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Well, that was soul destroying.

I just watched a Channel 5 report, broadcast yesterday, about a couple who both WANT to work but are unable to do so thanks to the wife’s impairments. She is not physically fit enough to work so, as a result, she claims Welfare Benefits but she’s now being punished for this. The little money she gets is being cut and cut and cut gain and there’s nothing she can do about it.  She cannot go out to work, she’s too disabled to do so. All she is being told to do by politicians is to get a job, only this week Theresa May said “Working is the best way out of poverty” what part of SHE CAN’T don’t they understand?

As someone who is in a similar situation, this report rang very true. It’s all cuts and it’s so hard when there’s nothing you can do about it, you just CAN’T go out to work. I am largely restricted to a bed in my front room thanks to my MS and the restrictions it places on me and it feels like I am being punished by the Government for daring to be sick. I didn’t ask for this, it happened and, like so many other Disabled People, there was nothing I could do about it. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1984. Just like the vast majority of impairments, this was not my fault and there was nothing I could have done to stop it, it just happened and I was left to get on with it as best I could. Very sad but life goes on. I’ve been a full-time wheelchair user since 1992/3ish but I still managed to work, full time, until 3 years ago when infected pressure sores put me into hospital and then this bed. I WANT to work. I LOVED working. I loved my job and the camaraderie I found with my colleagues.  I loved what I did every day. In my view, it was the best job ever. I was an Information Officer with a National Charity and I loved being able to help other people but, unfortunately, I physically, I can’t do it any longer. My impairment put a premature stop on my ability to go out to work. I didn’t choose this lifestyle, no-one in their right mind would, I’d love to change it but I can’t. Having minimal money is bad enough but being told, continually, by politician after politician that I should get a job if I want to make my life better is just rubbing salt in the wound. What part of “I CAN’T” don’t they understand?

And then there are disabled people who WANT to work and who TRY to get a paid job so they can work their way out of poverty, as we are told to do, but they are being prevented from doing so by Society’s attitude toward disabled people. We often have no problem finding a volunteer role but, for some reason, these employers don’t want to pay us to do the same jobs. They are happy to take us on as volunteers but, as soon as the possibility of a salary is mentioned, heads start to be shaken and the excuses rain down. A friend has just said to me “I also want to work and get out and do part time. I applied for various jobs after leaving college in 2005ish. No-one wanted to know so I stopped applying and did volunteering instead but that doesn’t solve the money issues, it just gets you out of the house.” And that begs another question – if a disabled person is perfectly capable of successfully holding down an unpaid, volunteer role, what is it about their impairment that makes employer think they would be unable to hold down the same or a similar role if it was paid?  

How much longer are Disabled People going to be told to get a job and work our way out of poverty? How much longer are w going to be blamed for something that is not our fault. We didn’t ask to be sick so stop punishing us for it, after all Mrs May, next week it could be you. Listen to what we are telling you and stop telling us to do the impossible. We KNOW that working for a living would be the best route out of poverty for us but, for many of us, work is an impossible dream. Our impairments are stopping us from doing what you are forever telling us to do. Getting a job and working our way out of the poverty you are inflicting on us.

So, for the last time, what part of ‘we’d love to work our way out of poverty but we can’t’ don’t you understand?

WE JUST CAN’T, OK?

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I want a job.

I really want a job.

The Government would be so happy if I could come off benefits and get a job.

I would be so happy if I could come off benefits and get  job.

There is only one impediment to this laudable ambition of theirs, and mine – I am severely disabled and stuck in bed most of the time, so, I am not able to go out to work, the work would have to come to me.

And this, apparently, is a major and seemingly insurmountable stumbling block.

But why? What’s the problem? Why can’t the work come to me? In this wonderfully technological day and age, with computers, video conferencing, telephone conferencing, Sype, the internet and even that strange new invention called the telephone, why do I have to go to a specific location, such as an office, city, or even country, in order to work? Is it really necessary for me to leave my home at all?

To be honest, that, as far as I am concerned anyway, is so last century. The experience I have and the roles I am qualified and extremely familiar with in a workplace can easily be done without having to move location at all. I am happy to admit that there are many, many jobs where the employee does have to be in a specific building or town or workplace in order to do what they are trained to do, such as a doctor, a bus driver, a postman, a prison officer, a supermarket cashier, a chef but, equally, there are many, many  roles which can be done from just about anywhere and no-one would know any difference.

Take me, for example. I, like many people, have the transferable skills which would allow me to be able to work, in my chosen profession, from anywhere. I’m not anything special or important or awe-inspiring, I have around twenty-five years experience in providing advice and information, on a variety of subjects, to disabled and older people. I did, or do this, by phone, email or in the form of advice leaflets, information sheets, magazines and current awareness bulletins which I have written, edited and published for national and regional organisations and charities in my area. And that’s it. That’s me. That’s what I do. But for some reason, all the employers who are looking for people who can do what I do, would want me to travel to them to do it.

Why?

In my last paid employment I was taking details of clients’ legal problems and booking them an appointment for a telephone advice session with a lawyer. Either that, or referring them elsewhere that may be more suitable for their needs or sending them an information leaflet that would, hopefully, answer their question. Nothing more complicated than that. So, what was there  which meant I had to travel to the other side of London on a noisy, smelly, crowded bus every day at crack-of-stupid in the morning and then fight my way back home again on the same buses, exhaused and frustrated in the evening? I have no idea. I could have done the exactly the same thing from the comfort of my living room and no-one would have been able to tell unless I felt the need to let them know.

And I’m not just guessing, I know this, from personal experience. At one point during my employment with the company I had to have an operation, which necessitated a lengthy recovery period. Essentially, my brain and abilities were unaffected, I just had to be careful and wait for the wound to heal and for the stitches to be removed. That was it. I wasn’t sick, just incapacitated. So, I had to stay home. And I was so bored and so fed up and I felt so useless. In desperation, I had a chat with my boss and, because he was forward thinking and had also had problems finding someone who could cover for me whilst I recuperated, we implemented a system whereby my office phone was linked to my home phone and the client database and advice rota were linked to my home computer and bingo, I could  continue with my work, uninterrupted. If someone rang in I would take the details of the issue, make notes about their case on our system, check the availability of our legal professionals and book an appointment for the client to get the advice they needed. Not only that, but I was able to undertake research for advice leaflets, write articles for the magazines I was responsible for and send the copy to the printer for publication and distribution. And, I didn’t have to move a muscle.

So why do we still have this preoccupation with having to work from somewhere special? Surely, having employees who work from home is beneficial to both employees and employers alike. Employees can work for anyone, anywhere, and so, can look for the job that is best for them, regardless, without having to move and the employer doesn’t have to pay for premises or heating or lighting or equipment for an expensive office building. Just make sure that employees have the things they may need to be able to work from home such as a computer, internet access and a phone line. Not only that, but they can employ anyone, from anywhere. They can employ the best possible person for the job regardless of where they are.     

It doesn’t sound too complicated to me.

I feel that we need to have a complete rethink about work and what work actually means in this country. We are in the technologically advanced, twenty-first century, not still stuck in the Victorian or Edwardian era. Why can’t employers, next time someone resigns or retires and leaves their business, look at the tasks that need to be done and really consider whether those tasks have to be done from an expensive office or if they can be undertaken by someone working remotely, from their own home? Adverts could be placed online, interviews could conducted by conference call and work could be done from anywhere. Bosses could check work is being done by looking at output and not by staring across their desk at  someone sitting at another desk on the other side of the room. Workers could feel trusted and valued. No-one needs to actually go or be anywhere. Happy employers, happy employees. What’s so bad about that? Telephonists answering the phone in their PJs? What’s the issue? The phone is being ansered regardless. Why not try it and see what happens?

Oh, and, if there are any amazing employers reading this, who would be happy to take a risk and employ a remote Advice and Information Officer, hiya! I’m here and waiting for your call!

Come on Bosses, take a step into the twenty-first century, be brave and go for it, you know it makes sense!

It’s funny. Everyday there is something in the papers or online that rattles my cage and makes me want to write stuff. And, almost always, it’s something the Government has done, is about to do or is thinking seriously about doing that gets me incensed enough for me to get itchy typing fingers and for the words to flow. I sometimes wonder if I should write David Cameron a thank-you note. Honestly. if it wasn’t for him I’d find myself with very little to say.

Yesterday, I wrote my blog about bed-blocking in hospitals due to the paucity of Social Care in the community. Today my ire has been raised by the Government’s plans to deport people who are not EU citizens, from the start of April. Two different topics but topics that are, none the less, inter-connected. Many of the dedicated men and women who are employed by agencies nationwide as home-care workers are the non-UK nationals and are the very people who are likely to be affected by this deportation policy. Just thinking about the dedicated team of ladies who come, every day, to look after and help me. They are from many different countries that are not part of the EU. Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Malaysia, Nigeria. All wonderful, caring individuals and none of them an EU citizens. Granted, several are married to British citizens and, granted, some of them may have ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ status but, I’m equally sure, some of them don’t. They have work permits and visas that allow them to work, I’m certain none of them are here illegally, but, at least some of them, have not, as yet, achieved British Nationality  

And this, as far as I am concerned, is the problem. So many people who work for the many agencies we have, nationwide, that provide home-carers, are not British or EU nationals. They, invariably, work for a low wage, well under the required £35,000 per annum that is the cut off point in this policy, so their continued stay in this country must be under threat. They may well find that they are going to be deported because they don’t earn enough. Over the past year I have been cared for by people from all over the world and now they are all under threat. How is the Government planning on alleviating the problem of bed-blocking in our hospitals if they are going to be deporting the very social care workers who will be needed if patients are to be discharged and allowed to return to their own homes? What are they going to do?

As always, I believe Mr Cameron and the Tories have failed to consider the longer term implications of the policies they are proposing. Everything is connected and our politicians need to think about these connections when they propose new legislation and before it is enacted. How will the situation that is causing us a problem today be affected by what we are thinking about doing tomorrow. How is the legislation that was passed yesterday going to affect our proposals for the future. Day after day we see the possible difficulties that might be caused by a knee-jerk reaction to something or other. One policy affecting another and causing more problems than it solves.  

I believe that there needs to be a rethink the deportation of non-EU citizens and this rethink needs to happen fast. We have all seen the stories about the teachers, health care professionals and charity workers who are going to have to return to their countries of origin if this legislation continues without reform but we also need to think about all the other, lower paid jobs that non-EU citizens are employed to do. We need to think about how we will cope if they all have to go. We need to think about how our lives will be affected. We need to think about who will do the work they are currently doing if they are not here. What will happen to us all if they are forced to leave.

We just need to think.

This is getting tedious. Something needs to change and it needs to change fast. Yet again I am reading stories online and in the papers which make no sense to me.

What’s new? I hear you ask. Well, if I’m honest, nothing. Just our wonderful Conservative Government being as illogical as ever. And, what’s the latest? What’s the story that has got me so riled up today? Just something that makes as little sense as many of the other things that have been happening. Just something to make us even more of a world-wide laughing stock that we already are.

Let me explain. It’s something I’ve seen several times before and it’s something that is likely to become more and more common as this non-sensical Government continues to turn the never-ending austerity screw. Disabled people being targeted just because we need some help sometimes in order to live a full and productive life. Yet another item about a working disabled person who is going to lose their job due to benefit cutbacks. Time and time again the Tories have said they want disabled people to go out to work yet, when we try, they pull the rug out from under is.

In the case that has angered me today, a disabled woman, who has worked and paid taxes continuously since the age of 16, is going to lose the mobility car she needs to get to work thanks to changes in how entitlement to mobility benefits are worked out. And, furthermore, as she needs her car to get to and from work and attend client meetings as part of her job it is likely she will lose her job and have to apply for unemployment benefits instead.

Am I the only person who cannot see the logic in this?

Surely having her able to go out work and pay her taxes by allowing her access to the benefits she needs to enable her to be independent makes sense. But no, obviously not. According to the all-powerful DWP taking the car away so she loses her job and has to claim benefits instead whilst not paying tax is a much better idea. Great.

And this is not the only person this has happened to, its happening to working disabled people nationwide.

Please would someone explain the rationale behind this to me because I just can’t see it. The illogicality is mind-blowing.

If we, disabled people, are going to be able to support ourselves and our families and contribute to society, then stop taking away the aids and benefits we need for our independence. We have already lost the Independent Living Fund. Access to Work funding is to be curtailed. Now we are losing our entitlement to our own personal support and transport which enables us to do what you want and get a job. What next? What do you want from us? Blood? Leave us with our dignity and allow us the right to show you what we can do. Apply some common sense and stop cutting everything. Let this nonsense end now, we’ve had enough at always being at the bottom. Invest in us and give us the opportunity to rise up and show you what we can do. We may surprise you.

Well that’s interesting.

In the High Court yesterday a senior judge determined that Iain Duncan Smith had discriminated against two disabled people by applying the benefits cap to their carers.

The judge who ruled that this was discriminatory when applied to carers doing 35 hours or more of care every week said: “To describe a household where care was being provided for at least 35 hours a week as ‘workless’ was somewhat offensive. To care for a seriously disabled person is difficult and burdensome and could properly be regarded as work.”

You don’t say!

Of course it’s work. There can be no argument about this.

If the family members who are acting as carers weren’t there then carers from agencies and Social Services would have to do the caring and they would be paid a wage for performing these tasks. Just because a family member is doing the work does not change the nature of what needs to be done. A disabled person who needs help with having a bath is not going to need any less or more help depending on who is doing the helping. The work involved in helping that disabled person is always the same whenever they have a bath, whoever is doing the helping. Caring for a disabled person is hard work and is , largely, a thankless task. The money paid as Carers’ Allowance to these dedicated carers is derisory.

This got me thinking.

Could this judgement be used, legally, as justification for Carer’s Allowance needing to be raised to the same amount as someone would be paid as a minimum wage for a 35 hour week instead of the paltry amount it is at present? If, legally, a family carer is in ‘paid’ employment then surely the law states that they should be paid at at least the minimum wage for the work they do. And, if the pay that the family carer is receiving is their Welfare Benefit payment, namely, their Carers’ Allowance, then doesn’t that pay have to be at the same minimum wage rate that an agency or Social Services carer would receive for the same work? I am unable to see an reason why this should not be the case. I believe Iain Duncan Smith is on very shaky ground trying to say that a family carer’s work is of less value than that of a paid carer.

On top of this, family carers are also saving the Government so much money.

If a disabled person receives their care through Social Services or an agency then, as well as the salary that is paid to the carer, there will be administrative costs as well. There are no admin costs for family carers so they are still cheaper. Surely the benefit payment they receive should be higher than it is at present to reflect this. The Government will still save money if benefit rates are in increased, just not as much.

I would like to congratulate the judge in the discrimination case for understanding what being a carer means, how difficult a role it is. Iain Duncan Smith, needs to take note of this ruling and make things fairer. The Government keep on insisting they want people to work their way out of poverty but family carers can’t do this. They can’t work longer hours, their benefit won’t go up. They can’t take a second job, benefit rules preclude this. They can’t go on strike. Carers need to be paid properly for what they do. If the law states that carers should be regarded as being in full-time work then these wonderful people should receive a proper wage for this work.

The Government must ensure Carers Allowance is adequate recompense for the role that has been undertaken, not he miserly pocket money that it is at present. Take the financial stress and the worry away from carers and disabled people alike. Recognise the work that is done, recognise how hard it is, recognise how demanding it is, don’t just dismiss it. Acknowledge that family carers are workers just like all other employed people. Allow carers to live and not just exist. Raise the rate to at least minimum wage levels. 

Caring is job, not a hobby and welfare benefits for carers should reflect this. Raise the rate.

So. Today the House of Commons are discussing the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. This is the Bill that will cut the Employment Support Allowance payments received by disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by thirty pounds every week to the same level as non-disabled people receiving Job Seekers Allowance. And the justification the Government for this move? Apparently, cutting disabled people’s benefits will ’incentivise’ them to go out and get a job.

Great plan.

What is is about sickness and disability that this Government just isn’t getting?

According to the Government, and the Department of Work and Pensions, sick and disabled people can be put to one of two categories for welfare benefits purposes. There are those people who are so sick and disabled they will never be able to work and then there are those people who may be able to work one day if they are given the right support to get to that point. And it’s that second group which will be affected by this Bill.

In my opinion, it’s pretty simple really. Someone who is sick or disabled has a medical condition which limits the work they may, or may not be able to do. Either that or they need support in applying for and securing employment and support in keeping that employment once they have obtained  it. That’s what the WRAG group is all about. The Government has decided that people in WRAG should receive the same amount of money as people who are receiving Job Seekers Allowance but that they will get extra help with finding and securing a job. Now that’s a great idea, as long as it works. Many, many disabled people would love to work, just a long as they get some support to enable them to do so. The problem is, as far as I can see, that the Government also wants to withdraw that support too, namely, the Access to Work Scheme. The Government seems to want sick and disabled people to go into workplaces without any additional help whatsoever. Wonderful plan but it just will not work. Disabled people are perfectly capable of working, just as long as they get the help and support that WRAG and Access to Work provides, such as personal support, aids and adaptations. Without that personal support, without those aids and adaptations, sick and disabled people cannot go out to work. WRAG was devised as a way of supporting sick and disabled people into work. It was devised as a way of recognising the additional costs someone who is sick or disabled may encounter in trying to do exactly what the Government wants in working their way out of poverty. Cutting it to the same level as Jobseekers Allowance takes away the very amount claimants receive for additional disability costs. ESA WRAG and Job Seekers Allowance become the same thing. No difference between them. What is the point.

Actually, thinking about what is being proposed, is this how the Government is going to reduce the cost of sick and disabled people to the National Health Service? Is this how the Government are planning on reducing the NHS Bill? Have they found some kind of magic bullet for so many medical conditions? Reduce the amount of money sick and disabled people have for the necessities of life such as shelter, heating and sustenance and they will all get better and be able to go out to work. Is the Government, and largely, the Conservative Party, trying to tell us that a reduction in the welfare payments a sick or disabled claimant in WRAG receives will magically cure them of whatever it that ails them because that is what it sounds like. Somehow, I don’t think that’s how healthcare works. If it was as simple as that, surely someone would have spotted it sooner than this.

Leave people in WRAG alone and try chasing after the people and companies who are evading tax altogether to make up the fiscal deficit. Leave people in WRAG alone and try going for the people like the bankers who caused the problems we are having. Leave people in WRAG alone and try stop trying to punish the people at the bottom just for being at the bottom. Welfare Benefit reductions are a quick fix, not a long term solution. Leave people in WRAG alone, look to your own and try something else instead.

Yesterday evening, when my lovely carer came to get me ready for bed, she found me watching the divisional vote on the Labour amendment concerning Tax Credit cuts in the House of Commons. She asked what it was and what it was about. So I told her.

After listening intently to my explanation she, very rightly in my opinion, asked what she, and her family, should do when her tax credits are slashed next year.

And I didn’t know what to say.

She works full time as a carer, her husband also works full time in low paid job and she has five children under sixteen, the youngest being nine. They live in a council flat on an estate near to where I live, not the wealthiest of neighbourhoods. As far as I know, they have very little spare cash and certainly do not have an extravagant lifestyle or luxury holidays. I did my best to answer her question but I’m not entirely sure that her less than perfect English was the main reason why I couldn’t make that explanation, or give here any reassurance that she would still have enough money to enable her to feed her family after April.

What explanation could I give her?

I could talk about tax thresholds but that won’t really help her. It won’t help her afford to pay her rent, heat her house or feed her children. The tax free element in her salary and her husband’s salary will increase but that won’t compensate her for the Tax Credits she will stop receiving. She will be losing money from her weekly budget and has no realistic prospect of being able to make up the shortfall.

I could talk about the new National Living Wage but that is not coming in next year and, anyway, I have no influence on her employer or her husband’s employer to ensure they are both paid that amount. Neither of them are receiving the pay they should be getting anyway. The current London Living Wage is £9.15 per hour, my carer is paid £7.50, what am I supposed to do about that? Suggest she petitions for a pay rise? Tell her to go on strike? The agency would just send me another low paid worker to provide the care I need and my carer would be out of a job. Tell the agency I won’t accept workers who are paid under the London Living Wage? Social Services won’t pay the agency enough to do that and I would have to top up wages myself which is an impossibility as I am on Benefits myself.

I could talk about using foodbanks and charity handouts but if that’s the only solution to the loss of income caused by cutting Tax Credits, my carer could, very rightly, question what the point in going out to work was. She and her husband have found jobs and work full time so they don’t have to go down that route and, anyway, the role of charities and foodbanks is not to prop up their employer’s salary schemes or the Government’s inability to legislate effectively for low paid employees. My carer and her husband have every right to expect their hard work to be sufficiently well rewarded for them to be able to bring up their family and live safely, securely and comfortably without having to worry about where every penny will come from.

I am longing for the day when we will have a Government that cares for the people that elected it. I am longing for the day when we will have a Government which does not say one thing in their manifesto and then does something different and detrimental to the country as soon as the final vote has been cast. I am longing for the day when we have a Government that will allow me to tell my carer not to worry and that everything will be all right. The problem is, with things the way they are, I can’t. As things stand currently I don’t know how to respond to, what is, a simple question and, until the people at the top change their methods and start caring for others instead of just for themselves, I don’t know when I will.