You’re reading that correctly. The DWP has decided to give me just £19 a week to live off.
Yes, sure I still ge the PIP that I have been living off – but that’s money for my extra disability related expenses. It’s not for living off as I have been made to do since the end of September 2016 until this week – the end of February 2017.
So now I have £19 a week to cover my half of the groceries and the bills and my council tax and and and… So I’ll still have to live off my PIP.
I’m in the Support Group – they finally bothered to tell me (my Work Capacity Assessment was in October) – so I don’t get sanctions. So what’s happened to more than half the money I used to be paid to live from?
What did I do wrong to deserve this?
I GOT A BOYFRIEND AND WE LIVE TOGETHER.
That’s my “crime”. As far as the DWP are concerned, we are married (we’re not), his money is my money and my money is his (it’s not) and his “income” of a student loan plus mine of £19 a week is enough for two adults to live off (it’s not). But even if we were married and we did share finances and his income were enough for two, why should I be paid less when it is still just as impossible for me to work?
I’m in the Support Group. I’m not expected to look for work. I’m not expected to work. I have chronic, lifelong conditions that aren’t really expected to improve and can’t be cured. Employment Support Allowance, despite the name, is basically an income replacement for people like me who are not expected o be able to work for an income while ill – including those of us who might well be ill for the rest of our lives.
To take my only income away because my partner has money is… well I can think of a few words for what it is but I think I’ll go with “wrong”. It is morally wrong to force disabled people to rely on our partners.
IT IS MORALLY WRONG TO FORCE DISABLED PEOPLE TO RELY ON OUR PARTNERS.
My boyfriend is lovely. The DWP don’t know that. They don’t know what will happen to me once they make us so financially unequal that I have to depend on him for living costs. They don’t care: all they know is he has an “income” which is far below minimum wage – if he’d had a full time minimum wage job, we believe they’d have left me with no ESA income at all. They don’t care about making me live out of my PIP. They don’t care about whether he’d decide to spend all his money on himself and none on me and leave me to scrape by – financial abuse and other forms of domestic violence are extremely common in disabled people’s relationships. The DWP have no idea and no desire to get an idea about what this will do to me and him in particular or to disabled people across the country.
£19 doesn’t even buy an MP’s breakfast.
£19 doesn’t cover a taxi to and from the hospital.
£19 a week is my income. That’s £2.70 a day.
That couldn’t even buy me a lunch a day.
And the awful thing is, by the DWP’s own rules this is how the benefits system is supposed to work. This is not a mistake or an error. This is the UK’s “generous” benefits system in action.
I’ve missed you and I wonder if you have missed me.
A lot has happened since my last post. There’s no gentle or easy way to say it but my mother died. She had been very ill for a long time and in November 2016 she died. I don’t really want to write about that but it is important to me that you all know.
I did not know it at the time but while I and my family were trying to cope with my mother’s worsening health, her death and her funeral, the DWP had quietly stopped paying my ESA.
In fact, they’d stopped paying my ESA in September. Without telling me. Or giving me any reason why or instructions on how to fix whatever problem they had.
After several phone calls, we found out that we needed to fill in an ESA 3 form. That was before we realised that my payments had stopped. We weren’t told that the payments had been stopped until after we’d completed and returned the form and phoned them to ask if they’d got it.
They said that my payments would be backpayed and paid on the 20th of December. Which was 2 days ago.
I’m yet to be paid or even told in writing why my payments were stopped. All I did “wrong” was move house. I tried to tell the DWP in advance, sending letters to several addresses but none were received apparently. They heard from the local council that I’d moved and then stopped paying me.
They haven’t told me the conclusion of my WCA either.
I’m sure it will all be okay for me because I have a boyfriend who is able to phone them and chase it up until this is sorted.
So, yeah. Dear readers, that is why I’ve been quiet of late.
This will be a short post but I think a surprisingly necessary one.
I have a piece of advice for everyone filling in PIP and ESA forms:
If you have access to a computer YOU CAN TYPE ALL YOUR ANSWERS OUT, SAVE IT AND PRINT. The form makes it look like you have to handwrite your answers onto the space provided – which is not only difficult and painful for many of us, it also makes it difficult to retain records of what your answers were.
If at all possible, type (or have another person type) out your answers to the questions.
Put your name and National Insurance number on the top of each page.
Type “Question 1” next to the answer to question 1 and so on. Use subheadings, underlining and/or ALL CAPS to mark particularly important bits (I usually put “All references to pain are to pain levels experienced when I take all of my medications, not pain experienced if I do not take them” in all caps).
Number the pages.
Save the document and back it up (to a USB, email it to yourself, add it to a cloud backup service) then print a couple of copies when you finish it.
On the form itself, answer the tick box questions and write “See attached notes” in every write-in box.
Put the form, any photocopied evidence you are sending and the printed out answers into the envelope provided (or send it recorded delivery in the envelope of your choice). Once, I couldn’t get everything to fit in the provided envelope so I put everything in a larger envelope and taped the freepost envelope to the front of it. This worked.
Next time they send you the same form, save another copy of your answers (use “save as”and change the name to something like “ESA answers 2” or copy and paste the whole document to a new document and name it something different from the first). Look over your previous answers, add any new stuff that’s come up, take out or change anything that’s no longer relevant. Once you’re happy that it’s fully accurate and up to date, print out two copies, save a back up copy, write “see attached notes” on all of the form… You get the idea.
If you had to get another person to do any of these things for you: ADD THAT AT THE END OF YOUR ANSWERS. If you can’t write / write much / write legibly ADD THAT. Otherwise they’ll assume you can write hundreds of words and have only chosen not to.
It’s YOUR form. You don’t have to force yourself to handwrite it just because it’s a paper form. You don’t have to write inside the boxes or shorten or lengthen your answers to fit into them. You need to give the DWP assessor enough information to assess you properly and you need to do it in a way that causes minimum harm to you in the process.
A full 16 months after I applied for ESA, I’ve finally got an answer. I’ve been put in the Support Group which basically means that I don’t have to work or seek work because I am too ill and disabled to be reasonably expected to try to find work that I can feasibly do and employers willing to make the many, many adjustments that would be required to make that work accessible to me. After literal years* of financial insecurity due to disability and ill health (including times when I had no money of my own) I finally have something resembling security – money to replace the employment I cannot be reasonably expected to seek or find until and unless I get much less ill (unlikely to happen as my physical illness is chronic and incurable and my mental illnesses are chronic and not responding all that well to treatment) or society gets MUCH, MUCH less disablist and much, much more inclusive and accessible (more likely to happen but still years away). I view it as somewhat akin to compensation – money to live off in recognition that between my body and the society I live in paid job opportunities for me will be close to non-existent but I still deserve to live a good life.
So, what now?
I’ve bought quite a few things lately that I’ve not been able to afford for a very long time – a mobile phone that actually works, a winter coat, new shoes, a Blue Badge and a Disabled Person’s Railcard. It feels odd both to have these things and to know that I can buy such things without worrying about whether I can also afford to pay my rent. This security is unfamiliar to me, I find myself still acutely aware of when each payment is due to come in and when my rent and direct debits are due to go out.
As I don’t need to look for or get a job, I’ll have a lot of free time. I’ll definitely be blogging and I’ve got some great ideas for posts lined up. I’m trying to get back into reading regularly and I want to write more fiction. In fact, I have the slightly ambitious aim of writing the first draft of a novel this year (I’ve written novels before but not since my teens). I’m also looking for very, very part-time volunteer activities in Manchester feel free to contact me if you’ve got an opening you think I could fill 🙂
In the medium term, I’m on a few NHS waiting lists to hopefully get some treatment for my my mental illnesses. I don’t expect to be “cured” but there’s a lot of scope for improvements in managing my illnesses and maybe even reducing my symptoms. A man can hope, right? Learning how to make a phone call without breaking from fear and panic, for example, would greatly improve my life and it’s a goal that is ambitious but (I hope) achievable.
Even longer term, I want to be a parent. I’m hoping to be on the adoption register as a potential adopter before I’m thirty. In order to get there, I’m going to need a few things I don’t have yet: a permanent home with at least one spare bedroom, more local friends than I have now, possibly a wheelchair and/or a service dog. I’m not hugely sure how to go about getting these things sorted but not having to worry too much about continuing to afford to eat and pay rent frees up a lot of time and energy for planning the little steps to the bigger goals. And I know what my big goal is: to be a good parent to at least one someone who didn’t get a great start in life.
So, that’s where I am. Right now I’m still pretty poor compared to most people but I don’t have to worry too much about it any more cos (for now at least) I know that I will have a regular income and that my rent will be paid. This means I can concentrate on other things. Which is something I’ve not been able to do for a long, long while.
*I’ve been trying to apply for DLA / PIP and ESA since 2011, the present year is 2015.