As a former Welfare Rights Worker with Citizens Advice Bureaux in Pontefract and Wakefield in West Yorkshire, I've retained an interest in social policy developments in general, and Welfare Benefits legislation in particular. You may take the man out of advice work, but you can never quite take advice work out of the man - and the Citizens Advice Bureau ethos of aiming to ensure that people are not disadvantaged for a lack of help and representation still means a lot to me.
This is particularly so now, at a time when a lot of helpless and suffering people are being targeted by a government apparently determined to make budget savings at the most vulnerable end of society. In order to keep myself up-to-date, I do plenty of reading - and this includes a lot of anecdotal experiences. The feeling out there right now appears to be one of near panic, with a hideous sense of insecurity over what plans are being drawn up to dump the chronically sick and disabled on the scrapheap of dependence upon others, in the name, ostensibly, of prudent public spending.
One of the major worries is the forthcoming replacement of Disability Living Allowance by the new "Personal Independence Payment" (PIP). It's a snazzy new name for a misleading product - conjuring up, as it does, an image of a freshly-liberated individual, spreading metaphorical wings and savouring the new-found freedom liberally bestowed by a benevolent government. Sadly, the reality is likely to be somewhat different, as Linda Cox explains in an article - quoted in full below - which was originally posted on the Facebook page "The People Vs The Government, DWP and Atos". Linda is a carer, and she sets out in graphic terms some likely consequences of these benefit changes, which will be taking effect in a phased introduction from April of this year:
The musings of a pissed off madwoman/wife-of-a-wheelchair-user
Say someone applying for PIP has a made to measure, lightweight wheelchair, which they paid for out of their DLA, so they can self propel, as opposed to the wheelchair clinic issue, which is a really heavy, cumbersome, monstrosity of a wheelchair, which has to be pushed by a carer.
If you can propel your lightweight wheelchair 20 metres, you fail to qualify for PIP.
So, you will need to use this chair as your only transport, as you have no benefit for a travel budget. Your chair gets used over all kinds of terrain (gravel and cobbles are the most fun), for miles as in losing your PIP, you can't pay for your car and it is taken away. Wait... you can't self propel as far as the local shop (and it's uphill), let alone for over a mile into town. But as long as you can propel for 20 metres (the length of two buses)... the world is your oyster... apparently.
How do you pay for the maintenance of said wheelchair? £200 for a replacement seat, £100 for a new set of front wheels, £40 for new tyres.... all needing more frequent replacement, because of the extra usage. Where does this money come from?
I guess you could always use the hospital issue chair.. then you would need a carer to push all the time, but wait... your carer has lost their allowance, because you lost your PIP... in fact, your carer is on workfare now.... or if lucky enough, in full time employment.
Damn... this is getting complicated.
So, a wheelchair accessible cab is rare and has to be booked well in advance in order to get one...after all... there are so many wheelchair users no longer qualifying for PIP, so lots of competition for cabs now. A return trip for town is £15, that's a lot of money to find out of well... nothing.
Let's grab a bus... yes; buses have ramps and wheelchair spaces now! Great. Except the wheelchair spaces are all full of pushchairs. Damn... wait for the next bus. Oh dear, the next bus isn't accessible. No point in going home in between because just getting to the bus stop has knackered you out... it's further than 20m away and you had to keep stopping and resting on the way.
It's pouring down with rain... not unusual in the UK... you can't self propel in heavy rain as your tyres get slippery. Damn. Stranded. Just sit here and get soaked then and hope it stops... which it doesn't sometimes.
Sod it. Just stay in. Who needs to see a doctor or a dentist or go to a hospital appointment... or shop for food (you can't carry much in a wheelchair anyway - it makes it too heavy to self propel on the back and it slides off your lap.... especially on cobbles... I mentioned cobbles already, didn't I?)
Can anyone explain to me, how when you have kept your independence, because you had DLA, the assessment for Personal Independence Payments penalises that very independence and you end up penniless and housebound?
Don't tell me this is unintentional.
Thank you for reading.
~ Linda ~
That accusation of a new benefit, actually containing the word "Independence" in its title, yet having such a devastating effect on the hard-won independence of disabled people, who have hitherto managed alright for themselves due to their current DLA entitlement - that is deeply ironic. It's also scandalously wrong, and potentially tragic - but sadly it remains a fact that people will believe what they are told, if they are told it often enough, no matter how outrageous the deception - as I've mentioned before, it's The Big Lie in action.
These changes will happen; the determination of Cameron's Coalition to follow their chosen course has seen to that. But this doesn't absolve us as citizens from our responsibility for those unfortunates who will be most severely affected.
Should the disabled pay the highest price? I really don't think so.
Surely, it's time to stand up and be counted.