…in a manner of speaking.
Here’s a short and disturbing story (very likely a common one, too – there are many reports of similar situations around):
At a recent Hardest Hit meeting for people with disabilities in Newcastle, the woman* in the video below (who describes herself as severely to profoundly deaf and whom I talked with at some length after she spoke at a Local Cuts session) said she’d been told by her welfare rights advisors to expect her application for Disability Living Allowance to be turned down on first application.
She says in the video:
“What I find incredible is now is that I’m being told by professionals – “Well, you’ve got that far [completed an application form for DLA] but expect it to be turned down. That’s normal. You know, you’re going to have to go to appeal.””
She wasn’t sure what sort of hint she was supposed to take from this – either, that she wasn’t eligible for DLA at any rate (although she wondered why she’d be encouraged to apply or appeal at all if that was the case), or that the application process is now so stringent that many applicants are failed on first application as a matter of course (“that’s normal”) and their only hope lies in the second part of the process – appeal. That makes the application process even more complex and even more drawn-out and likely deters people from pursuing their claims. Already, this woman is worried about it, as well she might be.
“Well, what happens? I don’t know how appeal works. I’m going to need support and I’ll probably rely on Welfare Rights, or a charitable organisation might help me, but with the cuts, what support is going to be there? The problem is that everybody is needing more and more help with things like that, so the strain on the suppport services and charities is getting greater and greater… I mean – it’s almost like a fulltime job in itself, just trying to survive.”
As you’ll see in the video, this woman did have a job, but is one of the many people who have lost jobs in the public sector. She was made redundant last month after more than 20 years at Newcastle City Council.
As she says – “I’m just one of loads of people who have lost their jobs – but a big proportion of people in there must be disabled. It couldn’t be a worse time [to lose your job], could it? (The northeast has the country’s highest unemployment rate).
There is a longer transcript from her talk and our discussion after the video.
“I’ve always had a hearing loss since I was quite young and it’s just gradually got worse as I’ve got older. And then I just woke up one day and the left ear had just gone. It was always bad, but now – nothing in that one.”
“I was an economic development officer at the council – it was around business support programmes. The council was going through lots of cuts – they’re having reshuffles, restructures and efficiencies and so [my redundancy] was all part of that. I was made redundant last month. I’m just getting the hang of signing on… I’d been working for the council for 23 years. To lose my financial independence, it’s quite awful.
“[Organisations] like Access to Work – they’ve helped me before with the equipment and hearing aids, but what happens if I do get through the doors and get a job? What kind of support is there then for me at work and making the job accessible if I need equipment?
“When we talk about the cuts… when you consider how many people in the population have a disability, it makes you wonder how many people who are being made redundant also have a disability. At that point, you’re thinking – we’re at a time when it couldn’t be worse to lose your job. Being disabled is hard enough and working with a disability is difficult, but being thrown out there and having to compete again with all the people who are able-bodied – there just isn’t the jobs and with all the cuts that are happening, we’re not having the support services around us that we had before.
“Where does that leave us for the future? For me, that’s quite scary, because that’s my financial independence gone… most people, when they think what they want out of life – being independent as much as we can, having a goood social life, being socially included – just the kind of the thing that everybody else would expect, so to me, that financial loss has taken an awful lot away for me.
“I’ve never had to rely so much on support as I am now. I’m going through the process of putting a DLA application in and I can see everybody’s face going Oooo. I can’t believe the things that are happening and I’ve had to have a lot of support just to fill in the form now. It’s taken me a year to get it complete, because I used to get so upset when I started filling it in because it was about what I can’t do, as opposed to what I can do. What I find incredible is now is that I’m being told by professionals now is – “Well, you’ve got that far, but expect it to be turned down. That’s normal. You know, you’re going to have to go to appeal.”
Update 17 June: It gets better AND worse. The speaker in this video has just heard that she’s been awarded her DLA and has been given a “lifetime” award – which is of course not a lifetime award. She’ll be reassessed soon as DLA is phased out and personal independence payment is phased in. This is both fascinating and sadistic. How can it be cost-effective to award someone DLA after a year, then reassess them again, possibly within months, having just decided that they should be entitled to a lifetime award…? Who is this keeping in business? How can such instability help people plan and/or rebuild their lives? Will return to this story as the assessments continue…