[I consider it a privilege, albeit a sad and profoundly bitter one, to publish this guest post on behalf of a good friend of mine. Please read, respond and share. Thank you.]
Almost exactly 4 years ago in January 2009 I wrote a blog post detailing how I would end my own life rather than lose my income under threat of the government’s welfare changes making ESA a virtual impossibility. I don’t have a blog any more but here I am four years later writing about almost the exact same situation; all that’s changed is the detail. The basic message is the same: the welfare changes are going to kill me.
On the 28th January 2013, there will be changes to the way people are assessed for Employment Support Allowance [ESA]. These have been advertised as “minor” changes; however they are not minor to those of us who will be affected by them.
Firstly, there will be complete separation of physical and mental health difficulties. This means that if your chronic pain gives you depression, it will be ignored. If your mental illness means you can’t communicate effectively, it will be ignored. Likewise if your medication for mental illness causes physical effects, they will be ignored. If your medication for physical illness causes cognitive impairment, it will be ignored.
Secondly, there is the extended “imaginary wheelchair” idea. If you’re blind but don’t happen to have a guide dog, the assessor will say you could get on with things perfectly well if you had a guide dog and your blindness will be ignored. If you have no arms they’ll say you should be wearing prosthetic ones and it will be ignored.
This also equates to forced medication. If you aren’t taking a particular medication yet the assessor thinks you should be – please remember these are assessors that could be physiotherapists or non-practising nurses – you will be deemed fit to work and told you should be taking the meds. No matter how those meds would affect you, what other difficulties they cause or your own personal choice.
I’m going to explain how this will affect me. Not to elicit sympathy or whine, but to put into context what the changes might mean in practical terms in the hope that readers will be as outraged as I am scared and want to help do something about it.
The separation of mental and physical health is ludicrous. Part of my ESA entitlement is based on my communication difficulties. I can’t always speak, write, phone, email… Yes this is one blog post with reasonably lucid train of thought, but you don’t see all the abandoned writings that fizzle out after 4 lines of gibberish or don’t even make it out of my head. Yes I can talk to one trusted person on the phone – sometimes. But the calls have to be planned and are often declined. Talking to strangers simply doesn’t happen. When you have voices going round your head stealing your thoughts and inserting new ones and repeatedly telling you you’re a piece of shit, small talk at the checkout just doesn’t happen. Communicating effectively with a line manager would be impossible [and I am speaking from past experience].
However, because the communication descriptors lie in the physical section of the Work Capability Assessment [WCA], I will be deemed to be able to communicate perfectly and therefore fit to work. There are more of the physical descriptors that are directly affected by my mental health; there’s one example.
Next, the idea that any therapy or medication I’m not currently having will be seen as the cure and I’ll be immediately found fit for work on the basis that I “could” be taking/using it. There is an antipsychotic that works reasonably well, symptom wise. The reason it works so well is it puts me to sleep for 16 hours a day and zombifies me the rest of the day to the point I stop functioning and therefore stop caring about voices and don’t have the energy to self-harm. I had a choice between taking it and sleeping for 16 hours straight, or not taking it and taking something that doesn’t work as well but doesn’t turn me into a duvet monster.
Under the newest changes, I’d be found fit to work on the basis that I would be expected to take meds that made me sleep for 16 hours a day. I wonder when I should work in the remaining eight-hour period? Or maybe I could work in my sleep, doorstops are expensive these days and a sleeping mental would probably prove to be effective both in cost and functionality.
I’m currently waiting for CBT; I expect to be waiting for about 5 more months at least. I intend to take up the therapy, however the waiting list prevents me at the moment. Still, according to the assessor, if I were receiving CBT I’d be able to function therefore I’ll be found fit to work even if I’m still on the waiting list.
And it goes on. How can you separate physical and mental symptoms? Physical symptoms make you feel like crap; mental symptoms affect what you are able to do practically. So many different therapies and medications are out there, but actually taking the meds and getting access to the therapy is a different matter entirely. Not to mention that no two people are alike and a therapy or drug that works for one person might not work for another.
Once again I find myself planning a suicide for all the wrong reasons, because the government doesn’t want me to live and I refuse to allow them to kill me first.
I’ve taken the following from Sue Marsh’s blog Diary of a Benefit Scrounger. She lists what we can do to try to reverse this latest attack. Please read her blog which tells the story of these changes in more detail.
Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency here).
Talk to friends and family and share links to her blog post.
Sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again. And ask all of your friends to sign too.