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Two weeks ago my friend Yvonne became so ill doctors felt it necessary to put her into a medically induced coma, to save her life. Thankfully, she is now out of the coma, receiving regular kidney dialysis, but still quite sick.
In her adult life Yvonne has gone through a double lung transplant, breast cancer, skin cancer, and numerous other illnesses, but she worked until her doctor told her she had to stop. She then ‘languished’ on Incapacity Benefit (IB) until, against expert advice,the then Employment Minister Chris Grayling decided to extend Work Capability Assessments to existing IB claimants.
Yvonne, a strong and cheerful character, found the Work Capability Assessment a humiliating and distressing experience which reduced her to tears and exacerbated the pain of her condition. After some time she was told that she had been placed in the Work Related Activity Group. This meant that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Decision Maker had decided she could return to work in the future, and was obliged to take part in ‘work-related activity’ if she was to receive any benefits.
When Yvonne duly reported at the Jobcentre for her appointment, the staff took one look at her and told her to appeal the decision. They also advised her to apply for Disability Living Allowance, which after some persuasion she did. Her application was turned down. She is too ill to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. With no support from the welfare state she has struggled on with the help of family, and has had money worries added to the considerable difficulties in her life.
No doubt the DWP and its supporters in government would express concern and say that Yvonne’s is an exceptional case: but that would simply not be true. There are a growing number of people who cannot get support from the DWP and for whom the welfare state has effectively ceased to exist.
Critically ill people may apply for support, but with waiting times now approaching a year, the brutal reality is that many may be dead before their claim is even processed. They are forced to go to payday lenders to meet basic costs. Even people who are currently receiving benefits live in a constant state of anxiety, ‘dreading the brown envelope’ and fearing that their meagre support could be withdrawn at any time. This means that alarm and rumour spread quickly on social media, as happened in recent days regarding Personal Independence Payments This is the benefit which replaces Disability Living Allowance, which David Cameron received for his late son Ivan, and which in Opposition he promised to make easier to obtain.
It is not just financial support that people like Yvonne are being denied. According to research from the London School of Economics
"The past five years has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of adults receiving social care. We now know that there are half a million older and disabled people who would have been eligible for social care in 2008, but who now go without social care support…The current underfunding of care is forcing the Government to set the new ‘national eligibility threshold’ too high, at the equivalent of ‘substantial’…This means those adults who ‘are or will be unable to carry out several personal care tasks’ will not be eligible for social care."
The Prime Minister now speaks frequently about the success of his ‘long term economic plan’, and an economic recovery which he says is gaining momentum. He fails to mention the hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people his government appears to have abandoned along the way.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet