After a torrid few days which saw Iain Duncan Smith resign as Work and Pensions Minister partly over the change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP), blow a hole in George Osborne's budget before he turned out the lights and left, and the government then backtrack and say it wouldn't introduce new extra cuts to welfare; it's fair to say there have been and will be more twists than a contortionist turned into a snake by the name of Ouroboros...
So I'll keep it simple, and explain how I myself got DLA.
I was diagnosed with autism in 2002 but it wasn't until 2008 that an autism charity suggested I apply for DLA and helped me fill out the form. My first application was rejected and I appealed, giving specific information relating to the nature of my disability, which as I said then and still say now, is "an incurable neurological disorder which causes me significant depression as I struggle with the frustrating and demoralising tasks an ever more complicated world requires of me." I asked the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to look again at their decision in January 2009, only to be rejected once more.
With the autism charity's support, I took the DWP to an appeals tribunal held in July 2009. My appeal was allowed and I was awarded DLA from 2008 to 2011. Between July and October of 2011, I had to claim DLA again. This time it was awarded indefinitely.
It would be easy to moan about the inequities of a system which basically made me apply three times, but I was well aware I'd probably have to appeal as there are people who try to manipulate the system and, in general, a more protracted process does weed out the chancers.
However, after four years, in receipt of payments totalling no more than £21.80 a week (I deserve no more - I'm physically fine but mentally slow), formally diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder ensuring that "my ability to literally make sense of the world on a daily basis is very limited and may well worsen as I age," and just after celebrating my forty-seventh birthday, it seemed I could relax and breathe easy.
After all, autism is incurable and I'm only going to get older.
But only sixteen months later (February 2013), I was one of many who got letters telling them DLA was going out, PIP was coming in and we'd have to have face-to-face consultations.
The previous paragraphs have been tightly written and well-controlled, but now I think I'll just let it all hang out.
I'm now over fifty. This lifelong incurable disorder won't go away or improve, that's why they call it lifelong and incurable!
D'oh, as Homer Simpson would say!
Due to the specific nature of my disability (crippled information-processing capabilities), I will never be able to work as fast as others. You can't incentivise a Nissan Micra to perform like a Ferrari, Mr Smith, Mr Osborne and Mr Crabb; the engine capacity simply does not and never will exist!
I've sat before an appeals tribunal. I've delivered verbal and written evidence of my diagnosis. What riles and provokes me is the inability on the DWP's part just to accept the answer and be done with it. I feel I'm being both kept hanging, and also poked and prodded like an experimental animal. Adults with autism dislike instability and uncertainty just as much as companies and organizations do. You've been given the facts, they will not change, get the message, stop bothering me.
And just in case you haven't worked this out, there aren't many jobs going for over-fifties anyway!
Frankly, if I get hauled in front of a PIP assessor, my first impulse will be to be as obstreperous as possible. I even have to wonder whether there's a cynical desire afoot just to keep on questioning people like me until we throw in the towel in exasperation and/or die or something.
Well, is there?
Enough is enough. It would have been harder but cleaner simply to have been refused in the first place, but now that I and others like me have fulfilled the criteria you really should just let us be. I accept that tax receipts are not a bottomless pool, that the UK population is aging and the government has both debt and deficit; but my disability and employability will not change much now. In the future you, the government, will have to find ways of letting people like me work you can't currently even imagine (there is talk of a universal basic income, which sounds a bit like Universal Credit to me); and you'll have to come to terms with facts of life which will not change: at fifty-one (happy birthday to me!), I will only get older and slower, and with autism I will probably never again be up to a stressful full-time job.
In the end, and as the psychologist who first diagnosed me said:
"Know your limitations."
I do know mine. I've explained them clearly to you. It's time you accept what I've said and be done with it; and let me contribute as well as I'm able within a stable and supportive framework.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.