I guess like many people who set up a website or blog, my idea came from experience. I am 54 with disabilities and health conditions which frequently would have to be declared on a medical form as part of a job application and even if not, limit the kind of work I can do, and the buildings in which I can do it due to access.
I had been in receipt of Incapacity benefit for many years, and at the last medical I had been asked to attend I had been exempted from further medicals so my benefit would have been secure for at least a while and although money was indeed very tight, it was with care, a (just) manageable budget. Although no longer physically able to work in my profession as a nursery nurse, I had attended the Labour governments New Deal programme, and its successor pathways to work, and always had the intention to try to get such work as I could physically manage. Because you don’t have to be earning much to be better off than you are on benefits, if you are single, living alone and only have one benefit income coming in and also it would stop people talking about me if I was seen out during business hours !! However, this became urgent in October 2010, when one of the first cuts made by the new coalition government, a cut to the rate at which mortgage relief help was paid took effect.
We have heard in the media a lot about ‘Housing Benefit’ the help some people receive towards the cost of their rent, but little attention has been paid to the cut to mortgage interest relief. I have always felt that there is a hidden attitude on the part of the DWP that if you fall on hard times lose your job, have health issues , you are not entitled to help with your housing if you own a property. it is assumed that you can sell it as an asset and indeed taken as right that you will do so, have a duty to in fact and live off the proceed. the only thing is that perhaps afraid of being seen as discriminating against home owners the governments have not admitted this to be the case. And as much as I am known to fly the red flag, Labour did not do much better in this respect. Home owners are considered to be OK, they are assumed to have savings and assets, as indeed I did before my divorce, and of course they can always sell their home
However, like many things it is not so easy and simple in reality. Very few people would be in a position to sell their home at a high enough price to pay off the first mortgage and buy a new property outright, and if they are not working then they would be unable to obtain a new mortgage without an income.
Once there has been a history of financial problems and unpaid debts, such as resulted for me after coming out of a divorce with nothing in an attempt to keep the home I had bought before my marriage, it becomes as good as impossible to rent a property as a credit check is usually carried out on prospective tenants before a rental lease is granted, and the council will not rehouse you as the view is taken that if you did not pay your mortgage, then you made yourself intentionally homeless.
In February 2011, I was so it initially seemed, fortunate to get a job. Even then adaptions had to be made to the stairs of the building I worked in, but this only seemed to suggest that the employer intended originally to keep me on. I gave up my benefits and took the job, and after only two weeks, although the manager insisted he had been very impressed and would give me a good reference, he decided that on reflection he could not afford my appointment after all.
I was given a week’s wages and asked to clear my desk and leave. On going home I telephoned my adviser at Pathways to Work, who immediately advised that I must do something that I had heard of and did know the procedure for…make a rapid reclaim for my benefits. Bearing in mind that although I had been forced to take a job by the cut to benefit rates, my health had not changed and I had been exempt from having to seek work, and had been able to live on what I got in Incapacity benefit. I did however, suggest to my adviser that I could see trouble looming as I had taken a job, even if the manager did have to rebuild the staircase for me to do it!!
Then came the most bizarre of circumstances anyone on benefits knows that should your circumstances change in anyway even if perhaps you feel a bit better and think you could do more you must inform the DWP but it does not work in reverse. The DWP have no obligation to inform you as a claimant if your benefit position changes. The right to rapid reclaim for people on Incapacity benefit had been quietly closed down with no notification to claimants, a few weeks before I took the job. Of course I can see that the DWP were not going to advise claimants of this because they did not want them not taking a job, knowing that they would not get their benefits back if it did not work out. people like myself who had claimed Incapacity benefit and had not yet been assessed for the new Employment and support allowance ( ESA) found that if they took a job, gave up their benefit and then had to reclaim, then they had to make a new claim for ESA, which is an entirely different benefit with different entitlement rules. Indeed we all know from the media information that it is as good as impossible to get ESA. I am partially sighted, have arthritis, a severe vitamin deficiency which affects my bones, suffer from limitations and discomfort due to two fractures, have high blood pressure and a heart condition, and not surprisingly stress and anxiety, however, I was told that even if I did manage to make a successful claim for ESA, and I may well not have done so, I would be placed in the work related group meaning I would have to look for work.There was no certainty at all that I would be considered entitled to any claim of ESA, and a Jobcentre plus adviser agreed with me that even though my GP was issuing me with certificates, now called fit notes, and ticking the box saying I should not be working, it is not your GP who decides these days if you should work or not but the government and ATOS
With no salary, and no benefit income coming in either, I had no choice but to take whatever money I could get most quickly and that was Job seekers allowance, with of course a huge drop from my previous Incapacity benefit levels because I was no longer considered to be disabled in anyway
So,I am now considered suddenly as if by a miracle, cured and perfectly well and able to compete for work and apply in the same way as any able bodied job seeker. In the winter I was terrified that my signing day would fall on a day when there was ice on the pavements as in very bad weather I am as good as housebound well, as housebound as a person living alone can be. you learn as far as your income allows, to be prepared in advance for bad weather…one of the biggest fears is being unable to get out to top up gas and electric meters and when you phone the energy companies to beg them to allow you to pay by direct debit they say that you should have put extra money on your meter through the summer to cope with the winter weather..!! Summer is for me just a time to try to pay some bills that I cannot pay in the winter due to the gas and electric meters taking most of my money!!
The Jobcentre sent me for training in CV’s and covering letters at the infamous A4E organisation.There was no lift and I could not manage the building…I am still completely unclear about how I tell an employer if I do get a job, that I can only come to work in good weather !! Well, weather with no icy pavements!
Now that I am considered fit and well by the DWP, there is of course no recognition of my disabilities and so I am not referred to any programme to help people back into work that has criteria where you have to have disabilities and be in receipt of a sickness related benefit to attend
Recognizing how little help there is out there for older people having to get work, there have been big cuts in the services available for people with disabilities who need to seek work, but for older people considered to be without a health issue, there is even less and even if which is unlikely that the retirement age for me stays at 65, highly unlikely as I say, I still have thirteen years (at least) to work before I get a pension. Recognizing just how little help is available for the many who must find themselves in a similar position to myself, and aware of how quickly one issue leads to another…e.g. debts to the real risk of losing your housing, then you don’t have time to concentrate on meeting your job seeker rule of looking for work because you are too busy sorting out your debts and housing, so you get sanctions on your benefits, it was this that gave me the idea of setting up what is in this its embryonic stages a sort of one stop advice site with pointers to the resources and information I have found and or used myself…..
- Britain: Disabled widow commits suicide after benefits withdrawn (rinf.com)
- The Welfare Reform Scam (welfaretales.wordpress.com)
- Catch 22: They Said it Won’t Happen… It Has! (freeleftthinker.wordpress.com)
- Christmas cancelled for Gloucester disabled family after dad falls through benefit net (welfaretales.wordpress.com)
- Leaked Evidence Shows DWP Set Quotas For ‘Fit For Work’ Assessments (samedifference1.com)