Sometimes this blog of mine is just a diary of my interactions with the DWP. I’m even considering going back and tagging such entries “”DWP Diary” for ease of reference.
I got a letter this morning inviting me for a(nother) face-to-face assessment – or Work Capacity Assessment scheduled for three weeks from now. Already I am feeling powerless and scared. I’ve done this before and I know it’ll probably go my way but the potential consequences if it doesn’t are terrifying. If I were to somehow end up in the Work Related Activity group, the results could even be life-threatening. It’s a heck of a huge thing to have to try to keep from thinking about. I got the right award last time. I’ve only got more ill since then. I’ll be being backed up by my boyfriend and by letters showing that I got referred back into long term therapy *partly because my GP and therapist expect my mental health to plummet in response to being reassessed*. Yeah.
I suspect it will all be terrifying and awful and make me very ill… and get the right result because it’s pretty obvious what the result should be.
But nonetheless, the system is set up to put me through this torturous examination of every task I need help with and why and ask me these same questions every couple of years.. quite possibly for the rest of my life.
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.