Guest post: What the benefit reforms will mean to us

This is a guest post by @chmasu.

In 1992 my husband, Kevin, was working as a self-employed plumber and heating engineer. We were living in a private sector rented house with our three children aged 14, 9 and 6; and I was pregnant with our fourth child. When I was in my sixth month of pregnancy Kevin sustained a severe back injury, which left him unable to walk or stand up. After a six month wait Kevin was operated on, after which he could walk upright. However it became apparent that his back was not completely healed and it transpired that there was considerable scar tissue on the nerve, causing severe pain and limiting the distance he could walk and the amount of time he could stand. This scarring and pain was, we were told, permanent.

Following a face-to-face medical examination Kevin was awarded Disability Living Allowance (DLA), initially for a year and then, after another face-to-face medical examination by a Doctor, he was given what was then called a lifetime award. This enabled him to lease a car from Motability (I am not able to drive so our previous old banger of a car had gone). He was also awarded Incapacity Benefit, also with a face-to-face medical assessment. We claimed Housing benefit to help with the rent.

Kevin was not able to return to the plumbing work for which he was qualified so it was necessary to re-train. He studied part-time at our local F.E. College and obtained a BTEC National Diploma in Computing and Electronics. Despite his severe dyslexia he passed with distinctions in all subjects and was given the prize for best student on his course. He then obtained a Diploma of Higher Education in Computing. With these quantifications he chose to stop the Incapacity Benefit, despite it having just been renewed, and return to work part-time, eventually increasing to full time. Incapacity Benefit was replaced by Disability Working Allowance (DWA). None of the study or work would have been possible without the Motability car.

Over the years the DWA was replaced by Working Tax Credit (WTC) with a Disability premium. After 10 years working as a computer repair engineer for one of Britain’s leading small computer manufacturers he was made redundant when the company folded. There followed a year of JSA interspersed with very low-paid contract work.

Eventually he was encouraged by the Jobcentre to go self-employed. He started a computer repair business in partnership with our eldest child, who was also chronically ill, and who unfortunately became too ill to work, so Kevin continues as a sole trader, working from home. There is a steady trickle of work, but not enough to provide more than a very meagre income. It was not possible to get any finance from the bank so we put into the business all the money we could muster from the redundancy payment and a small inheritance from my parents. (Incidentally this inheritance put us just over the savings limit for Housing Benefit and they deducted an amount from our payment for two years,until we could prove that we had used up all the money.) It has taken 3 years to show a very small profit, rather than a loss. We are sustained by WTC, DLA and Housing Benefit. The computer business involves driving to customers and so is dependent on the Motability car. I have the same chronic genetic illness as my children and am not able to work, but I do not claim any benefits in my own right. We have become experts at living frugally and making economies.

The future
The Benefit changes that will be affecting us in the near future are Universal Credit to replace WTC and Housing Benefit, and PIP to replace DLA. As we now live in a housing association flat we will also be affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ when our student daughter leaves home.

Universal Credit will be paid monthly and will be calculated according to the claimant’s weekly reporting to the DWP of hours worked and income received. According to the government website self-employed people will be assumed to have reached a ‘minimum income floor’. This figure will be used to calculate the amount of UC awarded.

“If there are no limitations on the number of hours you can work, the minimum income floor is likely to be the equivalent of you working 35 hours per week at the National Minimum Wage for your age group.”
Universal Credit and self-employment

As Kevin does not have 35 hours of work per week, and certainly does not pay himself anywhere near the national minimum wage, his self-employment will become unviable.

Kevin will eventually be migrated from DLA to PIP. With the arbitrary reduction of the walking distance which qualifies for the higher rate mobility component from 50 metres to 20 metres it is extremely likely that Kevin will lose the Motability car. This will also render his self-employment unviable as he will not be able to drive to customers. It is my dread that he will lose the benefit altogether, which will remove the ‘passport’ to disability-related premiums and possibly the Blue Badge for parking.

It is extremely unlikely that Kevin, as a 62 year-old man with dyslexia and restricted movement, will be able to find a job

So where will this leave us? Kevin may be able to qualify for ESA, probably in the work-related group. If not, he will have to claim JSA. In either case, trips to the Jobcentre will be necessary. He has no means of getting there other than by using a wheelchair. He is not able to self-propel, so I will be pushing him there. My illness restricts my walking so the wheelchair will be fulfilling the function of a Zimmer frame – there will be pain. Work-related activity is unlikely to accommodate Kevin’s disability, which may well lead to benefit sanctions. The bedroom tax will eventually be applied. Shopping will have to be by home delivery, assuming we can still afford an internet connection. Food will become more expensive when I am not able to continue my daily forays to the reduced produce shelf in the supermarket or shop around for the cheapest deals. We will not be able to afford heating. We will not be able to go anywhere without help. Holidays, visiting our grandchild, church, any kind of excursion will be unattainable. We would no longer have a life if it were not for our close family and good friends.

This is just one story of a family affected by the Government’s austerity measures; there are many more and, as in the recent protest at the House of Commons about the removal of the Independent Living Fund, we need to make our voices heard before it is too late.

This is a guest post by @chmasu.

This is not how you should talk about disabled people

Sometimes I just have to comment on really bad reporting of disability. Today it is the turn of Ars Technica, a technology news website that I read every day. The story is about a woman who may have murdered her mother. Nevertheless, her actions don’t negate the harm done by this kind of language:

If it weren’t for daughter Gypsy Blancharde’s posts on Facebook, she would likely be seen as a missing wheelchair-bound cancer patient who survived Hurricane Katrina and who has become a victim of foul play herself.

Instead, the daughter—who can actually walk and was believed to have had leukemia and muscular dystrophy—faces murder charges alleging that she and her secret 26-year-old boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, killed her mother Clauddinnea “Dee Dee.”

Where do I start with this?

This woman is, in fact, someone who used a wheelchair. All the rest seems to be assumptions based on the fact that she was seen walking, that she is not “wheelchair bound”. I am also not “wheelchair bound” and frankly, that is a really offensive term. My wheelchair frees me, it enables me.

Wheelchairs are like glasses. You do not have to need them all the time to genuinely need them some of the time. Many people can walk a few metres or even further but still need to use a wheelchair for much of the time. Attitudes like that in the article are what make people call me a benefit cheat and a scrounger when I get out of my wheelchair to reach shopping on high shelves, or when I walk from car door to car boot to get my electric wheelchair out. The same applies to other mobility aids or other help with disability.

Please, stop talking about disability and disabled people in these horrible terms wrapped in stigma and judgement.