I have a learning disability. I also have muscular dystrophy which means my muscles get tired, quickly making it tough for me to walk long distances or stand up for long periods of time. Both these things mean I cannot work more than one day a week and I rely on benefits to pay for food, bills and to leave the house.
But this week, the Government has brought in a cut to a key disability benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, that I and thousands of disabled people rely on. For new people claiming this benefit from April 1st, they will receive £30 a week less. That is a huge amount when you think so many disabled people live in poverty.
The Government says this cut will encourage people to find work. But that's not right at all, it is going to make it a lot harder. If you're on benefits, it can be very hard already to afford to buy and do basic things like buy food, pay bills, go out, let alone look for work. It is scary to think how people will cope.
Last year I had to be re-assessed for my benefits, and was told that I might have to look for work in future - that is really frightening. My disabilities mean I am physically unable to work full-time. If that happens, I don't know what I would do.
The assessment process was one of the worst things I have ever been through. The forms you had to fill out were very confusing, there were so many of them and I didn't understand what they were asking. I'm lucky that I had support from the charity, Mencap, where I work one day a week, to fill the forms out. If I didn't have that support, I wouldn't have known what to do and I dread to think where I would be today.
I had to wait nearly a year to hear anything after I filled out the forms. That was very stressful, I had no idea what was going on or what to expect. It put a lot of strain on me and my fiancée. We just had to take it day by day, we couldn't save anything, we couldn't go anywhere, we didn't know when we would be okay. We were worrying all the time. It made my anxiety much worse, it made it difficult to do anything at all.
When I did go to the assessment, someone from Mencap came with me to support me. Without her, I would have been a lot more nervous. The assessment felt really degrading. The questions they asked were really personal and daunting, and I felt uncomfortable being there. Assessments used to be done at home so you could see how someone's disability affects them. That was a lot better because people felt more relaxed and more comfortable to answer the questions.
We had to wait another six months after the assessment before we heard anything at all. Again, we were worried and stressed, we didn't know if we would have enough money to live our lives. Then I got a letter, which said I'd been put in to the Work Related Activity Group of ESA. I was relieved because I would receive financial support, but I was scared because I might now have to look for work.
The assessment process was so stressful and it affected both mine and my fiancée's mental health. I don't want to go through it again by appealing the decision. If I did, I worry I could lose my benefits again. If that happens, I won't have any money at all.
To some people, £30-a-week might not be a lot. But for people who are disabled and sick, it is a huge amount of money. Charities like Mencap have been campaigning against the cuts, but the Government haven't listened. I think it's disgusting that disabled people are being targeted to help the Government save money.
If people can't afford to go out, what will they be doing? They'll become more isolated and won't be part of society. There are still some people that have negative attitudes towards learning disability. Attitudes are changed by coming into contact people with a learning disability. If people are stuck at home, I'm worried that this could make it okay to ignore people like me. I'm scared it could make attitudes worse.
I wish the Government would try and understand what sick and disabled people are going through, and how they're going to be affected by the changes to benefits. Until they reverse this harmful cut, we risk people with a learning disability being pushed further away from work and society in general.