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Posts tagged ‘DWP’

Mental Health Awareness Week

The Irony of Randomness

This is the week organisations and employers are encouraged to make sure they have structures in place to support staff who may have mental health issues.

It is also a week for some to feel able to talk about their own mental health diagnosis. Another way of marking the week, as many election candidates have done, it to look at ways our NHS should be doing more to prevent young people going into crisis. 

But for me, this week has been one of stress and worry, which could easily be resolved. Under the cruel Tories, I and so many disabled people continue to suffer unnecessarily. I receive DLA and was given an indefinite award 8 years ago. I should not need to be re-assessed. But then the rules changed. Everyone, no matter what their condition, has to be checked up on. This includes people who were born with severe mental and physical disabilities who cannot do anything for themselves. 

Two weeks ago, the dreaded envelope dropped through my letter box. The DWP require me to complete a 24 page form asking asinine questions about my health and what I can and cannot do. This week I have to return it. The irony and randomness of having to so during Mental Health Awareness Week is not lost one me.

Luckily, I’ve recently registered with a new GP and seen a new Consultant so my ‘everything you need to know’ A4 sheet is up to date with diagnoses and medication. I have also got a supporting letter from a Nurse who knows me well. I have warned my GP and consultant they will most likely be contacted.

I have 5 long term conditions, none of which will ever improve. I understand and accept that. But the DWP tick box managers clearly do not. Every 2-3 years they send me another form to complete, with questions on it that bear little relation to my everyday life. Can I lift or move a box? Can I put a pen in a top pocket? Can I touch the top of my head? 

Those of us with arthritic conditions, blood disorders or neurological symptoms, my friends with MS or Parkinson’s, all of us have to  go through this stressful process. It is totally unnecessary. The DWP could, much more cheaply, employ Doctors or specialist Nurses  to paper-check on-going claims. This would ensure those of us who can never return to full health, will retain our allowances. People who may have been debilitated after an injury or by an illness which is curable, would also be assessed and either be transferred to long term benefits or supported back to work.

The same could be true for the many people I know with mental health problems. Some people with a mental health diagnosis will never be stable enough to hold down a job. Forcing then to try and do so is most likely to end up exacerbating their already fragile mental health. 

So this week, I’m merely surviving. I want to thrive and focus on my writing projects, and doing some cyber campaigning for the election. But that’s not possible. I have the Sword of Damocles hanging over me. Will the money I need to live on be cut? Will I keep my car, which is my absolute life line? These are the thoughts that occupy my waking time and stop me sleeping at night. 

What would enable me to thrive? An questionnaire checking up to make sure I have enough support and care hours? That might help ensure I can live something approaching a normal life. The questionnaire could check if I’m socially isolated. Thankfully I’m not, but so many people are. It could also ask if my home is safe to live in, am I free from harassment, and if I can afford to keep warm in winter? 

All of those things would improve my life. Filling out a form to tell someone, with less qualifications than me, the obvious only causes me and all other disabled people stress and distress. 

Maybe next year the focus of the campaign should be to get politicians to understand how to help us thrive and not be burdened with having to just survive. 

 

 

 

 

The ATOS Form

The Dreaded Envelope

The frantic phone call came a few days ago. My friend *Kim, normally so talkative, could hardly speak. ‘It’s come, I’ve been staring at it, I don’t know how to answer the questions.’ Once she’d got the first words out, the rest spilled out in a torrent; ‘If they cut my benefit I can’t manage. What if they try to send me back to work, I can’t even manage to do my volunteering one day a week.’

I’m really concerned at this, Kim had tried so hard to get a placement with a local children’s storytelling charity. She was thrilled when she was accepted, it was a real boost to her self-confidence. ‘Why, what’s happened?’ I enquire. ‘Since the form came, I’ve gone right back, I can’t cope with anything.’ Was her almost tearful reply.

‘Can I come over to yours? Can you help me fill in the form?’ She pleaded. ‘Yes, of course, come on Monday’ I quickly responded. ‘We’ll get it sorted together’ I heard a huge sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. Then, I was able to talk to her about her children, her son married last summer and now in the US on a work placement and her daughter, A beautiful bright young woman, taking her A levels this year.

A normal mum and kids, you might think. But no, Kim’s children have not lived with her for many years. Her son was the first to go into care, getting involved with drugs and the wrong crowd. Her daughter was eventually long-term fostered by a family member, after a placement where she was physically abused. The woman who has fostered her daughter is the only non-alcoholic, in a toxic family, with two generations of troubled drinkers.

Kim didn’t stand a chance, abused and neglected as a child, she left home to escape, and didn’t make good choices about the men she had relationships with. Remarkably she went to university and got a degree, but the only man she married, and the father of her daughter would not support his family, so Kim left, and never did get any money from him.

I first met her through an ex-girlfriend, who was trying to help Kim look after her children. Kim’s flat was as chaotic as her life had been. I remember Kim being so relieved when the police arrested her then boyfriend for attempted murder. As was I, having felt a coward for not wanting to enter her flat if he was there.

Shortly after that, the children went into care, Kim was determined to get clean and sober, she went to rehab, did really well. She was given a property in a new area, and plans were made for her to get her daughter back.

But then, everything started to go wrong. The house had no hot water, no heating, and Kim had very little money to get basics such as a cooker and a fridge. I visited her daily to give her some support, and despite everything she was cheerful and longing to have her daughter home. There had been short visits, then longer ones, but no overnight stays. Suddenly, the social workers decided that a long bank holiday weekend was the best time for Kim’s 7 year old daughter to return home.

The house still did not have heat, hot water or a cooker that worked. No carpets on the floor and no proper beds, only mattresses. The social workers knew this. Kim was scared, she knew the situation with the house wasn’t right, but she dare not refuse to have her daughter home.

By the Monday lunchtime things had gone wrong. Kim had just had her first sip of alcohol in over 12 months, when her daughter’s previous foster mum turned up unannounced, accused Kim of being completely drunk (she wasn’t) and dragged Kim’s crying daughter out of the house. When I got there 10 minutes later, Kim was sober, she had poured the drink away and was distraught at loosing her daughter again. We couldn’t contact the social workers, our messages were not returned. Nothing could be done until the next day.

Kim was blamed, the social workers not caring that such a quick return was almost bound to fail, especially with the house not suitable for a young child to stay in. This time Kim had no chance, her daughter was to be long-term fostered 200 miles away.

Kim was devastated, started drinking again and eventually went back to rehab. She moved away from London to a small rural town be nearer her daughter. I didn’t see her for a couple of years, till she returned to London, still sober, but having missed the culture of a big city.

She saved what little money she had to keep going north to see her daughter. Her son had a flat nearby and started training to become a social worker, hopefully a better one than those who had failed his family. He and Kim had also become Christians, which gave Kim a new family.

But now, Kim’s world is threatened by an uncaring government, bent on penalising people who are unable to work. Every benefit claimant is being reassessed. The process being run by a government contractor, ATOS who have recently announced they will be terminating their involvement in this discredited process.

All of us on benefits are affected, and some have not survived. Many people have died, having been told only days earlier they were ‘fit for work’ others have committed suicide. Such is the pressure placed on them by this inhuman system.

Anyone newly applying to the DWP for benefits is having to wait months to get the money they need to live on, making people destitute and needing to use Food Banks to survive.

Despite being sober, Kim has anxiety, this is a long term condition, she also has long-standing depression, arthritis, poor balance, vision problems and finds if difficult to concentrate and follow through on tasks.

Individually, these are not insurmountable problems, but all together they mitigate against Kim being able to work.

Hence her fear of filling out the form and being forced to compete for work, with little chance of obtaining, let alone sustaining employment.

Whilst Kim is well read and articulate, she was one of the people who encouraged me to write this blog, filling out the capability for work form has defeated her.

Kim’s creativity, with both words and her artistic skills, are no help. So I need to try and ensure the form is completed in such a way as to maximise Kim’s chances of retaining her current level of benefits.

The prospect if I’m unsuccessful, is too awful to contemplate. Would my lovely kind friend survive, would her long fought for sobriety be lost? All I’m sure of is that until Kim knows that her benefit payments are secure again, everything is at risk.

*Kim is a pseudonym to protect my friend’s anonymity.

The cartoon by Crippen Cartoons is reproduced by kind permission.

 

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