Georgie Porgie’s Disability Benefit Plans

New benefit caps in the UK mean that disabled claimants are going to be receiving around £30 less a week.

The Guardian said yesterday 21/07/15: “Under the proposed legislation, future disabled and chronically ill claimants in the employment and support allowance’s (ESA) work-related activity group will see their benefit cut to the rate of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA). That means people with Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis losing £30 a week.”

This bill does not affect me in a personal way, as I am lucky not to be disabled, but seeing changes like this in the UK makes me sad. In 2010, before I went to university, while I pondered what to do with my life, I briefly worked as a carer for people with spinal cord injuries. I took up this job because I was considering going into nursing and thought it would be a glimpse into the caring profession. I worked for an agency that provided people with 24/7 live-in care,a lot of the clients I worked for received disability benefits, while others paid for their own care.

The government’s plans brought back some memories of one particular client I worked with. This gentleman was suffering from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative nervous system condition which affects the coating around nerve fibres. He had been in a wheelchair for around 15 years and was paralysed from the neck down; he could only move his head and face. I remember one day he woke up feeling very nervous, when I asked him why, he said he was expecting a visit from the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) to assess whether he was fit for work and to recalculate his benefit allowance. The thought of anyone considering this man fit for work was risible, especially as I and another day carer helped to hoist him from his bed into his wheelchair. This client required literal 24/7 care to do as much as even have a drink of water, so he knew that if his benefits were curtailed he would have to pick up the bill himself, which by care agency’s estimates would be around £28,000 a year. His anxiety was clear as if his benefits had been curtailed, he would not be able to afford to pay someone to help him get washed or get out of bed.

The DWP people came and sat in his living room, looking very uncomfortable sitting on the edge of the sofa, and clearly saw that he was not fit for work as I held up a cup of tea with a straw for him to sip. For a while his benefits remained intact, although I hate to think that they may have been recalculated since then. Under the new rules brought in by George Osborne this man will probably be losing money.

But, £30 less a week is nothing I hear you say… yes, to someone who is working and has a regular income, but in the case of this man it may mean a lot. The government is slowly chipping away at the structures that have been put in place to help sustain those in our society that cannot look after themselves. We are watching as our social support networks wither away.

Now, I hasten to add that I am not suggesting that the government give free money away to those who could be working. I also worked with some younger clients who were in wheelchairs and had full use of their upper bodies who could most definitely have sustained an office job and chose not to. I can see a case for curtailing their benefits.

Yes, we are facing budget cuts and as the government is keen on telling us, everyone must shoulder their part of the burden, but we should not be translating this onto people with chronic disability.

I think it was Gandhi that said that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members, so I wonder what these new plans say about British society? If someone who can only move their head and totally depends on a carer to live has to worry about not being supported, I think the system is failing.

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