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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Imagine

Imagine this happening in real life:

You're a single parent with three children. When your kids were all under the age of five years, you couldn't really work because of childcare and stuff  So, you got Income Support on the basis that you were a single parent. Your Income Support was awarded quite a few years ago. Before, you know, The Big Changes.

Also, you haven't been very well for a long time because of osteoarthritis and chronic migraine. You can't walk very well and you can't raise either of your arms above your head and you can't really move your neck, and your migraines are so bad that they make you vomit (this happens about three times per week). This is reason number two why you can't work. You have worked but working isn't an option for you right now.

Oh, also, you're a Dutch national. You've lived in the UK for 11 years though. So, you're pretty established here. And, remember, you used to work here. You used to work loads.

When your youngest child has reached the age of five, you get a letter from the Income Support department telling you that you're no longer entitled to Income Support because your children's ages have surpassed the threshold for you to be entitled as a single parent.

This is a correct and legal decision. And you think, this decision is legal and correct and fair enough.

And then you think about what your options are.

Options.

Oh, here they are:

a) you do nothing. This is a bad option

b) you try to find a job or at least make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance while you find a job. This isn't a great option because you're not very well. You're not very well at all and, even if you found a job, you'd probably have to take loads of days off sick and you'd end up getting sacked

c) you try to find out if there is another benefit that you can get to help you on the basis that you're too sick to work. And you find out that there is.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

You make a claim for this sickness benefit called Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and you get paid the basic amount of it while your claim is being 'properly assessed'.

After your claim has been a bit assessed, you get a letter telling you that you're not entitled to ESA because you don't have the right to reside in the UK. Because you're a Dutch national, remember? This means that you can't get certain means-tested benefits like ESA and Income Supp-

But, hang on a sec, you think. I've lived here for 11 years. I've worked here. And also, I got Income Support for ages and nobody told me that I didn't have the right to reside back then.

The benefit department shrugs at you.

So then you're a bit annoyed because it's not fair.

So you ask if you can appeal. And you can. So you do. But while you're appealing, you don't get any money at all.

But then you get told that, while you're appealing, you might be able to make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance so that you can have some money in the meantime.

But, hang on a sec, you think. Jobseekers Allowance is for people who are looking for work. And I'm not really looking for work because I can hardly get out of bed in the morning because of my migraines and my arthritis.

But you get told that making a claim for Jobseekers Allowance is the only way for you to have a chance of an income while you're appealing the right to reside / ESA decision. So you make the claim. And your claim is successful.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

When you go for your initial Jobseekers meeting, you tell the adviser all about yourself and the adviser tells you that you're not well enough to work and that you should make a claim for ESA.

You try to explain to the adviser that the only reason you're making this claim for Jobseekers Allowance is because you're waiting for an ESA appeal to be processed.

The adviser shrugs at you. 

And your Jobseekers Allowance claim is closed.

So, you quickly make a new claim for Jobseekers Allowance but the same thing happens again. And again.

So now, you're really peeved. And you're really broke. And you have to go to food banks and not have any electricity and not buy your growing children new shoes and your Housing Benefit stops and your landlord nearly evicts you and you're hungry and cold and quite down about it all.

And, after about 13 months you go to your right to reside / ESA appeal hearing. And your appeal is successful.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

It's explained to you that, even though your appeal about having the right to reside was successful, that still doesn't mean that you'll definitely be entitled to ESA because now you have to have a medical assessment. You see, the decision about the right to reside was made before any decisions were made about your health problems.

And you think, that seems fair enough. I'll happily go to a medical assessment.

And off you go.

And a few weeks after you've attended your 13-minute medical assessment, you get a letter telling you that you're not entitled to ESA because you didn't score enough points on the point-scorer. It's decided that you're well enough to work.

But hang on a sec, you think. I've got osteoarthritis and a vomit-inducing headache most of the time. How can I be well enough to work?

The benefit department shrugs at you.

So you ask if you can appeal. And you can. So you do. But while you're appealing, you don't get any money at all.

But then you get told that, while you're appealing, you can make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance so that you can have some money in the meantime.

But, hang on a sec, you think. Jobseekers Allowance is for people who are looking for work. And I'm not really looking for work because I can hardly get out of bed in the morning because of my migraines and my arthritis.

But you get told that making a claim for Jobseekers Allowance is the only way for you to have a chance of an income while you're appealing the ESA decision. So you make the claim. And your claim is successful.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

When you go for your initial Jobseekers meeting, you tell the adviser about yourself and the adviser tells you that you're not well enough to work and that you should make a claim for ESA.

But hang on a sec, you say to your adviser at the JobCentre. It was your department that made a decision that I was well enough to work; a decision that I'm appealing. And the only reason I'm asking for Jobseekers Allowance is so that I can have an income while my appeal is processed. And now you're telling me that I'm too sick to work which is what I've been trying to tell you the whole time. I'm confused. I'm confused and tired.

The adviser shrugs at you. 

And your Jobseekers Allowance claim is closed.

So, you call the ESA call-centre to say that the adviser at the JobCentre - ostensibly a colleague of the person you're talking to on the phone - has told you that you're definitely too sick to work so can you please just have your ESA right now and be done with it all.

And the whole of the call centre does a massive, blank-faced shrug at you down the phone.

So, you decide that before you do anything else, you're going to go for a lie down and a nice read. And you go to the library and borrow a copy of The Castle by Franz Kafka and you read the whole thing in one go and then you read it backwards and then you cry yourself to sleep.

1 comment:

  1. I'm terrified of this happening as I came out of working in call centre for DWP(wash my mouth out!)taking benefit claims, as it was so stressful and I wasn't well enough to keep going. Surprisingly, DWP weren't a very considerate employer as when I had a hip replaced, they called me regularly to do "back to work interviews", asked me to come in on crutches at one point, etc., etc. When I left I decided to claim JSA and I was asked by colleagues why I didn't claim ESA and I reminded them of people like yourself and others who were calling in with horror stories like this and they said they saw what I meant, Unfortunately being nearly 50 when I left and not having that many skills&qualifications, many employers weren't interested in taking me on, especially when they met me, saw the walking stick and how old I was! So 2 years go by and I'm forced to go on the "Work Programme, while still signing on at Jobcentre, they would offer me a "personalised help package to get me into work". This was another big fat lie and I knew more than the Advisors and all that happened was I spent ages travelling by bus to sit in an office, while the Advisor typed loads of crap into a system, I signed paper, he looked at my job log and on&on. I carried on getting some interviews and was told that they went well, many seemed to but I was never offered a job. Meanwhile, my health and disability were getting worse and i was getting exhausted and stressed trying to find places for job interviews, sitting in the Jobcentre atmosphere etc. Finally I foolishly took a temporary agency job late September in an office quite near where I live, so little travelling. I couldn't cope physically and mentally as I now have so many memory and concentration problems and can't take things in easily. I kept being asked why I wasn't picking things up and I couldn't explain to them and or they couldn't understand, though I tried. It was full time and stressful trying to actually sign off, sort out my Housing Benefit etc. so every evening&weekend I mostly slept and unable to do much. Finally after 6 weeks they said they couldn't keep me on as I was making too many errors and wasn't picking things up fast enough. I was mortified as I've never been "let go", "dismissed", "sacked" or anything from any job, have left a fair few, but always me doing this&usually went to another one. I made mistake of trying to sign back on for JSA, thinking I'd have missed out on the "coming to the end of the Work Programme". Well, I was wrong as they didn't class the job as long term or sustainable, so I was warned that they now had a special hit squad who would have us on the "toughest regime" ever, possibly signing on daily, registering with the awful Universal Jobmatch(refused to use it before) and it would be difficult and the Advisor said off the record they knew the Work Programme had been a disaster!!! But I and others would still be made to pay for it. After talking to me for a while and seeing the look on my face, she asked if I was could see my Doctor and get signed off, at least for 6 months, to give me "breathing space", so that's what I did and have had to apply for ESA, which I had hoped not to do. I've received the ESA50 Work Capability Assessment form mid December, told to have it back to them by latest 10/1/2014 and wouldn't extend it, so I spent day after day doing it in small bites, only having Xmas and Boxing Day off. Had to get guides and help online as no local groups had anyone to help as they're backed up until early February. So I'm now living in dread of what will happen and have lost £20 a week in disability premium I got on JSA and even though I worked for DWP, shocked to find i won't get that on ESA!!!!

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