I’ve come to the end of my challenge to live on the equivalent of incapacity benefit or the new version, employment support allowance, and it’s been a really eye-opening three weeks for me.
Obviously I can’t pretend that my challenge has given me anything more than the tiniest insight into the lives of people unable to work due to disabilities or illness. As many of you have pointed out, it’s impossible to understand what it’s really like to live with a disability or sickness day in, day out, 365 days a year unless you are genuinely disabled or care for someone who is. Plus the challenge was only for a few weeks, so it doesn’t show what it would be like to live on these benefits for an entire year, with all the ad hoc outgoings or one-off extras that you might have to cover over 12 months.
However, while I know that some claimants receive less than the £89.80 I lived on, or more because of other benefits available to them, such as mobility and disability living allowance, I have no idea how people manage. We were only able to do so assuming that DJ covered the mortgage, while the IB equivalent only really covered the shopping, the phone bill and most of the heating bill. You would spend your entire time worrying about every little expense and whether you can afford it, and it would be virtually impossible to go out or enjoy life unless the activity and the transport to it were free. Lots of claimants are in constant pain and don’t need the additional aggravation of worrying about their finances. But just sitting still at home costs money in heating and electricity, too. And if you’re too ill to work, you have to entertain yourself somehow otherwise life is pretty depressing.
While there are obviously some fraudsters out there who need to be clamped down on, I think it’s time we were more understanding of people who are genuinely on benefits. Money is a very emotive subject, especially at the moment when there are so many people struggling to make ends meet or facing redundancy. And it’s played upon by the media and politicians who want our votes. A number of you have said on the blog that in addition to the pain of your illness or disability, you felt that people looked down on you and treated you like a scrounger because you were claiming IB.
It’s easy to look at our neighbours and assume that the grass must be greener on their side of the fence. But is it really? I hope that I’ll look at people who are on IB or employment and support allowance very differently from now on. Thanks to everybody who left messages on the blog telling me about their own experiences of incapacity benefit, or those of friends and family.
Could you live on £89.80 a week? Has the recession made us less tolerant and more envious of other people’s money? Leave a message and let me know.
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