Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Benefits trap

Having had no news yet about our claim I thought I’d muse about the benefit trap I’m finding so hard to get out of.

I have been gearing myself up to be employable for a few years now by doing various courses to better qualify me for work. However whilst I’m doing this the Governments keep moving the goalposts, making it more difficult each time they do. I would ideally want to combine working with what I consider the important role of being a mum. Yes my younger children are both growing up now but they do still need my input, and as it is me who has to deal with their problems (due to my partner’s illness he just isn’t very good at coping with this). Since the government has changed the rules around working tax credit I feel I will struggle with this as possibly I will have to find 2 jobs in order to get the required hours. I know many mums do work full-time and that’s their choice but I do believe that many of societies problems today are due to the downgrading of the importance of bringing up children. If you had to pay someone to do this job it would  cost  a lot of money. Many mums are forced to work to keep families afloat, and children are given material possessions to appease the guilt that is felt about not having enough time to spend with them. My children have never had this material affluence but they have had someone there for them when they’ve needed them. In turn they’ve grown into valuable members of society and all those of working age have jobs. I don’t regret not having worked full-time, although I would perhaps have worked part-time from when they were school age if I had been able to find work to fit in with school hours again not an easy task. I was however never given any advise on the fact that if I was to work we could claim WTC and believed that I needed to work full-time and this wasn’t possible due to my partner’s illness. Even when my partner was working the pay was so poor we were forced to claim benefits to be able to pay our bills because of the poor pay. The only way we would have avoided this was for us both to work full-time. So again back to mum being undervalued.

The same is still true now because of the employment situation and the fact I haven’t worked for a long time, haven’t got the relevant certificates needed these days and until my children are a little older want to work part-time, (I would  still not be comfortable leaving children alone with partner for long periods of time) I will still need to claim some sort of benefit. As I am not the claimant at the moment there is no help for me, I have asked on a number of occasions but unless I turn to drink or drugs no one wants to know. So everything I have done has been done alone. Any help I have had to complete any courses has been sought out by me. Not everyone has the motivation to do this – more help should be available. You shouldn’t have to fight for all the information at a time when you are vulnerable -it should be out there. It’s a sorry state when even the DWP aren’t clued about how to help their claimants or their partners to get out of their dire situation.

Instead of the past Labour government cozying up to business making it easy for them to pay a poor wage which could then be topped up in benefits they should have been promoting a fair wage for work so that no one in full-time work needed to be propped up by the state. But then we wouldn’t have been grateful to them for their handouts would we? Unfortunately it is a fact of life that in some cases a poorly paid job when you take into account travel costs, loss of free school meals etc works out to be less than JSA for some people. Although the work ethic is to be applauded it doesn’t put food on the table and after all for those in low paid work this is why they work isn’t it?

week 2

And breathe!! I’ve done all I can now, contacted all relevant parties concerning our plight and now must give them a bit of time to sort things out before I get back to them if I think they are taking an unreasonably long time. Getting in touch with my MP has proved to be a complete waste of time. I want to actually speak with or be contacted by my MP herself not one of her office workers but this has proved impossible and unfortunately the advise given or  indeed help given as been nothing short of useless!! We are managing – just but I know that this would be impossible long-term.  Fortunately I have become very good at budgeting with very little cash.

I am coping and although I have felt as if I was drowning in a sea of despair at times – not much of a help to my mental health. I saw my counsellor for the last time this week and hopefully I have learned  coping strategies so I won’t need her in the future. We’ll see. Feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind over the last week so will now take the time to think of the next step towards freeing myself from being reliant on the benefits system. Just be aware that this is not always easy and not everyone can do it. It becomes a trap from which it is so difficult to free yourself. More about that later…..

Form Filling!:(

Time to fill in the dreaded form!

Q: Has your illness or disability changed since you last told us about it?

Can I put Yes not only is my partner over the edge but I’m at risk of going over the edge with all the stress too!!

Q: Is anyone getting, or has anyone just stopped getting, Child Benefit for you?

surely this question should read Are you or your partner getting, or have stopped getting Child benefit for any dependent children?

And there are loads of questions where after saying no the logical next step would have been please go to question XX but it goes on to ask all sorts of irrelevant questions and even says please answer all these questions even if you think they do not apply to you. Why answer them when you’ve already answered a question with NO, so they clearly don’t apply to you.

Perhaps they could set me on proof reading their forms for them, don’t think I could do a worse job than whoever does it now!!!!!!!

It’s no wonder welfare rights centres are inundated with people needing help with these forms because even if you think you are fairly intelligent you finish up questioning your ability to complete them with the stupid way a lot of the questions are worded.

Banging my Head against a Brick Wall !!!

Well spent much of Wednesday on the phone or waiting for the phone to ring having left messages for people to ring me back.  Eventually managed to get some information regarding our claim, the upshot being that we have to fill a form in to try to get some money for myself as ESA doesn’t pay extra for dependents during the assessment phase (or this is what we’ve been told), and my partner is only going to get £67.50 per week. So until it’s sorted I’m supposed to live on fresh air am I? The fella on the phone assured me that it wouldn’t take long once the form was filled in to sort it all out, sorry if I’m not convinced! I also phoned my MP, but to be honest her receptionist didn’t seem to know much about the rules around ESA either, and the MP herself was unavailable. She did promise to look into to and phone back so we’ll see what happens. Welfare rights centre didn’t ring us so am guessing they were too busy……….

Decided to try the internet which seems to bear out that in reality ESA is very little more than job seekers allowance, but what it does say is there should be no break in payments (http://www.direct.gov.uk/). Obviously the whole point of this sorry exercise is to get as many of the claimants on payments equivalent to JSA and it seems to work on the premise that none of them are really ill and they are all scroungers.

Fast forward to Friday and when I get back from a medical appointment I find the Form which we need to fill in is actually a 49 page booklet wanting to know how many times I have a s**t. Still no phone call from the welfare rights centre and whilst I can appreciate the problems they face at present it just makes it more stressful when you are left waiting. Accompanying the booklet is a letter with my partner’s entitlement on it stating that from January his money will change until his appeal is heard ……… wait I thought it was nearly March now……. would have been good to know this before we were left in this situation!!!

It’s now Saturday and this morning we received a letter from the MP which was basically a waste of a stamp, giving us the number of the welfare rights people and saying it would be best to give them a call. Not good enough ….I’m not leaving it there.  So Monday looks set to be another busy day of trying to get some answers on where we go from here.

FROM INCAPACITY BENEFIT TO NO BENEFIT

I’ve decided not to bore everyone with the details of previous altercations with the DWP,  but believe me there have been many and probably just as many with the housing benefit section at the council. I’ll just concentrate on whats happening now.

In November my partner was called in for an assessment medical and subsequently received a letter saying nil points, as so many people on incapacity benefit have. He sought advice from a welfare rights centre, which is incidentally very underfunded by the council, and was advised to appeal against the decision, which he did. We then received a letter saying that they’d look into it again before sending it to appeal. We fully expected a drop in money and we were advised the appeals were taking up to 8 months to process. The amount of his claim didn’t change until Tuesday of this week when he went to get it only to find out there was nothing in. We’d had no letter, nothing, so we’re supposed to live on fresh air then?

Cue another trip to welfare rights centre, where they are so overworked with all the welfare changes that they are beginning to make mistakes which doesn’t instill confidence in the service does it? Not their fault I know but it all adds to the stress. They did manage to contact DWP but they seem equally under stress and though the fella on the phone was apologetic, he didn’t seem to know what we should be getting either and said he’d have to phone us at home the next day after he’d sought advice.

This is where the headache becomes mine and I have to begin searching the internet for help. OMG what a performance. More next time.

A Bit of Background

Hi I’m Lizzie, just thought I’d give you some background info before I begin in earnest.  I’m a forty something mum of five, two of whom are still school age and so at home. About 12 years ago my partner had to leave his poorly paid job due to ill-health and claim incapacity benefit, and we have survived on benefits since. I haven’t worked since having the children because

A) I happen to think its important for a mum to be at home whilst the kids are young and

B) my partners illness meant that it may be dangerous to leave the kids with him for any length of time.

As my kids began to grow I decided I wanted to go out into the world and earn a living. I don’t want to be dependent on benefits for the rest of my life and I’m not an unintelligent person so I embarked on a course to learn how to use computers at an adult education centre, to improve my chances. Whilst studying to gain a CLAIT plus, I decided to do a short course in Bookkeeping with the Open University. I passed both these and am now studying for an Open degree with them. Unfortunately the stresses of life on benefits has resulted in me having counselling for mild depression but I don’t intend to give up and intend one day to be benefit free. In the meantime my fight goes on against a system that doesn’t encourage or help you to become independent and off benefits and where even in work you very often find yourself needing to claim a top up benefit in order to survive.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the latest saga on my partner’s move from incapacity benefit to ESA.

Bye for now.