I have been asked so many times now about claiming benefits from my support group I thought I would blog my experience and share it with you all.
I have to say this is the hardest blog I have written or am likely to write due to my feelings on the nature of the subject. Ridiculous I know, but there is a definite stigma about claiming benefits which the vast majority of hardworking people just can't get over, even when they are face with a life long illness or disability. I know many people (including myself) who would do anything rather than claim a health benefit because of societies view on claimants and it is time this view was re-addressed and rebalanced.
Firstly, the social security system was put in place initially to help those who were unable to work or unable to find suitable work for whatever reason and support them. Up until the time social security benefits were announced families supported each other through spells of hardship. This was often the reason young children or the older generation were found working low paid, back breaking jobs. The scheme was funded by the payment of tax's and National Insurance payments but as with anything it doesn't always work out the way it was intended. No I am not going to sit here and write pages about my opinion of social security benefits and how the system is set up but I feel it is sufficient to say there are a lot of hard feelings towards the system for one reason or another. It does appear that 'some' people are awarded vast amounts of money for doing very little when they are more than capable of work and others they are awarded very little or nothing at all when in fact they are genuinely struggling to work or live on the income they have. What I do know is that there re 1000's of people who are entitled to benefits who don't claim them because of the stigma attached and would rather go without. I was one of these until around 12 months ago when we got to the point we had no choice.
The cost of living has increased so much over the last 15 years and many wages have been frozen. My husband is a teacher for example and his wages have been frozen for over 5 years now. We understand why the government did this but it does seem unfair that my husband trained for 5 years (and paid for his own training out of hard work and our lives savings) to gain a good job with a well paid salary only to be penalised almost as soon as he'd moved off the qualifying pay scale. We're not the only ones, there are thousands of public sector workers who are in the exact same situation. 7 years ago we could support a young family of 3 children on that one wage. It was tight but we were able to do it but this has become increasingly hard and in the last two years especially we have struggled to make ends meet because I have not been able to work more than a few hours a week due to my health.
I first applied for Disability living allowance 5 years ago when my then rheumatologist and GP suggested I gave up work and focused on getting better. After a 4 month wait I was told I did not qualify for DLA because on bad days I could wash my hands and face without help! I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes, or walk downstairs at the time but I could get on and off the loo with help and wash my hands and face with a cloth so I was entitled to nothing. I didn't bother appealing. I simply carried on struggling and eventually built up a little online business from home so that even on days when I was bed bound I had the chance of earning something because the products sold themselves via the website. As time went on and the business grew this became a little more difficult as I had to organise collections, couriers, paper work, field emails and phone calls at all hours of the day and night. Eventually as my condition worsened I became anxious that I could no longer cope with all the work of the business. I had tried employing help but this wasn't financially viable being a small business. After a few years I was faced with the choice of taking the business to the next level which would have cost thousands or folding it. I tried the former and as it put even more pressure on my health,anxiety and depression ensued and I was eventually fit for nothing. I was so poorly I would spend weeks in bed unable to look after myself let alone my family.
One day I had gone to the post office to send a letter which needed weighing and stood in line behind an Australian chap. I had my stick with me and I was wishing he would stop chatting and let me take my turn as my legs were buckling beneath me and my head was spinning. I felt hot, sick, faint and I hurt. After a few moments something he said caught my attention. he said he had come to England because his daughter had a genetic disease and the treatment for this was costing them thousands of dollars. But he had been told that if he moved to the U.K his daughter would be treated for free. He even went on to say that because his wife worked in the health sector she had found it easy to obtain a job here (Great news) but he didn't have to find work because he was actually paid by our government to stay home and care for their daughter. Please don't get me wrong. If my child was ill and needed help I would go to any length I needed to get support for her and I couldn't fault him for that but I was angered by the fact that here I was, unable to work having had to give my business up and having tried all my adult life to work despite having auto immune disease, struggling to stand in a 2 person que for 5 minutes listening to someone state they had been given benefits when they had never paid a penny into our social security system and were not even U.K resident. I was fuming.
When I got home I went straight onto the computer to look up the job centre and made an appointment. I was told I was probably not entitled to anything but to fill in the forms and have a go. (How patronising was that?) I made an appointment with the CAB (Citizens advice bureau) and asked them to help me fill out the forms. My head was a shed. I had gone from running a company with a £100,000 per year turnover to being in such a state physically and mentally I couldn't even fill a form in properly. The CAB were brilliant and put me in touch with a debt management company because of business debts and actually filled the benefit forms in for me. They took their time to explain everything to me and I finally felt I had some support. By this point in my illness I was so depressed I just wanted to be dead. I didn't want to kill myself but I wanted to be dead. I couldn't cope. I couldn't function mentally or physically, I had panic attacks all day (and night) long, life just didn't seem worth living. We had huge debts, my husband was working three jobs and we were about to loose the house and the only way out was either me working full time (not possible) or taking myself out of the equation and hoping my life insurance would dig Dom and my children out of the huge hole I felt I had single handidly dug. What's stopped me giving up? My family. My babies more precisely. Every day they told me they loved me and wanted me to get better. My husband was brilliant. It took a long time for him to realise what I was going through and he never pretended to understand but he supported me as did our immediate family and one very good friend Marianne...to whom I honestly believe I owe my life.
I thank God daily for these Earth Angels because there is no real support for Fibromyalgia or depression patients. Even when I had a 5 hour 'manic' breakdown there was no support outside of my family. No surprise then that so many people do take their own lives and I will never think anyone of them is selfish or a coward because until your in that place with no support or until your life is such a frightening place to be you would rather die, then you have no qualification or right to criticize.
A few weeks after sending off the forms I was awarded £72.40 a week Employment support allowance based on my NI contibutions. It may not have been loads but it was massive for us. It meant the difference between eating and not eating. We had used every penny we had coming in to keep the boys fed, clothed and warm and I was so ashamed I couldn't even tell them that the bank had taken all their savings as well as ours to pay part of our debts off.
I waited almost 11 months for my assessment dates. How we got through that time I will never be able to say. We had to borrow money from family to stop us from loosing the house. Something I would never have done before but we had no choice. MY ESA assessment came first and I was awarded a £35 a week rise back dated to the 14th week of my claim. This went a long way to covering the overdraft in my food account. Then 12 weeks later I was awarded a sum of PIP. This cleared off the overdraft in the food account and bills account and helped us put some of the boys money back. I stated to feel a little more in control and gradually over the last couple of months I have started to feel better mentally and I feel I can cope physically with the flare ups. I am able to rest daily which decreases the chronic fatigue and I feel a little more like me.
The trouble I have now is that I am actually ashamed to say I have health benefits because so many people view everyone on benefits as dole dodgers or loosers. I had a close friend complain I was on more ESA than her when she had been on benefits for years and I had a working husband. Excuse me love but we paid into the scheme and for me this is a short term plan to get me well and back on my feet so I can work again. Not a long term 'Oh lets see what else we can get off the tax payers'. It is true we live in a lovely 4 bed house on a newish estate, but we worked long and hard to save for this house and our mortgage is no more than rent on a 3 bed property so selling it makes no sence but if I had to then yes I would. There are people on this estate who have 6 children with 4 or 5 different parents between them, people who have no intention to work and yet they are given £150-250,000 houses and the funds to keep them and yet they have no intention of working. Why should they? They have a wonderful house, money in their pocket, the kids are all dressed in designer gear, they smoke and drink and live a life of riley.
Now don't get me wrong there are people on benefits who struggle to put food on the table or clothes on the back of their kids but that is my point. Surely there is a fairer scheme which can assess who is genuinely in need of social security help and who is just milking the system for all it is worth. I have people in my fibro support groups who can't work or seriously struggle to work because of their health but who have no other choice because the state won't or can't support them and the really annoying thing is these people don't want a life time of hand outs, they want a helping hand to get them back on their feet and support them while they do what they can to support themselves. I didn't vote for the Conservative Party but I sincerely hope they can turn our benefit system around. I am currently looking for work I can do from home. Because of the arthritis in my neck it means I can't spend hours on a laptop. Even writing a blog will take me all day because I have to keep having breaks and then I am in agony for hours or days but I am determined to do something. Even if it is just supporting others via my group and my blog because that is rewarding in itself and helps me to come to terms with my condition as well as offering that life line to others who feel like I felt. I have been told several times now I have saved someone's life just by being a person they can turn too and by writing about my own experiences. If I can help one person learn to love life again then I have achieved something and that means going through all of this has been worth it.
Claiming a health benefit is hard work, it can make you feel worthless. You feel like you have to look over your shoulder every minute of the day and if you tell anyone your on them their reactions are so varied you could almost write a book on just that. It is such a shame that disabled people or those with long term illnesses have to fight so hard for something they are entitled too and many of them carry on working as best they can. After all the money from a health benefit is usually taken up buying aids to help make life as normal as possible. When was the last time you looked at buying a wheelchair? They start at £250 for a bog standard no good to anyone who really needs one price and go up to an individually built superb £6000 price. If you can't work or need support to work then how else can you afford such an item which lets face it isn't a luxury but an essential item. I think the point is you have to do what is right for you. If you need to claim then make a claim. There is no shame in claiming a health benefit if you need it and the adaptions you can purchase are expensive. I have been able to pay off a few debts, get an electric wheelchair and a new walking stick because some days I need to use two at one time. I am now also looking into a motability car so I can have a hoist for my wheelchair, and a higher car so it is easier to get in and out of. The problem arises from motability cars just being normal cars but because of this amazing scheme you get a new car every three years which can be fitted with any adaptions you need to make your life more independent. Road tax, insurance, breakdown cover, servicing, MOT and even tyres are all included in the monthly payment and should your condition change, maybe meaning you need different adaptions, then there is the option of changing the car early. Surely that is better than worrying about stigma. I know my blue badge has been a boon for me and the amount I was awarded doesn't cover everything but it certainly takes the pressure off a bit so I can concentrate of looking after myself and being as well as I can be.
Hi my Name is Philippa Woodsford and I am a Holistic therapist, Reiki Master Teacher and Hypnotherapist. I suffer with anxiety and depression due to a condition called fibromyalgia which I believe is linked with an auto immune disease I was diagnosed with at just 17. My blog is written for me as a sort of journal but also in the hope it may bring hope and healing to others suffering with similar issues on a daily basis. Enjoy