Today I am not going to write about me. I am going to write about my dad.
My dad used to be a plumber. He was good at his job and worked very hard to support us. In 1992 he seriously injured his back while lifting a boiler and suffered a prolapsed disc. The injury left him unable to sit or stand, and able to move around the house only on all fours. For months after his injury he spent most of his time in bed. Since my brother had just been born and I also have two sisters, my mum was caring for him and looking after us all. I don’t know how she managed it – I certainly wasn’t any help, I was glued to my computer the whole time.
My dad was sent for surgery in mid 1993 and he had a micro-discectomy to trim the disc back. It was successful, and he was able to walk again although with some discomfort. Not all was well though, and scar tissue formed and started to press on nerves in his back. Although physiotherapy helped, that remains a problem to this day. He was also found to have legs of differing length and a spine that is deteriorating, which has led to upper back problems that prevent him lifting much with his arms. He is now two inches shorter than before his injury. Ever since 1993, then, he has been able to walk at most about forty metres, with the use of a walking stick, before experiencing severe discomfort, i.e. pain.
In 1995 my dad started to study to fill the time. He started a BTEC course in computing and electronics at the local college, where he was allowed to go straight in to the second year because of experience from before he became a plumber. He went on to study for a degree in computing and multimedia on a mostly distance-learning based course. On the occasions when he did have to attend classes he was forced to travel on the bus for more than an hour in each direction, something that was very uncomfortable for him.
He eventually found it difficult to continue on the degree course because of his dyslexia, and so cut it short of a degree but left with a DipHE. He then went on to take a part time job as IT technician at the local college, even though he was not expected to work and could have continued to receive Incapacity Benefit. At that time he claimed Disability Living Allowance and since he clearly could not walk any distance or lift anything, or carry out activities necessary for living, such as cooking, he had no trouble getting it. With the help of DLA he acquired a Motability car which meant that he could at last leave the house without enduring pain from using public transport.
That job ended and was followed by a brief period of being too ill to work again but – again without being required to – he applied for a job repairing computers at the headquarters of a major computer company that was based locally. He was rejected twice but on the third application he enlisted the support of a disability officer at the job centre. The disability officer managed to get my dad into an interview and persuade the company that they would receive support for hiring a disabled person. He got the job.
The help that he received at this point was excellent. The Access to Work scheme provided him with a top of the range chair with adjustable supports all over the place, which made it possible for him to spend more time sitting to work. The company built – yes, custom built – a workbench in the computer repair workshop which placed equipment at exactly the right height. He did still had to work around some things such as getting colleagues to lift heavy computers, reaching for books on high shelves, and finding his own trolley to transport the computers. Even with all the help and adjustments working there caused him plenty of pain and detracted from his health. He loved the job though, and remained there for about ten years until the company went bust. After that he was unemployed and looking for work apart from six months spent repairing iPods, a job so low paid that he brought in less income than when on Job Seekers Allowance.
Just over a year ago my dad and I set up a computer repair business together as our only real option for finding work. Both of us are unemployable, he with his inability to walk or lift and his severe dyslexia, me with my unpredictable working hours and occasional weeks or months off sick. A little government help has been available, particularly Self Employment Credit, but mostly we have created the company from scratch with no money to invest. Unfortunately, since our new business is not providing any income as yet, my dad has had to take a part time job collecting cars that have finished their lease and so is less able to focus on the business. He loves repairing computers though, and after a day driving he will come back to our office and spend hours on that too.
And so to my point.
Despite being visibly disabled enough that he could spend his whole life receiving Incapacity Benefit and DLA, my dad has always chosen to work. Working has caused him pain and detracted from his health but he does it anyway. He pays his taxes and his National Insurance, and did so for many years before and after becoming disabled. He has received help in return: it is DLA which has enabled him to work. Without it, he would not have a car, and without a car he would not have been able to travel to any of his jobs. There is more that could be done – he would quite like a folding mobility scooter which would allow him to do more at his driving job, since he misses out on some available work through being unable to walk to cars in the yard to move them. Such a folding scooter costs about one and a half thousand pounds, and he has no hope of getting one. Instead of any government help to get this scooter, which would lead directly to him working more, earning more and paying more tax, he is instead facing an uncertain future. DLA is likely to be replaced with a new benefit that is designed expressly to cut government expenditure on such benefits by a third. He would be re-assessed, and faces a loss of at least part of that income, which puts his car at risk. If he does lose that car then he will not be working any more. He will be stuck at home. My mum also relies on that car as she is disabled too with various complications of diabetes, so this will be harmful to both of them.
Government cuts to disability benefits are likely to prevent my dad from working and become what the Daily Mail would term “A burden on the tax payer.” Does that make sense to anyone except a conservative government minister?