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ESA (Employment Support Allowance)

I am going to attempt to try and create, as honestly as my memory and writing capabilities allow, what my life was like leading up to  my brain haemorrhage.  I am not jotting this down for some kind of warming egotistical nostalgic reasons that only I and maybe my family would find interesting but  because like I mentioned  in my first post , one of the reasons I  agreed to do this was to try and document and make some kind of sense about  how an exploding blood vessel in my head changed my life and the lives of  those around me.  I am  later hoping to bring the story up to date as the Welfare Reform Bill or more specifically the transition of the old Incapacity Benefit to the new Employment Support Allowance starts to bite and how it as effected me. I am hoping that the narration  will stay apolitical, not leaning to any side of the political spectrum, left, centre or right because I am convinced that  we,disabled and sick people,as individuals mean nothing to either side. We are statistics on a spreadsheet, a burden that costs the treasury increasing  billions of pounds a year and this expense must be reduced at any cost………and if I am really  honest, a part of me tends to agree with this thinking or maybe I  am becoming conditioned to feel ” guilty” about the benefit that I currently recieve. I don’t know.

The last Government initiated the Welfare Reform Bill which was then taken up whole heartedly by the current Coalition Government and more; so we could say that it was a joint party initiative. I knew that the reforms would effect me in some way; and if  I’m really honest, I  was in agreement myself that the benefit system needed an overhaul, but I went along thinking that genuine cases of disability , that people like me were “safe”.  I thought that the “bad back” malingerers would be the ones to be hit, the ones caught playing golf or football or riding a bike or digging the garden; these would be the unfortunates who had to worry. I thought that I was one of the “safe” ones; like I thought before my illness that I was safe. That the bad luck of a heart attack or cancer or a car smash or a disability or a break in or a loss would never happen to me. I now know that my feeling of safeness is fundamentally flawed. There is no “safe”, there is never a “safe”.

If I was reading this, I know for a fact I’d be thinking, “ oh here we go again, yet another sob story, another load of soul searching rubbish, another skiver who doesn’t want to get off his arse and get a job  ”, and I would  move on to something else and I don’t blame you if you do. I get sick of reading or listening to this stuff too. However, the blood vessel that burst in my head, supplied the oxygenated blood, the food, to my right optical cortex, so when it burst it flooded that  area with blood and cut off any further supply to the brain tissue. A bleed inside the brain is devastating to brain tissue, it‘s like sand paper. Brain cells, deprived of a blood supply, will die in the matter of minutes, never to recover. Never to recover!   I was left with half vision, yes I really do mean half vision, not the PC expression, partially sighted, I mean literal Half Vision and then there are the daily epileptic incidents as a result of the brain damage and more about that in later posts too and also the stone breaking headaches and the effects of having to take a handful of  medication to keep the fits at bay. Anyhow, I have been deemed fit for work and I really do intend  to try and find a job. So this blog may well end up as an interesting chronicle of one mans attempt to play by the rules and heaven help the Employer who takes me on; even if I get as far as an interview; I’m going to try and document it all. I read recently, and how accurate these statistics are I can’t be sure, that over 30 people have died from their illnesses of those that have been classified as fit for work. I suppose 30 odd is a negligible figure, probably well within Government  guidelines. I can just picture the Whitehall mandarins sitting round an oval table coming to the conclusion that  30 deaths make no difference to the overall objectives and pass the biscuits please. Remember that  I was a Civil Servant…I know how it works. I wonder whether I’ll be another statistic. Who knows. I pray I won’t be. So, if you can cope with my  style of jotting, it should be an interesting journey for us all. Lee

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Imagine you are struck down by an illness; an health problem that incapacitates you.  You are debilitated so much so that you cannot work. You cannot work for some months or even a year or two or longer. What happens when your statutory sick pay runs out. How are you going to pay your bills. How are you going to pay your mortgage or rent, the utility bills, food…..the essentials. If you have a working partner then the burden will fall on them no doubt but what if you don’t, what if you are the only wage earner, what happens?. You may well have a little bit of savings but not much, enough to see you through a few months maybe or even a year or two if your lucky. You may be able to turn to your family for help, that’s if your family are in any kind of position themselves to help you financially.

We would all I should think, turn automatically to the benefit system. To the State, the welfare State to see us through this difficult, stressful time. After all haven’t we been paying our National Insurance to cover us for such eventualities. We would expect the State to help us wouldn’t we, us being genuine cases who need assistance. Well if you can spare 25 minutes or so have a look at this edition of Channel 4’s Despatches from a few weeks ago it may change your mind as to how “ caring ’’ our benefit system really is. It came to my attention when I heard the programme mentioned in a discussion last week on Radio 4.

From my own experience I know how tough and impersonal the new ESA ( Employment Support Allowance )benefit assessments are and in this programme we are shown secretly filmed footage as a doctor goes undercover to train as a medical assessor with the multi national IT French based Atos. This is the private company that now evaluates every claimant for ESA.

Here are some notable quotes from the programme.

From a doctor working for Atos as a trainer “ My speciality is not recognised in this country, so I decided to join Atos”.

Again from the same trainer, “ We should remember that ESA was meant to take people off the benefit”.

And again, “ If someone has no legs but good hands they can propel themselves in a wheelchair, they don‘t get anything”.

And again “ If you lip read or use Braille you are fit for work”. “ As long as you’ve got one finger and can press a button you don’t get anything”.

As a result of pressure from charity groups the Government have launched a review into how people with cancer are being treated. It clearly shows in the programme that certain treatments for cancer, even chemotherapy is no guarantee that you will qualify for benefit under ESA.

So let us hope and pray that you or a member of your family are never struck down with a sickness that stops you from working because the way it looks at the moment the State isn’t going to help you. My ESA benefit stops from 5th October this year. I am deemed fit for work. My appeal is still pending.

Lee