I really wanted the post where I announced my entry into employment to be a positive blog post as it’s everything I wanted since age 16 (with maybe the odd grumble about the Access to Work scheme) but this post is so much more than that.
About a month ago I was offered a part time job at a local charity working with young disabled people. It’s a 12 hour a week contract and is able to cope with the demands and restrictions of my complex physical disability. Due to my disability I needed to claim for Access to Work as I require PAs to assist me in all aspects of my life including my work life. In order to claim this scheme and still have benefits to top up your low income I was told to file for ‘Permitted Work’- paid work you’re allowed to do and claim benefit. In short, I have been told that my work is not granted as I earn £19 over the cut off so I’m not eligible for any benefit (other than the £500 housing benefit cap, if granted) despite the fact I’m earning a small £6K salary and have to pay a contribution towards my large social care bill. The delightful advisor informed me that I either A) needed to quit my job or B) negotiate with my employer to reduce my hours, although this doesn’t guarantee my work to be granted. Whatever my decision I have to make a brand new claim that can take weeks to complete. This is a devastating blow. I have rent and bills to pay. I didn’t want to want to earn money on top of the benefits I was claiming, I wanted to have an opportunity so I could increase my self-worth and cost less to the state. Not much to ask for is it?
The only way I feel I can tackle this situation is to write an open letter as I can say with confidence that I’m not the only person in Britain to be in this situation. I know this might be a long shot but I think that David Cameron and the delightful conservative party need to know what the welfare reforms and cuts are doing to disabled people.
Dear Mr Cameron,
Today you have won your second term in Government. Today I was getting ready for work. I’m 24 and this is my first job, I have been in this job for 4 weeks and before starting this job (and until 12 hours ago), I was a benefit claimant. I didn’t claim benefits not because I am lazy but because I am disabled.
As a result of my Cerebral Palsy and Neuromuscular Scoliosis I need assistance in all aspects of day-to-day life. I use a wheelchair and employ a team of personal care assistants to give me up to 80 hours of care a week funded by social care with a personal contribution using my Disabled Living Allowance. I am what is known in the social care sector as an Individual Employer, my care needs have meant that I pay employer tax and 5 more people have jobs in society.
Despite of my disability I had/have aspirations like most young people today, I finished school, went to university and moved out of my parent’s home. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I have been given so far but like a lot of young people I wanted paid work.
I’m not writing this letter because I am dissatisfied with not having a graduate job- I had to accept that dream was over when I started looking for work with a disability; the competition is fierce and your system makes it almost impossible for someone with complex needs to have such job without it negatively impacting on their life in some way or other. I’m writing this letter to inform you and others about the system that doesn’t benefit disabled people like myself in any way or even the economy for that matter.
Throughout your election campaign you claimed that ‘more people will be in work’ and that ‘it will pay to be in work’, I can assure you, Mr Cameron that this is not the case. My new job is a 12 hour per week contract and earns me a small yet modest £6K salary. My disability means that I needed to apply for ‘Access to Work’, as I claimed Employment Support Allowance I needed to have my work ‘permitted.’ Today I have been told this has not been granted. Despite this the Job Centre Plus did advise that I could negotiate lessening my hours with my employer, having done this I still feel this is a form of injustice as it leaves no room to build a career that others would have, the only other option I was given was to leave my job.
Contrary to popular opinion there are some benefit claimants that want to work and have a career. I did not want more money from working but a sense of earned income and self-worth. Please tell me how it is more beneficial to the tax payer to pay for a person’s entire income than save money through disabled people working even if it is a minimal salary?
I used to think it was the general public that would discriminate against the disabled, but sadly it’s the people in Parliament. You have invested so much time into the Equalities Act that is there to protect us but this only works if we are able to integrate into society and cuts being made to things like welfare, social care, Disabled Facilities Grants and Access to Work (the list goes on) is less likely to happen. When a person is not able to be an active member of society this can have a negative impact on a person’s health and lead to mental health conditions. With the cuts also affecting the NHS and mental health services disabled people would suffer here too along with many other people who rely on these vital services.
Ironically at the moment and when I was young the Government invested a lot of time and money ensuring that many disabled children have access to education and those who are able attend higher education. I ask you what is the point when disabled people struggle to get into employment? There are many of us who now have qualifications which are easily rendered pointless. Sadly, a lie is being told to disabled people in education, a lie which says that disabled people have equal opportunities and have a right to live as much of an independent life as possible. This is simply not true.
What is more alarming is that throughout your election campaigns both recently and in 2010, you referred to your disabled son who passed away. I would hope a party that has disability personally so close to its heart would show a little more compassion towards disabled people and their families rather than making us feel like leaches on society. Some of us aren’t privileged enough to come from wealthy backgrounds or been eligible to file for compensation, some of us rely on help and we would do anything we can to pay back what now feels like a favour, instead of an opportunity to make something of ourselves.
I would welcome a response to this letter or better still a justification for the decisions you have made and are about to make. I am not the first disabled person to be hit by your cuts and I’m certain if things continue as they are I won’t be the last. I am sincerely worried about the future for disabled people and I can’t help but feel that all the change that activists have helped to happen in the last 30 years will be undone.
I hope that through this blog and social media we can get answers, I would be eternally grateful if people could share this post as far as possible. Together let’s make a stand!
Until Next Time