The Benefit Changes of 1837 (AKA 2013)

Sunday 31 March, 2013

Before I get into this entry, I’d just like to apologise for how ineloquent this entry might be. It has taken me over a week to write, I’ve been tired due to a number of reasons and, well, ranting on and on about something doesn’t produce the most eloquent of entries anyway, does it?

So, yeah, if this entry is hard to follow, I apologise. But do try to stick with it, because it’s sort of important. And even if it isn’t important to you, it’s relevant to the right here and now of Britain, 2013.

So without further ado…

Tomorrow, Monday, The First of April, those of us on benefits will be become victims of the welfare reform implemented by the government and their minions. Well, they diplomatically call it a reform, I call it a cruel overhaul.

I know the government is short of money, and yes, there are people who are on benefits when they shouldn’t be and yes, the Government do need to do something about it.

But this overhaul is not the way to go.

The housing benefit and the bedroom tax, for example? Excuse me whilst I rant a second.

I know this doesn’t just affect disabled people, and I know that not all disabled people are affected but at least 60% of people affected by the bedroom tax are disabled. The government want disabled people (or families of disabled children) to either pay for a so called extra bedroom or move into smaller places. These are people in so called social accommodation. I personally believe in calling a spade a space, and you can call me old fashioned if you wish, but social accommodation to me is nothing more than a new term for council housing.

But there’s no councils involved directly any more, so it’s social accommodation to reflect how the houses are funded. But don’t let the fancy new term kid you. Houses built under the name of social accommodation are the same size as council houses, they’re as thoughtlessly laid out as council houses and the garden space is just as worryingly small as council houses. In fact, if I were to be completely honest with you, I’d say the houses built under the term of social accommodation are worse!

The new houses are made of this thin plaster board, so thin that there has to be wooden planks on the wall for people to put up curtain rails. There’s no place to hang photos, no wall mirrors, no clocks. Putting one directly into the plaster board could lead to a crumbling wall, especially during what they call the “resting period” after a new house has been built. For the record, the resting period of those houses was ten years.

The house I lived in wasn’t treated for damp, none of the new housing estates under this housing association was, which is essential with these new building materials, so we ended up with walls exposed to the elements and infested with damp the second year of living there. And just like the old council houses, the doors hardly fitted into the doorway frame, the bathrooms were badly designed and the kitchen was as small as possible. No storage space to boot, but no way to put up shelves either.

These are not houses you can turn into a loving home. And I’ve veered off the point.

My point was, these aren’t the highest standard of buildings and they seem to be getting worse. I was in desperate need of an accessible place to live, and this was the best they could provide. I don’t know what people think social accommodation housing is like these days, but I can tell them what it’s not, and it’s not a big mansion with a swimming room, sauna and room for a pony.

The tax payer is not paying for people to live in luxury, and just because someone is in receipt of benefits, it doesn’t mean they don’t also pay some form of taxes or that they’ve never paid taxes in their life.

And back to the bedroom tax!

The government want people even worse off than myself to move into smaller places. Where do the government think all these smaller accessible, affordable places are? And what they class as essential don’t seem to match up to what a disabled person might reasonably need. And that doesn’t even touch upon the point made many times on the news: A disabled person could probably need their own room.

Once again, it’s as if the attitude U-turn on disabled people has been used to justify heartless ignorance. After many years of arguing for our rights to be seen as worthy to be in relationships, our right to still be treated like humans if someone becomes disabled later on in life, we are suddenly having it thrown back in our face.

Just because disabled people are in relationships with all the trimmings found in a relationship, doesn’t mean that we automatically share bedrooms with those we are in relationships with. Yes, even married people.

Do you know how much room a hospital bed can take up? And yet the mattress are usually smaller than the normal single size. It’d be a tight squeeze for even the most cuddliest of couples.

And that’s if the disabled person doesn’t have to be hooked up to a bunch of machinery over night to keep them alive and well. Have you ever tried to share a bed with someone who might hurt you in the middle of the night due to spasms? Have you ever tried to share a bed with someone you might badly hurt just by accidentally knocking them in your sleep?

Do you know how noisy some of that machinery is? Do you know how important sleep is to a disabled or chronically ill person is? Sharing a bed with someone who tosses and turns at night wouldn’t just be annoyance it is for the majority of people, it could be life threatening!

And do you know how uncomfortable it is to sleep with your neck and shoulder at a strange angle to the rest of your body, just because the person your sharing a bed with has the head part of the hospital bed raised up so that their neck and head is supported in the only way it can comfortably be to them? Or with the knee break up, or on a full or half tilt to ensure blood pressure stays even? I don’t actually, because I am that person with their hospital bed head part up at an awkward angle for everyone else.

And then there’s just the fact that some partners can’t share a sleeping space because they need their own space to rest properly, and a restless partner, disabled or not, affects that.

I know it’s a trope on hospital dramas and in fictional romance stories, but honestly! There’s no room for an extra pillow, and if you can’t get that close and comfortable in a hospital bed to share one, you’re out of luck.

Hospital beds and hospital equipment take up too much space for two beds in the conservative measurements the housing associations class as bedrooms. If these couples, married or not, can’t share a bed, they need enough room for two beds in one room or a bedroom each. They can’t move into smaller property, that defeats the purpose of having enough space for a disabled person to live comfortably (and that’s comfortably, not luxuriously!) and bigger bedrooms mean less storage space. I know this because I’ve lived it and seen it!
And then there are the children! Not only are the government making children share despite a difference of gender up to the age of ten now, but they have no compassion for the disabled children who might need more space due to a disability, or other children who’s sleep might be affected by the demands of their sibling’s disability.

Do I need to go through all of what I’ve said above and apply it to children?

And children are children. At least by adults we should have grown out of tired-related tantrums. Tired children kept up all night by their siblings heart monitor won’t have yet have grown out of tired-related tantrums, and they will let everyone know it. Loudly. Probably keeping their sibling awake too.

But it’s the same in both situations. There are no exemptions, and so they are classed as being able to share, thus having extra bedrooms and being under occupancy.

The government seem to be forgetting that this is ultimately a change to deal with the issue of over-crowding. If two bedrooms are being used, they are not under-occupancy. And I’m sorry, but if they want to talk to someone about being under occupancy, they should look around the house of parliament and ask who has a second home! Never mind picking on the people who use a second bedroom, take those second homes and turn them into flats or something! Accessible flats, at that. Get those poor people who have had to turn their living room into their bedroom and bathroom because they’re no longer fit enough to use the whole house, and get them into an actual suitable property. That frees up a home.

And remind me to rant more about accessible flats in the future, because just saying “accessible flat” isn’t enough.

Most importantly, what I can’t get to make sense in my mind, is the fact that councils report there is an over-crowding problem and a lack of houses on the list. So why are they forcing people out of their homes if there’s no homes to move into? Or why don’t they search out the most over-crowded house holds and the most under-occupied house-holds and see about swapping them around?

Why are the poorest being kicked further when they’re already down?

Which brings me smoothly on the sister issue of the benefit caps.

The Government are reporting that there’s been an increase over the last ten years of people claiming disability benefits, and more people than ever before going straight onto benefits who’ve never worked. They can’t sustain at the rate they’re going, so things have to change.

Now, what they’re trying to imply is that, basically, we’re all scroungers. We’ve all heard that word before. Anyone who lives off benefits who could possibly work are scroungers and this generation is lazier than the last generation, and young disabled people are getting easily discouraged by the poor economy so they don’t try either.

Well… I don’t accept that. Call me naïve, but I think more people are claiming disability living allowance and employment and support allowance is because we have more disabled people.

It really is as simple as that.

The DWP maintain that the number of those found wrongfully claiming benefits stays under 3% of all claimers. So it’s not the scrounging society Cameron will have you believe.

More children are surviving birth defects, and they grow up to be disabled adults.

More children survive horrific accidents, and they grow up to be disabled adults.

More children are surviving illnesses and diseases which might leave them physically or mentally disabled, like meningitis for example, and they grow up to be disabled adults.

More babies who were born prematurely are surviving the critical hours in NICU, but not all of them come out from there with perfect health. Those babies who don’t grow to be sickly children, and if it’s something that doesn’t get better in childhood, then they become disabled adults.

Better medication and long-term treatment guarantees a longer life for those who would have otherwise died in childhood, like those suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy or Cystic Fibrosis. For the time they manage to survive, some of it will be as adults. Disabled adults.

There’s those people with severe forms of epilepsy, diabetes, asthma. Every day they survive on a gruelling regime of medications and assistance. It gets them to adulthood, it keeps them alive, but employment could be difficult.

And then there’s people who weren’t born disabled, but became disabled during childhood or adulthood. A serious illness, a tragic accident, or just a horrible twist of fate. I know the NHS is not the best, and it’s getting a hard time right now with everything in the news, but more people are surviving accidents, serious incidents, sudden illnesses, strokes, heart attacks, and things like that, due to medical intervention of the NHS. Some might come away from some of those things just as well as before, loads others don’t, and if they survive, they carry on their lives as disabled people.

Our population has grown, the ratio of disabled people to your average person has increased, therefore the amount of people on benefits have increased! It’s simple maths, and I say that as a dyscalculic!

Does David Cameron want us to go back to when people died of things we could otherwise save them from? Because that would sort his problem out. Depriving people of benefits they need to survive is just the heartless, long way around.

And all of this discussion about whether people should be awarded long-term benefits is ridiculous. Most disabilities are for life. You might outgrow an illness, you might outgrow a deficiency, but you hardly ever outgrow a disability, especially not without a lot of help at some time in your life and an ever present reminder for the rest of it; Some disabilities are temporary, someone might be temporarily blind, some people might be temporarily paralysed, but even then, they have to live their life as best as they can with that disability for as long as it affects them, and with those things, you can never tell.

Changing the system so everyone has to be re-assessed every year for their benefits just because a few slip through the system is unfair. And every single change to the assessment system makes it harder for genuine people who desperately need the benefits to get them, all the while the fraud percentage stays the same. Which is not, as the media and government will have you believe, over 10% of claims. It is less than 1%.

And that brings me smoothly on to the next change.

Now this one I’m not sure of the ins and outs of, so I’m keeping it vague. Free legal aid provided by the government to help with the appeals process is either being eradicated completely or substantially cut back. Do you know what that means? It means a lot of people, if not all, who get wrongly fined, sanctioned or kicked completely off their benefits and left to suffer in poverty, will not be able to fight the decision unless they can provide the funding to do so themselves.

I am very much happy to be corrected if I’m wrong on that one, but that’s what I can work out.

Other changes will see the CAB’s funding to help people with financial and legal problems lowered, also time and days to get access to the advice, and most centres turning into glorified call centres, with advice given solely over the phone. Hardship grants and loans will be next to impossible to apply for, so if anyone loses their job because they are no longer able to do it satisfactorily enough, and is left paying the bedroom tax because they either need that extra room for equipment, a separate sleeping space or just can’t move quick enough into a smaller property, they’ll be left to live off oxygen and whatever no frills food they can get off a food bank.

Then there’s Personal Independent Payment, which will replace DLA (not employment based, contrary to what the media will report). The new categories for PIP don’t reflect the true nature of a disability, and it makes it even harder for someone with a fluctuating condition or disability to fill in. They’re harder to answer and the point system is tougher, which might seem a good idea if you’re trying to get rid of those tricksy fraudsters leeching off the economy, but awful if you actually want disabled people to have access to society.

It’s like with every other form, but multiplied. Fill it in about a bad day and risk being accused of lying to get more money on a good day. Fill it in about about a good day and risk losing access to all elements of the fund, and for those on motability, that could mean losing their car, which might get them to work, to hospital appointments or to socialise, which if you’re unwell 99.9% of the time, is the one day you basically live for.

Take that away, and you will literally have a bunch of disabled people stuck at home, staring at the walls. You know, the very thing most people accuse disabled people of doing all the time anyway.

OH the irony!

And now they’re going to be joined with fully able-bodied people who have struggled to get jobs in this economy, because there’s not enough jobs in commutable areas. It was already difficult to get a job if you were over-qualified, and now we have a bunch of over-qualified people going for jobs irrelevant to the courses they went to university to get into. They’ll be joined by nurses who have been cut by the NHS, who funnily enough, could probably help a few of those disabled people get into work quicker if only there was enough staff care to go around on wards following patient recovery.

And they’ll all be joined by many, many other people who, by no fault of their own, have ended up on benefits. And the longer you’re out of work, the more difficult it is getting back into work, because industries frown on long stretches of unaccounted for time on your CV.

This is just a slippery slope where the poor are being hit again, and again, and again. And if you think that doesn’t take affect on people, think again. The worse a financial situation gets, the more likely it is that people fall victim to depression, and that not only puts more strain on the NHS, to treat the depression, it also will cause more delays in a person getting back into work. And the cycle will start all over again.

So thank you, David Cameron and his band of merry men for kicking the poor and disabled when they’re already down, stealing from them when they’re out, and feeding it to the rich once again when they have no hope of ever getting back up.

Ebineezer Scrooge called, he said you’ve gone too far.

This was a rant brought to you by me, A Failed Journalist. I can only apologise if it didn’t make much sense.

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Cruel Irony, Much?

Friday 1 February, 2013

I’ve said before about the inaccessible “accessible bathrooms”, and the transport for disabled people that put cost effectiveness over usefulness of service, and now I have a new one to add to the list.

Up until recently, I was in the process of trying to get an electric wheelchair. It’s all more complicated in some ways than you can imagine, and simpler in some other ways than I could have hoped for.

In order to get an electric wheelchair, it’s standard procedure to have a Visual Field Test, just to prove that the potential user (in this case, me) has enough vision and peripheral awareness to be in control of a powered chair safely.

Failing the test means that a powered chair will be unsuitable. I know for a fact that I have freaky (in a good way) peripheral vision, and such good Crowd Awareness that it’s like a 6th sense. Unfortunately, I also struggle so much with depth perception, thanks to dyscalculia, that I ended up giving up driving lessons. Distance measurements meant nothing to me, I could never tell if a gap was too big or too small for the car so i always assumed it was too small, and it just generally made it difficult to get comfortable with driving.

Still, there’s a difference between driving a car and steering a wheelchair, one being a metal box surrounding you and protecting you, and the other one being a chair on wheels that leaves you open to the elements, so overall I wasn’t all that worried about the test… until I actually saw the machine they did the tests on.

It was a box, like a television, on top of a desk, and inside the box was an LED Board. The idea was to focus on the red light and when you see one of the LEDs flash, you press a button. You’re meant to sit right up close and rest your head on the cushioned rests so that you can see the whole LED box.

Well, the first problem was that there was no good height to get the box at, and there was no way to get my wheelchair or me closer to the box. Sitting up as straight as possible, my back still needs to be supported to the point of minor reclination, and after a few minutes any leaning forward I’dve managed to do, pain sets in so I’d have to sit right back so that my cushion could support me properly again, making the effort pointless and taxing.

This device was completely wheelchair inaccessible, and I had no way of sitting to meet it half way. The 10 minutes I’d tried to was a complete disaster. I could see the red light fine, and if the flashes were happening in the top half of the box, that was fine. But any flashes at the bottom of the LED board was blocked by the plastic casing around the “window”. And then the red light disappeared completely. The optician who was seeing to me (no pun intended) had to leave the room to get the optician of a higher level in the staff chain of command, because it was quite clear I was failing this test through reasons not related to what the test was meant to be testing for.

The optician was lovely, don’t get me wrong, and both of them did their best to accommodate me. He had the device off the desk and onto a computer chair, tried various heights of both the desk and the chair but it just wouldn’t do. Unless you can rest your head on the cushioned casing, most of the LED board is blocked by the very casing it’s enclosed in.

He apologised, and did a basic manual test instead, which I passed by the way, but I couldn’t help commenting on the irony of the whole situation, and the very fact that the device is not fit for purpose.

In other opticians and in hospitals, there’s probably better forms of the device used to carry out these tests. I just always seem to be in the wrong places to get to them. But once again, I can’t just be the only one this happens to, it just feels that way from other people’s responses.

I’m just lucky the Optician was sympathetic enough, and confident in his own abilities, to trust a basic manual test instead of voiding my form due to being unable to carry out the test. But then if that had happened, I’d have been well within my rights to complain.

Instead, I’m settling for a letter of suggestion to send to their head office. I might not be fond of making myself some sort of spokes person, but if I want to see changes happen, what else can I do?

It’s like I said last time, if I want to see changes happen, I have to help make them happen because very few people will do it off their own say so.

And in case anyone is wondering, I am now a card carrying member of the Electric Wheelchair Owner’s and Driver’s Club. Well, I would be if that club actually existed…


When I was younger, so much younger than today…

Monday 22 November, 2010

When I was younger, I wanted to be a maths teacher. I loved maths because you could collect up all the numbers, and each number counted no matter how small it was, and you came to the answer. It was the simple concept that it was straight forward with just one answer that I loved. I could get my head around it… until the mathematics became too complex for me to count up using plastic blocks and simple equations.

No one ever told me that needing to use all the counting blocks in the classroom was wrong, that it was a sign of something wrong. The same way none of my teachers ever wondered why I needed to write down ALL of my sums, no matter how simple they were, and take up a whole page until I could get to my final answer. There would literally be a page of lists of numbers and sums as I would build up the answer.

Things got worse in high school when we no longer had counting blocks, my teacher didn’t have the patience to understand and would make me feel two inches small when I got the lowest score in mental arithmetic. I was in the lowest set for maths and I was still too thick for it. I would be berated for needing to keep track of all the numbers and sums and I’d be shouted at for wasting pages in my book when two whole pages were filled with maths that didn’t make sense. I tried to fix that by gluing two pages together and then I was shouted at again for wasting pages. This same teacher would even hover behind me whenever I got a new exorcise book, to make sure I didn’t mess up the first page. I had this bitch for three years and each lesson she brought me to near tears. On some Wednesdays, there were tears!

It took until I was 15 for someone to say “Dyscalculia”, which is basically the number version of Dyslexia. It’s still not widely known today. There’s probably loads of people who just thought they were too thick for maths who had it, maybe even some people got away with it and work in a maths-based job today.

Not me, though. When the maths got too hard, when the teachers didn’t ask or try to understand why I just didn’t understand the equations, that I worked them out in a unique and different way, I lost faith in maths. It was no longer my friend because even 0 wasn’t what I was led to believe. The number 1 was made up with fractions, a more complex equation is needed if you want to divide decimal points together and the speeds of trains passing each other became very important, for some reason. Even though I’m pretty sure there’s technology to figure that out for us…

I found a new friend in English and Media Analysis. They weren’t as good as maths. With English, it’s more in the reasons of why you think it’s possible rather than whether or not somethings possible, and whether there’s evidence to support your reason.

Seamus Heaney was a afraid of frogs, you say? What makes you think that?
Well, the poem were he compares frogspawn to a deadly blood virus was a give away
.

And media was very much the same.

The denotation is that Andrew Beckett and Joe Miller are standing at opposites sides of the office. The connotation of them standing in those positions is that Miller, who creates the distance in the first place, is uncomfortable with Beckett’s presence and is prejudice against gay people and HIV sufferers. I believe that the office is a symbol of a box…

And the further away that childhood dream of becoming a maths teacher went. It’s not the only one I never pursued though. I also gave up my dream of being a house builder, a footballer, an actress, a drummer in a band, a window cleaner, a nurse, an electrics specialist, a magazine article writer and many other things.

Some come again and go again, others I’ve not really given up on, just thought differently about. I’m 22 years old, a Twenty-something, and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

Some say that’s okay, and right now, I choose to believe them. And who knows, maybe when I’m 50 I’ll start again with maths and make that teacher dream of mine come true.

Or maybe I’ll become a flamenco dance teacher instead. Maybe anything’s possible.