On Benefits……. mostly just a rant….

Admittedly, not my usual style. But important and relevant, I think.

OK, so this may make very little sense to my non-uk followers, but bear with me…. ask questions if you like… it’s very important. It’s a combined veneration and vilification of something wonderful… UK-centric, and VERY MUCH at risk right now. Want to know more? Comment or PM and I’ll happily carry on the debate :) happy reading!

I just feel like sharing this, because I feel that fairness is important. I may have been lucky, I may be the only one… but I’m gonna say something controversial…..

The benefit system is wonderful. It has given me hope and the means to survive when I truly had no other available options.

It’s not perfect, and it certainly IS under threat by current government policies, but I feel that sometimes the focus (deliberate propaganda…… or just my paranoia….?) is unfairly put on the DWP staff on the front line, who, in my experience, are doing their best under really difficult circumstances.

Not to mention the privatisation and outsourcing of the assessments, making them profit- and target- driven as opposed to led with compassion based on need. And also a further seeping out of public money into the private sector (but that’s off topic for this post). 

I also believe that my positive experience had something to do with a combination of fortunate circumstances acting in my favour. I went for assessment JUST after the assessors had received massive amounts of criticism for ruling people fit to work unfairly (in particular those with mental health problems). I also had the benefit of a specific diagnosis (many people who struggle with their mental health do not have this, making it even harder for them to express their difficulties, especially to an uninformed interviewer). I am also white, working class but highly educated (in Psychology) and very outspoken in my views. I believe that all of this acted in my favour to mean that I had an easier time of it than say, someone with learning difficulties, or someone who is not familiar with the language used by mental health professionals. Essentially, I knew what to say to make sure the appropriate boxes were ticked for me. Not to say they wouldn’t have been ticked anyway, because every word was true, but I will admit to having done my homework. Something that might be more difficult for someone without a degree in psychology. I also had a letter from my therapist, detailing my exact difficulties, which I just read from when things became difficult.

But anyway, back to my personal experience. I am currently unable to work. I have a number of complex and severe mental health diagnoses, for which I have been in treatment for 18 months and counting. I am in no way ashamed of this, and that, in my opinion, is right. It’s taken a lot of therapeutic work for me to be able to say (and believe!!!) this. But now I believe there should be no shame in needing help, and that anyone who NEEDS help DESERVES help.

My therapy has been, and is, fantastic. I am making huge progress (go NHS!!!) but one of the most important lifestyle changes I was asked to make by my therapist was to stop working for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t best pleased – I was sure I could manage. But I’ve had to accept (against my will, and with a lot of support) that work is incredibly unhealthy for me while in recovery; it severely interferes with my progress in therapy.

So, to return to my original point, I now live on benefits. I receive two disability benefits and housing benefit. Without these I would be destitute. My experience of assessment and decision making was unpleasant, onerous, slow, but every single individual Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) employee I spoke to (and believe me, there were a LOT) was kind, empathetic, understanding, and tried to help me to understand and negotiate a ridiculously complex and disjointed system as best they could. I know this is not everyone’s experience, and perhaps I got lucky… but I feel like there is a certain amount of scapegoating going on, where pressure is coming from “on high” and affecting employees ability to do their job with the degree of empathy they would like to at all times.

It took a long time, it was a painful and exhausting experience, but in the end I have been given the support I need. And I couldn’t be more grateful for those individuals, who decided to be kind enough to help me fill in the application over the phone, and ensure I understood each (convoluted) question. Explaining to me in plain English not only what the question meant, but which answer it would be best to put, given my circumstances. I really couldn’t appreciate them more. They truly did their best for me and were kind, warm, empathetic, everything one would hope for.

I’m truly sorry for anyone who didn’t get the positive experience I did. And I don’t for a minute dispute the fact that some people have been treated terribly by the very same system. I just think that my experience exemplifies that, once again, it is NOT the people whose job it is to answer the phones, and give us advice and assess our claims who should be blamed. Because I believe they are doing the best they can. The problem is not IMMIGRANTS it’s the rich, the elite, the current government, who set us against one another whilst they sit back in their mansions and laugh. Laugh because they have set us, the proles, one against each other, so we are distracted while they enact their capitalist coup. And then what? What becomes of us then?

So let’s stop criticising the “on the ground” workers. Let’s stop slagging off the NHS. Let’s get our heads straight and lay the blame, our outrage and protest, directly at the feet of those responsible. OUR GOVERNMENT.

So please. If you care about healthcare. If you think vulnerable people should be helped, not vilified. If you believe in equality and you don’t want this country to fall apart as the Tories continue with their current agenda of eradicating all nationalised services and acting only in the interests of businesses. Please, please direct your fury at those who ARE to blame. Stand up and be counted. Speak out. Speak up. Protest. Debate. TAKE ACTION. Before it’s too late.

Oh, and, incidentally, I am PROUD to be on benefits. Proud to live in a country where it’s possible for me to get the help I need. Proud and fortunate. And damned if I’m gonna stand by and let this wonderful system be destroyed without standing up and making myself heard!