During this last week, I’ve had chance to catch up with a friend of mine who is very upset and ‘in a bad way’. He’s disabled and has been trying, for several months, to sort out some problems with his benefits. During our conversations, I told him about the blog I started and also (mentioning no names) about some of the candid and shocking stories I have read on the internet and in e-mails that have been sent to me. I have now received hundreds – thank you to all that emailed me. I would strongly encourage people to tell their stories and make use of the internet, social networking websites, forums and blogs.
It’s my firm belief that word-of-mouth as just as powerful now as it ever was – if not even more so with the advent of the internet. As such, I think the more people’s real life stories and examples are spread and shared, the more people shall see the truth of what is happening.
My friend was happy for me to share his experiences, as he would like people to know about what has been happening to him and how disabled people are being treated.
He used to receive DLA. However, after he did not receive his notification letter requesting that he attends his regular 18-month evaluation review (despite the misleading information peddled by the Government), his DLA stopped. He was subsequently told that he would have to re-apply with a new application. After weeks of filling-in forms, writing, calls, he then faced a 10 week wait before being told he was not entitled to anything.
This was unbelievable; since the time of his first application, both his disability and general health and deteriorated. Previously, he had been on the middle rate.
He was then told that he could ‘appeal’ and did so promptly. He has since waited another 10 weeks, despite numerous letters and calls. In all this time, he has received no DLA.
This has obviously had a dramatic impact on his already-limited personal finances. However, it has also meant that he has been unable to attend some medical appointments. This is because some of the patient transport services have been cut in his area. He therefore has to make his own way there. He used part of his DLA to pay for disabled-friendly taxis to and from the hospital and clinic but now simply does not have that money. His own doctor has said his health is suffering because of this.
DLA also offered him a chance to see friends and have some independence. Since the DLA was stopped, he has not seen some of his friends and family since last spring (2010). This has really diminished his quality of life and he feels harassed and discriminated against.
To this day, he has still not been informed of a decision; he has received nothing.
Now to make life even harder for him, the local council have told him that, due to the Government’s changes to Housing Benefit (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA), he will receive £21 less each week in HB.
However, they did not send him a letter about this until 4 weeks after they had started to pay the lower rate. So, obviously, this would put anyone in this situation in arrears.
This is a major problem for my friend, as he cannot afford it.
Now, £21 pounds may sound like chicken-feed to many people. But to people like my friend, £21 is a lot of money. If a person who only had £10 spare cash per week went into a shop to buy goods, they could not get any more or less in that shop than if a millionaire walked in with £10. But when they leave the shop, the millionaire is still a millionaire; they can go get another £10, £100, £1000 or £10,000. The other person comes out of the shop with nothing more than the goods they could buy for that £10.
It sounds obvious and simple, yet it seems to be a point that people too easily forget when they have money in the bank.
Getting back to my friend… now when I said he cannot afford it, I actually mean that the total money he now receives in benefits is less than what he has to pay out. He had to cut back on basic essentials, including food, after he stopped receiving DLA. Since then, he’s cutback more. His kitchen cupboards and fridge are empty. He cannot afford to get new clothes or basic essentials.
This is simply unacceptable.
He has around £3-4 spare cash each week. £3-4. That’s it. Many people would spend more than that on a light lunch! Can you imagine only have £3-4 spare per week (and with no options to borrow)?
He has been trying to sort the problem out and has been for financial advice. He has been to see his bank, the local CAB, a local charity and a free legal clinic. They have gone through his finances with him and all told him (and provided written documentation showing) that his benefits simply do not meet his basic outgoings.
He lives in a slightly adapted ground-floor one bedroom flat in a block with shared post and facilities. He has looked for somewhere cheaper but has had no success – and the council have told him that where he currently lives is the cheapest place they know of. Even the people at the council have told him his benefits do not meet his basic financial requirements.
It has been weeks and weeks, and as each week passes, so the debt he owes mounts up.
How is he supposed to pay this?
He is unable to work, totally dependent on benefits; his hands are tied – he only gets what he gets.
However, he is not the only one. My friend is a member of a local disability support group. The group has over 500 members. They have confirmed that over 300 of their members are in the same situation, all incurring debt to private landlords. These are all people in the same boat – they are unable to work and only get what they get.
One landlord apparently tried to have a disabled person evicted; however, this was overturned by a Court.
The council have also told my friend that they have nowhere they can house him and that because of his needs, he must have suitable accommodation. There are apparently families that have been waiting to be housed for over a year; they have had to live in bed & breakfasts.
I think it is important to remember that many disabled people face unavoidable extra high expenses that are not paid for by way of any benefit. They have to use what they get, which is often supposed to be used to pay towards personal care and mobility. I think most ‘fit and healthy’ people would be shocked by how much money this can often cost. This is an important point that the Government chooses to overlook and not highlight. It is also something not highlighted enough by the media.
This is a crazy and unsustainable (which getting to be an over-used word). David Cameron, Maria Miller and the Government cannot expect anyone to live on less money than meets their most basic of needs. But to expect this of vulnerable groups, such as people who are disabled and severely disabled is not something I could support as a citizen of any civilized nation. These policies are not British or patriotic. They are an insult to us. And what will people of developed overseas nations think of how we are now treating the most vulnerable in our land? Does the UN know all that is going on here in the UK?
The argument that this policy will drive rental prices down is ludicrous and actually makes no sense.
Firstly, I thought that the rental market was exactly that – a free market, with competition. Surely deliberately interfering with a market place to try influence it or to drive out competition is illegal? How can this be Government policy?
Secondly, in a free market, if private landlords et al cannot command the rents they are looking for from those paid via Housing Benefit, then they will simply stop accepting those tenants. This will drive disabled and vulnerable people into a housing ‘no man’s land’. What is David Cameron thinking?
Lastly, in areas such as where my friend lives, housing prices and rents are rock bottom. The rent levels have no room to fall, as landlords would not be able to make a reasonable profit – so why would they rent out properties?
These policies are so ridiculous; they are unworkable and bereft of basic financial considerations.
How many other people are in this situation across the UK? Multiply the number of people by a rough estimate of their individual debt! Then accumulate week after week! It is madness.
How many families will be put in this situation? And what about the thousands of families with a disabled parent or disabled child – or both?
If the Government succeeds in its financial genocide of the disabled, where will disabled people and families live? They have to live somewhere. Do disabled people not have enough to cope with? A government should support disabled people, not persecute them.
Can you imagine the extra pressures that will be put on the social and care system? There is a shortage of carers already and carers are extremely underpaid and undervalued.
Of course, there are some people who are not genuine. However, it’s important to remember and focus on the fact that most cases are genuine and real. They are real people, with real problems and in genuine pain. It is important to remember that.
Another member of the disabled group I mentioned is a disabled mother. She has a disabled daughter who has done very well in her ‘A’ levels, achieving 2 As and a B. Her daughter would like to go to university but is very concerned about the costs and what might happen in the future. The combination of the cuts and the extra costs of higher education mean that many people from poorer backgrounds and families will not be able to take a degree or higher education course. I think that many more will simply be put off too by this too. This is supported by a more widespread education problem, as highlighted in recent news – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13581215 or http://bit.ly/iO3BR0
What would help people would be real help for the long-term unemployed who are willing and able to work. I have come across many stories of people being long-term unemployed who cannot get the training they need. Quite often, the education and training available can differ greatly depending upon where one lives. If you want people to return to work long-term, then training and education needs to be available and you must allow them to train for what they want to do. People will, ultimately, not stick at a job they hate.
Where my friend lives, unemployment is high because the area has very few employment opportunities and there are only basic education available in English, Maths and Science. Training courses in specific skills and domains should be more widely available to the long-term unemployed. I think, also, that if a person is willing to relocate for work, then there should be a scheme enabling people to do this. This would allow people who live in areas where jobs are few and far between to relocate for a new job.
These measures would be more effective that persecuting vulnerable people and expecting them to somehow live on less money than meets their outgoings. This is another problem that’s in the news – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13498998
And where is Nick Clegg in all of this? How can he just sit back and let this happen?
David Cameron talks about getting the country out of debt. But how many rational people would really consider it reasonable that part of the way to achieve this is to put vulnerable and disabled people INTO debt and possibly homelessness?
I am verysurprised and disappointed in David Cameron; having experienced awful tragedy in his own personal family life, I find it hideous and vulgar that he and his Government could conceive and implement such vile and unethical policies.
David Cameron and Maria Miller should feel embarrassed and ashamed of themselves and their part in this ugly fiasco.