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How cuts are affecting our lives

In Benefits, Cuts, Health on 24/05/2013 at 10:56 am

by Nacho Diaz

I’d like to begin this talk by affirming that I am not a person who likes stats, hence, I can only tell what I observe and what I research. I’d like to be a little bit more optimistic but I’m afraid I’ll have to begin by describing the death of a good friend of mine and a founding member of “4in10”He went away so soon under strange circumstances. Heart attack was the official cause but behind it laid a long period of ups and downs. Like many other people, Peter, not his real name, used to go to mental health day centres and spend his time helping other people. He was very concerned about the cuts. Peter spent the last two years of his life witnessing how his friends were lacking the most elemental things to .

On one occasion he came to me very upset because one his closest friends had demanded the restoration of three tea bags he had borrowed from her. This could be anecdotal if it wasn’t because Peter had given the same lady £400 a few weeks before. I don’t know about you but, in my opinion, things must be pretty awful when someone needs to claim back three tea bags.

Peter died in November but he began to feel unwell in midsummer. He was first diagnosed with flue, then with an allergy and finally before he died he was diagnosed with a chest infection. Along the way his mental health deteriorated a lot and he was not the same. He stopped laughing, he complained all the time I saw him and his medication changed a few times with no apparent results. He did not say goodbye. One day we found out he was dead. We think he spent the last days of his life almost isolated just like if he didn’t want to bother anyone with his problems.

I have chosen this example to illustrate how some people suffer on their own with mental health problems and also how the physical, psychological and psychiatric services fail to protect them.

Another member, let’s called him Andrew, had to leave London because he could not stand any longer the victimisation he was suffering from his neighbours. He was the crazy queer in the building and his tormentors did not give him any sort of break. They were always ready to get him. Andrew was living in constant fear. To complicate things even more he was discharged from secondary services to his GP due to the cuts and he lost his empowering relationship with his CMHT (Community Mental Health Team). Andrew’s problems, however, did not stop there. He was diagnosed with cancer and he was suffocated by the appalling treatment given by his deceased partner’s family. I’m sure you’ll know what chemo means and how important is to be supported. He spent most his days alone. “4in10” helped him when we could but there were many things beyond our control. Those things were mainly related to the discharge to the GP and the lack of proper treatment.

The social services didn’t know how to deal with the homophobic bullying or his personal circumstances.  Andrew couldn’t stop complaining about the lack of knowledge of his GP and did everything in his power to be readmitted into secondary care. He was also continually talking about his fears of losing his DLA. His story is a story of someone lost in the system.

Continuing with the same circumstances of negligence I’d like to refer now to Paul, who like me is bipolar. Paul had been signed off sick for more than 20 years when one day he received the famous Athos letter. Before that he had his ups and downs but he lived a normal life. However, that letter changed everything. He went high, he filled in the ESA50 form without any help and went to the interview alone, knowing nothing about the procedure, and he was declared fit to work. There were some bureaucratic problems which I won’t go into detail and his benefits were stopped over Christmas.

He attempted suicide and failed. He was hospitalised and when he left he had to continue searching for jobs. One day, he collapsed after a panic attack in the Job Centre. He was told that unless he was sick he would have to continue looking for jobs or his benefits would stop again. At the moment he has being signed off by his doctor and he is the same person as he was before but it is only a matter of time, maybe just months, before he is called up again. I could give you a very realistic view of how Paul changed during all this process. He stopped eating, showering and shaving for more than four months. While he was dealing with all these problems he looked like a person who needed help and he was receiving nothing. Paul, to my eyes, was the real face of social injustice. Listening to his problems made me think all the time about how our lives were before the cuts and how, now, people with mental health problems were becoming the archetypal Victorian models of exclusion.

I decided to bring Paul’s appearance into  the spotlight not only because he was discriminated by his looks at the Job Centre but also because to the general public the image of a person going through the path of self-destruction is the image of someone to blame. By this I mean that for the public opinion the appearance of selfneglect implies the ultimate proof that people on benefits are lazy and deserve no consideration. I have witnessed this so many times in job centres and newspapers covers. The loony looks help to create a bad image, raise social concern and preach that only work can return dignity to people.

Those were the same comments I heard when I was discharge. My CPN told me that if I worked I would be able to buy a plasma TV, something really stupid considering that I don’t want a TV at home.

Many people with mental health problems can work and are quite happy doing so. I’m one of them and that allows me to see not only the discrimination faced by my peers but also the barriers to access work after long term unemployment. Some Medical staff has been encouraging people to return to work. I remember my friend Peter saying that he would die if he had to work in Tesco.

The main problem people living with mental health problems, queer or straight face at the moment is the Work Capability Assessment. This, happens because the assessment doesn’t take into consideration any of the particularities of having a mental health problem. There are many examples to illustrate this but to refer to something already explained let me tell you that we have lots of people coming to our group who do not understand how to fill the forms or where else to go for help. It’s advised to go with someone else but many people are scared of showing their solidarity in case is used against them when their turns come.

Being declared fit to work by a panel which doesn’t understand what they are assessing isn’t the worst thing that can happen. There is a bigger risk. This risk is no other than being put on forced medication and treatment, a risk which is an attack on human rights and dignity, a risk that stigmatises people and leaves them hopeless and merciless to the hands of the of the present system.  I’m sure you’ll know the harm that pharmaceutical drugs cause people leading in many cases to aggravate the problems or even suicides. The idea of the magic pill to become productive and rehabilitate individuals is denying us the basic principle of managing our lives and our problems without the interference of external agents like the added pressure becoming the members at the bottom of this consumerist society.

It’s precisely this environment in which people on benefits are being judged that deteriorates our mental health. Contrary to the biomedical model of illness we believe that the social circumstances surrounding an individual affect their wellbeing. Many people feel vilified all the time and the lack of specialist benefit advisor makes things even worse. The cuts are closing down day centres and returning people to their homes. That can only mean more isolation.

Forced isolation and seclusion is a form of social abuse. It has been demonstrated that LGBT people suffer far more abuse than straight people. A good example of this comes from another member of our group who is also a father. He lives in constant fear of his son finding out he is gay and can’t find the best way to come out to him. That stress never leaves him and he can’t find the right support to try to explain his other life to his child. As a result he tries to be the best father in the world by hiding the very best of himself.

We have more members who never leave their homes. Last week, for instance, Douglas came to a social event completely obsessed about paying his Bedroom Tax. He was so worried that he wanted to sell the cigarettes his mother had given him as a present. He decided to meet us because we were his only friends and also because he needed more information about the tax. Once again this case shows a clear lack of support from social services and personal desperation. Thanks for listening, things seem pretty hopeless for us at the moment as far as help from State is concerned. Just as well then that we have “4in10” for mutual support.

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