It’s only the second week of my three week task to live on the equivalent of incapacity benefit (£89.80 a week) but already it strikes me how different this challenge is from others I have undertaken on the blog.
Obviously money is a major issue for IB claimants. A number of people have been in touch through the blog to explain that despite the benefits they receive they are still struggling to pay for basic items, such as groceries and heating. Many are angry at benefit fraudsters who, they feel, give genuine claimants a bad name. They are angry too at being targeted by politicians. They argue that the MPs who have worked the expenses system to their advantage are no better than ‘benefits scroungers’ themselves.
Here are just a few of your comments:
“People don’t choose to be ill, and most people who are ill are trying hard to regain their life and deserve to be supported,” says Sarah.
“If you find one day after you have been in employment, paid your own bills, tax and stamp, you are ill – and I’m not talking about something minor but a life debilitating illness – and you cannot support yourself, what will you do?” says Sue. “I live on just over a hundred pounds a week, pay my gas, electric, water, TV licence, phone bills, don’t have a car, don’t go on holiday, pay for my groceries. If someone can come up with an all-round fair scheme for disabled people, I will be the first in line to vote for them.”
“All of my life I was brought up to think of people on any kind of benefit to be ‘Scroungers on the Welfare State’,” admits Malcolm. “However, after an accident at work…and with degenerative damage to six vertebra in my spine coupled with chronic bronchitis, I had no option but to claim incapacity benefit. Friends tell me I should claim mobility allowance, care allowance and disability living allowance. God knows, I could do with the extra cash as I have a 10 year old son and 14 year old daughter. Up to now I have struggled on, not wanting to be thought of as a ‘scrounger’”.
But the daily struggle of people who are too ill to work doesn’t just revolve around finances. There are many other issues that are just as problematic: struggling every day with ill health, having to rely on other people to do things for you, such as carers or family members, and the strain this puts on relationships. Then, outside the home, the lack of facilities for disabled people, the sometimes judgemental or ignorant attitude of others and the unpleasant and stressful medical assessment regime. What’s more, if you can’t work, you have to find something else to fill your time. It must be easy to become bitter and depressed. Of the other challenges I’ve undergone on the blog, I feel there are some parallels though with the frustration felt by those struggling to make ends meet on the Jobseeker’s Allowance and the mobility and health issues many pensioners suffer from.
However, as some of you point out, it’s all very well for me. My challenge lasts just a few weeks and I’m not really ill or disabled. I don’t have to go through painful visits to hospitals or assessments and I’m free to leave the house whenever I want. I’m not struggling to cope with pain or having to take any medication. I am amazed by how people, like Diane, and all those of you who have taken the time to tell me your stories, cope with this. Thank you for taking the time to email me or comment on the blog.
On a practical note, so far I’ve just managed to keep within my weekly budget – although only with DJ paying his share of our outgoings. I’m concerned about our heating bills, though. It’s been pretty cold over the past week and I’ve had to have the heating on sometimes during the day, which could easily break the budget when the bill shows up.
Later on in the week I’ll be finding out more about disabilities and the workplace. Are you a disabled person who works? What challenges do you face? Leave a message and let me know.
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