hold on a minute.”

Silence overtook the line.  It made a refreshing change from robot-woman and Vivaldi, at least.

Jonathan was gone for approximately three minutes, during which time my epic foray into hyperventilation and neurosis continued completely unabated.  Eventually, his now surprisingly apologetic voice returned to the line.

“Are you still receiving DLA, Ms S-I?” he asked.

I responded in the affirmative.

“OK,” he said, “something’s gone wrong here. ¬†It seems that there’s been a glitch between our systems and the DLA systems, resulting in the suspension of payments to your account. ¬†I’ll send this information over to the Maintenance Department and get it sorted for you.”

“Does that mean that I haven’t lost the benefit, then?” I queried.

“Oh no,” he replied, fairly categorically. ¬†“It’s just been a glitch in the system. ¬†I’ll pass it over to Maintenance, and you should get the money within a week.”

I thanked him for his help, and was – praise be to Christ – able to end the hateful call. ¬†I assume that at this point I was meant to feel reassured, and I suppose part of me did, but there were two issues with which I then had to contend. ¬†Firstly, if the SSA can make such a monumental fuck up for three fucking months, then can easily fuck up the sending of the payment that they now apparently realise is owed to me. ¬†Secondly, the whole stress of finding out I hadn’t been paid for so long, believing that I had lost the benefit altogether, and making the God-forsaken phone call(s), had rendered me a tearful, exhausted, anxiety-ridden, depressed mess. ¬†Even more so than usual, that is.

Seconds later A, who was home early from a meeting, walked through the front door and I collapsed into his arms, explaining through more stammers and breathlessness what had just happened.

To my surprise, A congratulated me. ¬†He felt that the fact I was able to make the phone call¬†at all was a fact worthy of positive regard. ¬†Furthermore, when I relayed brief details of the afternoon’s catalogue of idiocy on Twitter, someone else said the same. ¬†Now that I have calmed down somewhat, I can see their point: I actually do feel quite pleased with myself. ¬†It was a massive ask of me, and I did it. ¬†Not, however, that the experience has in any way given me renewed confidence in using the bloody phone, of course. ¬†It has simply reinforced my utter abhorrence of the despicable piece of shit.

I think I’m owed about ¬£1,300, which is certainly something to be welcomed. ¬†If it arrives as good Jonathan suggested it would, it will help assuage the demands of those bastards hunting my arse for the money they’re owed, and should even give me enough to live on for a bit, especially if normal ESA payment resumes fortnightly as it should.

It’s a big ‘if’, though. ¬†I don’t understand why the ESA and DLA payments should even be linked in the first place; they are entirely separate benefits. ¬†Still, let’s hope that it was something as simple as stated, and let’s just see if they can manage to acquit themselves with any competence now that the complaint has been flagged up with their oh-so-wonderful personnel…

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One Month Before Heartbreak: Who Cares?

Who cares?

Not the government.

The One Month Before Heartbreak campaign was set up to highlight the travesty that will result from the Coalition’s so-called benefit reform. ¬†I will admit to not knowing all the specifics, mainly because it is too depressing and anxiety-inducing to examine such bleak material. ¬†But one thing I do know is that if and, more likely, when thousands of genuine benefits claimaints are robbed of the few pounds that facilitate their (usually quite basic) existence, there will be poverty, there will be homelessness, there will be unbearable misery – and there will be death.

My friend Ali Quant, who writes the brilliant Purple Noise blog, recently published an eloquent yet tragic and utterly heart-breaking post on what the consequences of losing her only source of income are likely to be. Well, not consequences, for there is only one course of action that Ali feels appropriate: suicide.  Her decision is not rash or over-the-top: it simply reflects the fact that she would, understandably, rather not live at all than live the life of homeless degradation and despair that she formerly led.

Forgive a statement that sounds like a teenager whinging, but it’s just so unfair. ¬†Ali has oftentimes lived a horrible life, and exists with the side-effects of that every day. ¬†She is ill as a result of trauma – not some layabout that sat down one day and calculated how much she could scrounge from the UK taxpayer.

Why Bother?

I happen to know that Ali has a very high IQ and even had I not been privy to that information, it is clear from her writing, from the way she carries herself in (online) conversation and even from her apparently innate abilities to outshine anyone at Scrabble that she is a very smart woman.  I also happen to know that she has worked in the past.

This is something I often point out in relation to my own circumstances. ¬†I have an IQ that is frustratingly just short of Mensa-level (and therefore less than Ali’s! ;)); I spent 19 years in full-time education¬†(the Northern Ireland requirement for same being only 12 years); I worked my fucking arse off in various jobs since the age of 16. ¬†Why, why, would I have done any of that if I had wanted to languish on benefits all my life? ¬†Why would I have incurred thousands and thousands of pounds of student debt, only to willingly lie about all day and fail to intellectually stimulate myself as I would, at least to some degree, in a job? ¬†I am not by nature a lazy person. ¬†As I discussed with Paul this week (blog to follow), when other female children were fantasising about weddings and babies, I was fantasising about my dream job. ¬†I still am, but I can’t have it right now. ¬†Because I, like Ali, am ill. ¬†Not malingering, but ill. ¬†Debilitated. ¬†Incapacitated. ¬†Unable.

Consequences

The consequences for me if I lose my benefits are not as horrific as those of Ali, but they will still be profound. Given my level of debt and the fact that I already cannot afford to repay it, I would probably have to declare myself bankrupt. ¬†I will still have a roof over my head, thank God, but A or Mum would become solely financially responsible for me. ¬†Have you any idea how utterly pathetic and downtrodden that would cause a person to feel? ¬†Add to that a hefty dose of pre-existing mental illness and the consequences are horribly far-reaching. A complete psychotic break? ¬†A suicide (attempt)? ¬†A complete fall from ‘normal’ depression, itself swathed in a despair unknown to an average human being, into the black depths of indescribable, paralysing suffering? Self-harm, that becomes increasingly more severe and dangerous?

And that’s just how it may affect me. ¬†What about the others? ¬†My mother is a pensioner now, meaning that her income is shockingly low, and although A earns a reasonable salary, it’s not easily enough to cover both of us. ¬†And anyway, why should he have to be financially responsible for me? ¬†He earns his salary; I don’t do any part of his job for him. ¬†Why should I get any of it? ¬†My point is simply that it also isn’t fair on either of them for me to lose my income. ¬†And I suppose one might say, “but why is it therefore fair on the state to be financially responsible for you?” ¬†The answer is that, partly, that I’ve already paid the state quite a bit. Furthermore, it is a long-held principle of this country that we care for our most vulnerable and ill. ¬†Or, at least, it was.

Flaws

The DLA consultation papers, and related information, can be found here. ¬†I don’t want to read it, but I know from A looking at it that a lot of it is simply bullshit. ¬†One thing I heard him muttering about was that they say there is a “perception” that DLA is simply an out-of-work benefit (which is not true, as anyone who meets the criteria can receive the allowance, including those in full-time employment). ¬†So what? ¬†A “perception” is not a reality. ¬†If this is their problem, why don’t go out and address the fucking “perception”, rather than raping genuinely disabled people of what is rightfully theirs?

Secondly, consider the hideous assessment process. ¬†I know I’ve ranted about this before on similar posts, but aside from the fact that they are¬†shockingly triggering, overwhelming and vile experiences, they are as ill thought out as fuck. ¬†Anyone with a vaguely medical background can assess anyone with any form of ill health or disability. ¬†To note our arena specifically, have you ever heard of a psychiatrist actually running the assessment meeting of a person with some form of mental illness? ¬†No? ¬†Neither have I. ¬†Neither have I heard of orthopaediatricans or rhuematologists assessing someone claiming for arthritis, nor a gastroenterologist evaluating a person with Chron’s disease or a peptic ulcer.

Thirdly, as I argued in this post (with the properly-sourced figures to back it up), the whole Daily Mail-esque trump card (ie. that the majority of sickness/disability claimants are¬†fraudulent)¬†that the government seem to be playing is simply not true. ¬†DLA in particular has the lowest rate of fraud of any state benefit in the UK, probably because of the ridiculous amount of hoops you have to jump through just to even be considered for it. ¬†Benefit crime is certainly a crime, and I welcome prosecution of those people who claim money to which they aren’t entitled, and who give the rest of us a bad name in the process. ¬†But the statistics speak for themselves: benefit fraud is not as widespread as many seem to think it is, and much, much more money is ‘stolen’ from the UK’s economy each year from tax evasion and white collar crime, investigations into which I don’t recall having heard anything about from the Coalition. ¬†I’m not making a lefty (Yanks read: liberal) point here; these are simply the facts.

Prison

Last night A and I were lamenting the sad reality that Ali Quant’s recent blog post highlights. ¬†As the discussion progressed, A had a somewhat¬†irreverent¬†brainwave: why don’t those of us that are probably going to lose our benefits simply commit a crime? ¬†Not a silly crime like shoplifting – you’d get off with a warning for that, especially if you’re a first time ‘offender’. ¬†No, we’re talking murder, GBH, rape – that sort of thing. Something to get you put into the slammer.

Of course, because we are not cunts (well, except me – but I still wouldn’t do any of the above), we are not going to do any of those horrible things. ¬†So, I postulated, we should simply confess to an unsolved serious crime that we didn’t commit. ¬†The cops and the CPS/DPP are unlikely to have the wit to realise that the confession is false, and would be glad to get a few more positive results under their belt. ¬†Win all round.

Why do you want to go to prison, Pan? ¬†Well, obviously, I don’t. ¬†But think about it; prisoners have a guaranteed roof over their heads for the duration of their sentence, they get regularly fed, most have TVs in their ‘cells’, they get leisure time with pool tables and video games, they work to earn ‘luxuries’ such as cigarettes, they can gain qualifications, and now they’re getting the vote. ¬†All this¬†is funded by the taxpayer.

It is a sad state of affairs, in my view, when those detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure are afforded the same basic rights that the government are preparing to strip from the infirm and the disabled.

Responding

Even if I did find it in myself to read the DLA reform consultation document, I can’t respond to it online as it applies to Great Britain only (the Northern Ireland equivalent is¬†here, and in this case I will be responding via email). ¬†However, if you are on the mainland and you feel up to reading the document,¬†please do take the time to make your views known. ¬†Will they listen? ¬†Almost certainly not, but they still need to know that there is a substantial body out there that regards these “reforms” as destructive and life-threatening. ¬†I don’t honestly believe they currently know it fully; after all, we don’t (as yet…see below) have a mobilising force taking this issue to the fore in the way that the protesting students did. ¬†So tell them. ¬†It will be a waste of your time, probably, but tell them anyway. ¬†Put it on record.

Who cares?

As established, not the government.  Probably not the reactionary media and the majority of those that follow it either.

But these people are not all people.

In light of Ali’s tragic post (above), the wonderful Phil Groom had an idea. ¬†An idea borne out of the fact that he cares about people with disabilities and illness, an idea borne out of the fact he is so full of generosity and love.

The 200 People Campaign

Phil proposed* that he ‘recruit’ 200 individuals that would be willing to give, monthly, ¬£5 each, resulting in payment of about ¬£12,000 pa. ¬†Initially the proposition was to give this all to Ali upon the probable loss of her benefits, but proving that there’s more than one good person in the world, a lively discussion broke out during which it was agreed monies raised should actually go to a central fund. ¬†If someone had their benefits cut they could, for example,¬†rely on the fund to get them through the appeals process, though that said, the specific qualifications for it have not yet been worked out. ¬†One thing this will not be is a second income to those that retain their benefits; it will exist only to help those that the DWP/SSA have erroneously decreed to be unworthy of financial help**.

Although this is a big ask of people, it is do-able – it’s quite within reach if we get the word out. ¬†We can do this. We can do for society’s most vulnerable what this supposedly caring government will not do. ¬†And you can too.

Please see Phil’s post on the issue – linked above, and below in the links section too – or, if you are a Facebook user, why not request membership* of the group set up for the campaign? ¬†Why not write your own blog post or Facebook/Twitter message to raise awareness? ¬†Why not publicly pledge your intention to give ¬£5 to help those that will have their lives devastated by these cuts? ¬†Or, if you cannot afford that, why not at least join us in solidarity?

As Karita so perfectly put it, if David Cameron wants a ‘Big Society’, let’s give him one.

Links

Blog Posts on the 200 People and One Month Before Heartbreak Campaigns
Other Blogs and Sites Against Benefit Cuts
In the News
DLA Reform Consultation Documentation
My Previous Posts on Benefit Cuts

Please contact me or leave a comment below with any more links that you think are relevant to this post and I will add them as soon as possible.

* Please note that you may encounter a request for a password to Phil’s post. ¬†There are a number of reasons for this that are discussed in the post itself and in its comments. ¬†Please contact Phil for access. ¬†The Facebook group is presently a ‘closed’ one for the same reasons.

** It is also been agreed that the proposed fund will, for the meantime, be restricted to those with mental health difficulties.  This is because mental illness is so un-obvious and stigmatised, and also because, regrettable as it is, we are simply unlikely to have the resources to help everyone that this government is screwing with.

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The Comprehensive Spending Review Will Screw People With Mental Illness

I’m far too depressed about this to write extensively on it, but by now you’ll probably be aware that our friend Gideon has slashed funds for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). ¬†Fair? ¬†Well, you make up your own mind, but let’s face it; those of us that are genuine claimants are just as screwed as the few ‘scroungers’ that exist within the system.

ESA Work Group

Georgie has decreed that those in the ‘Work Related Group’ of ESA will only be allowed to remain there for a year, then will be transferred to Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA). ¬†Um…sorry? ¬†I thought the work-group was for people who had ‘limited capacity‘ for employment. ¬†Augh well. ¬†Everyone will be better within a year, won’t they George? ¬†It really is as easy as that. ¬†Thanks for letting me know.

This is truly dreadful in just about every conceivable way. ¬†JSA does not carry with it ‘return to work’ schemes and the support of an ‘advisor’ in as work-group ESA does, thus reducing and definitely not incentivising those that will be affected. ¬†Also, JSA paid at a lower rate than ESA. ¬†You could argue that it’s only a difference of about ¬£20, but when you live on the fucking line, ¬£20 is a lot of money.¬†¬†Way to boost people’s morale and encourage them back to the workforce, regardless of whether or not they’re still ill. ¬†Nice one, G.

Here’s a stunningly insightful, absolutely non-patronising and comprehensive look at how the work group of ESA works, in case you were not previously familiar with it:

Wondrously Amazing Explanation of ESA!

Wayhay!!! Thanks, Social Security Agency, This is STUNNING!

ESA Support Group

Big G ‘n’ Friends claim that the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled individuals will still be ‘looked after’. ¬†Oh really?

Just how is that measured, G? ¬†I can’t find a source through Google, but estimates being bandied about on Twitter suggest that only six per cent of ESA claimants are allocated to the ‘support’ group of the benefit, the one where people are ‘safe’ from being moved to JSA.

Why don’t we just reduce it to one per cent, George? ¬†Or even point one? ¬†If all that matters is protecting the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled, then why not just set your arbitrary figures at an even more arbitrary level? ¬†Why not screw everyone? ¬†Why not decide that the lowest number possible represents the ‘most severely’ disabled? ¬†In fact, I have a great idea. ¬†How about, instead of using percentages, we just ‘protect’ the one single ‘most severely’ disabled person in the whole country?!¬†¬†That would really help clear the¬†deficit!

Why Mentalists are Fucked

It’s not just mentalists, of course. ¬†Anyone with a hidden disability is potentially bollocksed by this, regardless of reams of medical evidence agreed by 700,000 health professionals clearly demonstrating their chronic/severe/seriously debilitating illness(es). ¬†This is because of the government’s infinitely wise choice to ignore what is clearly biased evidence from your GP, consultant and any other medic-y types you may see, and have you assessed instead by their independent medical assessors.

These people of course work for the Social Security Agency (SSA) and ATOS because they voluntarily turned down positions in the NHS and private medicine, absolutely not because they were faced with little choice when it came to their careers.  Hmm.  yes.  *clears throat*  Furthermore, naturally their specialist rotations were of such longevity and depth that they know at least as much if not more than individual consultants in specific branches of clinical medicine. Um-hmm-hmm-hmm.  Yup. *clears throat again*

In short (and sarcasm aside) Рthese twats have little to no specialist knowledge of psychiatry/psychology, and are therefore not in any position at all to make a judgement on whether someone is truly mentally ill or not.  Ditto gynaecology, rheumatology, opthamology, etc etc etc, ad infinitum.

Random Notes and Observations

I am interested to note no evidence in the CSR of extra percentage points added to things like inheritance tax for those left with colossal inheritances.  I wonder why that was?

It should be noted (as if matters weren’t complicated enough) that ESA can be claimed on a contributory or an income-based basis:

  • [you can claim] contributory ESA if you have paid enough national insurance contributions. However, if you become unfit for work before you are 20 (25 in some cases), you do not need to meet the national insurance contribution conditions.
  • income-related ESA [is claimable] if your income and savings are low enough…To get income-related ESA, your income will be compared with an amount the Government thinks is enough for you to live on.¬† If you income is less than this, you will get the maximum amount of income-related ESA. If your income is more than this amount, you may get some income-related ESA.¬† You cannot get any income-related ESA if your savings are more than ¬£16,000.¬†If you get child maintenance payments, usually these will not be included in your income. ¬†(Source)

So, to be fair, this reform won’t officially affect everyone who claims ESA in the work-group. ¬†But do we trust the government to keep the income-related component safe from stealth cuts? ¬†I’m not so sure.

Links

Many people have responded and will respond far better to today’s announcements than I have or can.

I will add to this as and when I come across more.  I suspect that that shall not be far in the future.

My views on the already-proposed changes (from the June 2010 budget) to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can be found here.

Number Crunching

I do not object to benefit reform per se, and I would like to see ‘scroungers’ weeded out of the system as much as anyone else.

The problem is that the idea of ‘scroungers’ is a hand being grossly overplayed by the government and the country’s reactionary media. ¬†No one denies that there’s some such people; however, most of us dispute that they are as high in number as The Fail or The Sexpress have indoctrinated their respective readerships into believing. ¬†In actuality, the rate of benefit fraud comes in at something like one per cent of all claimants, for God’s sake. ¬†Oh, wait. ¬†A source, you say? ¬†OK. ¬†It’s…um…The Daily Mail!

For the purposes of comparison, This is Money notes that the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that whilst the aforementioned 1% of fraudsters may be incurring about £5 billion pounds of expense, about £16 billion of benefit entitlements are unclaimed.

The same site also points out that The National Fraud Authority (NFA) claims that tax evasion costs the Treasury about ¬£17 billion. ¬†One thing to note here is that one single case of tax evasion or white collar fraud can run into millions, thus possibly meaning that relative to benefit fraud, there are fewer individuals committing this type of financial crime. ¬†Nevertheless, the figure is still three times higher than that of benefit crime, and thus is surely relevant to the bigger picture in governmental macro-budgeting. ¬†Perhaps some funding to help the NFA catch white collar criminals wouldn’t go amiss. ¬†Perhaps, given these figures, much more money could be returned to the¬†Exchequer in this way than by cutting benefits to those that need them?

Meh

What do I know though. ¬†I’m just a dirty benefit fraudster who¬†thoroughly¬†deserves to be cast into a potentially deadly financial desert for her crimes, all because you can’t always see her faux illness crippling her body.

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Nadine Dorries is a Twat (AKA Why I Love Twitter)

The title says it all, really.

Sad CowYou’ve probably heard of this fuss by now: Tory backbench Moron Nadine Dorries has explicitly stated that she feels that anybody who’s claiming benefits and simultaneously using Twitter a lot must be a cynical, lazy, scrounging fucktard who deserves to be reported to the Department of Work and Pensions (or, in Northern Ireland, the Social Security Agency) and have every last penny that sustains them removed from their apparently fraudulent bank accounts:

Is there such a thing as Twitter addiction? How can anyone live a normal life who can do that? Surely these people cannot be in employment because if they are, how can they work? if they aren’t then it’s time they got a job which involves being sat at a key board because there’s nothing much up with their fingers, brain or attention span!!

do you know of anyone else who has Tweeted more than 35,000 times in less than six months? If so, email my office and let me know. Or, better still, if it’s someone you know is on benefits, contact the DWP.

As you can see, aside from being a remarkably sensitive and understanding humanitarian to whom we should all look up, Ms Dorries also epitomises the subtle art of prosaic narrative, and in so doing simultaneously beguiles her readers with her quick wit and astonishing intellect.

As I know she has the best interests of each citizen of the United Kingdom at heart, I would invite Ms Dorries to read the archives of my blog to see whether or not she feels I should be working. ¬†I’m sure that she would agree that having a hallucinating, dissociated, ticking timebomb of pure mentalism work for you is high on the priority list of every employer in the country. ¬†I’m also sure that she would find herself nodding in ruminative agreement with my assessment that my returning to a working environment before I am adequately well would miraculously cure me, rather than drive me to suicide.

Ah, such cynicism, Pandora!

OK then. ¬†Ms Dorries was not referring to me and people of my ilk, sure she wasn’t? ¬†But wait – I rather think that she was. ¬†I have thousands of tweets to my name (thousands more if you include Alter Ego’s account too); what an evil clusterfuck of sloth-filled bile and societal degradation I am. ¬†The fact that I can concentrate on 140 measly characters a few times a day must surely mean that I am twisted, lying benefit cheat who needs to be radically punished! ¬†Right on!

Or maybe, it’s something that has given me back a small modicum of social interaction, an endeavour that is otherwise nigh on impossible when you live with the circumstances that I and countless others do? ¬†Maybe it’s acted as a highly effective and much treasured support group – an acceptable kind of group therapy, if you will? ¬†Maybe Twitter has actually saved me from myself…specifically from¬†killing myself? ¬†(I know that it might be financially convenient for the coalition if all disabled Twitter users topped themselves right now, but I am sure that even the saintly Ms Dorries would not wish to espouse such a course of action).

People who don’t use Twitter often misunderstand it and dismiss it as a fatuous and self-obsessed platform for searing, grandiose narcissism. ¬†Whilst tweets exhibiting such traits inevitably exist on occasion, the opposite is in fact usually true. ¬†Twitter opens up an entire world to the chronically agoraphobic or pain-stricken person: it connects kindred spirits, allows us a bit of a laugh together on occasion and enables shared suffering – no one wants that suffering to exist of course, but since it’s going to anyway, we might as well experience it with people who empathise and who give a shit about us.

Ms Dorries clearly does not give a shit about people with disabilities, whether or not those are physical, mental or both.  Trying to take away one tiny thing that gives some measurement of hope, pleasure and camaraderie to people who are otherwise entirely devoid of same is callous, cold and discriminatory in the extreme.

I wanted to post on this issue as over the past 18 months or so I’ve become moderately well known in this (admittedly very small) corner of the blogging community, and I hope that in that way I can draw some attention to the matter. ¬†However, although I could say much more, for once I’m going to take a back seat here and not prattle on for 3,000 words. ¬†To that end, I will now link to several articles that have dealt much more eloquently and¬†succinctly¬†with this issue than I ever could. ¬†I applaud these people for their considered and astute responses to Dorries’ twattery.

All of the above come highly recommended, and if you know of any other blogposts or articles that should be included, please leave me a comment and I’ll add them here.

In signing off, though, may I just echo @miss_seaneen‘s particular sentiment as extended to Ms Dorries:

Fuck off, Nadine Dorries!

PS. ¬†In case anyone’s wondering why I have filed this entry under ‘Important People in my Life’, it’s because people on Twitter are important people in my life, regardless of whether or not I’ve met them in person. ¬†Twitter is a lifeline for many disabled people and can connect you with wonderful folks who become friends for life. If that’s some sort of criminal offence in political circles, then go ahead and hang me you cunts; if you were to deny me such a small and simple pleasure then I’d bloody welcome it anyway.

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