I’ve debated writing about the above topic for a while now, mainly because it’s massively personal- and not something you would shout about from the roof tops, or bring into conversations; ‘oh by the way I get money from the government for my disability’ -it’s just something you wouldn’t say, or talk about for fear of being looked down upon and judged. It is also a massive conversation stopper and non of us would want that. However it is something we should all talk about, and more of- because if we don’t, the stress and anxiety that many of us go through, often in silence, becomes invisible. After my experience today, I feel that I have a duty to talk (and write) about it.
As with many other ‘disabled’ people up and down the country, I was forced to apply for a new benefit called Personal Independent Payment, when I learned that my Disability Living Allowance (that I had been on for life, as a young child) was due to to be cut. I was determined to fight this, not only for myself but for the massive moral and human rights issues that come with cuts aimed at the vulnerable and minority groups in society. After coming out of (nearly) the other side of the whole process, I can say if you didn’t have mental health problems before- you definitely will do by the time DWP, Atos and the tribunal service finish with you. After taking my case to appeal, I was cross examined in the most insensitive and intrusive way- having my life torn apart, I felt like a scrounger or fraud- when in fact I am a 27 year old woman, overcoming some major obstacles- not being able to go somewhere, because you can’t read a map and getting lost more often than you have cups of tea or being absolutely terrified of crossing a road as you can’t judge the distance and speed of the cars, is clearly problematic. It worries me how such a process of ridicule, humiliation, demeaning and demoralising tactics affect those who aren’t as able to stand up for and articulate themselves as well as I can- it is actually really scary, and a process that needs to be challenged, because quite frankly it is wrong. Franchesca Martinez is instrumental amongst others in forming the ‘WOW’ campaign‘ that aims to challenge the unfair and immoral cuts to services for disabled people. Services that we have a right to- as people who generally find some things harder, we should have that little bit of help to make life easier. More people need to speak out in the way that those behind the wow campaign do, because if we don’t few will realise the reality and gravity of the situation. You should all totally sign this petition to support the campaign to make the government become accountable for the impact these cuts are having on disabled people.
The barriers that I’ve come up against when applying for Personal Independent Payment (or PIP, as it is widely known) are that I am an articulate, bright, university educated young woman, in a job. This shouldn’t count against me in anyway, but when it comes to applying for disability benefit, DWP expect you to fit into the ‘classic’ disabled person box- and anything beyond this seems to confuse them profoundly. As a Dyspraxic woman, due to my ‘hidden’ condition, I have encountered judgements and hostility in all stages of the assessment process because I essentially look ‘normal.’ ‘You walked into this room okay, how can you have difficulties with balance and coordination?’ Is a question that I met several times, and on all occasions challenged such an ill-informed and unjust remark. I do wonder what they’d think if they were a fly on the wall, watching me struggle and fail to open a tin of beans, whilst getting lost in my own town. Would they question my coordination and spatial awareness skills then?
There are so many people like me, who are getting penalised in this way. We aren’t visibly disabled, there is no white stick, hearing aid or guide dog (or god as I accidentally misread it earlier!) but we struggle with some of the most basic and often necessary daily living activities- which in theory should entitle us to some support from the welfare state. I’m not one to complain about being ‘disabled’ nor do I ever highlight things that I can’t do because there are so many more wonderful things that I can do- but throughout the whole process of claiming Personal Independent Payment you have to focus on the negatives and often things that will put you down. Any level headed person will see that it is obvious what this will do to any pre existing mental health condition, and for those who lack the support that I’ve benefited from, the consequences of this doesn’t bare thinking about. The system needs to change fast, to make it fair, to take into account disabilities that are invisible and to prevent more people becoming victims of the governments draconian measures. The people being targeted by these cuts to services are the most vulnerable in our society, helpless and stuck in a system that is intent on failing them. This is not just or moral. Why call something ‘personal’ when it blatantly forgets about the people?
You’re so right, it’s an appalling system that has been made even worse! It’s as though the process was written with a caricature of a disabled person in mind, and anyone who doesn’t fit that caricature must be a total fraud. I’m really sorry you’ve had such a struggle with it, I hope they don’t mess you around any more. We’re facing the exciting prospect of this fight soon – my partner has interestingly been assessed as having no health needs (I wish someone would tell that to the three major bodily systems of hers that don’t work properly) so I suspect her DLA will be waltzing off into the sunset pretty soon.
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It really is awful, and as much as it’s the worst process for anyone to ever go through, I’ve fought it for the principle of how messed up the whole system is. More needs to be done to make it easier and less stressful, for people who are generally already having a hard time as it is.