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Archive for the ‘Benefits’ Category

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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A few thoughts on the Benefit Summit.

In Benefits, Cuts on 22/03/2013 at 8:56 am

Packed room at the Benefit Justice summit

By Zack, a QUAC member

I’m glad I went to the Universal Benefit Workshop as it was really informative. The standard of the contributions, not only from those people running the workshop but also from those attending, was almost without exception very high. I found myself feeling quite humbled by what I’d witnessed!

I was approaching this subject as a novice having been fortunate enough (so far!) not to have had to negotiate the benefit system, and it was a steep learning curve. In a packed programme the stand-out points for me are in the small practical details of delivery of this system. In theory to have one universal benefit in place of the muddle of the different benefits we have now would seem like a no-brainer, but the government intends that access to it should be conducted online.

I am always concerned about this assumption of widespread computer literacy and access as I am pretty certain that a significant proportion of the client base are the very people who would have difficulties with this. It doesn’t bear thinking about either that you would be moving away from being able to discuss things with a human being in the event of having to appeal something – I can imagine the frustration, stress and despair this might give rise to. Government IT systems don’t have a good track record either.

The motivations for delivering it this way are money saving of course and you’d be able to employ less people – we did hear from Jane Aitchison of PCS whose members will be expected to deliver Universal Benefit, some of whom are in receipt of benefit themselves. With that in mind it was pointed out that most people in receipt of benefit are in fact working (the rise of non-permanent, part-time/not enough hours jobs that is the reality of the Tories’ private sector, so-called job creation efforts, must be adding to this picture). A further practical niggle is that benefit would be paid monthly, and whilst a fair proportion of people would already be used to monthly budgeting this would be difficult for a significant number of the most vulnerable people, giving rise to money-management issues. And all this against a background overall of probably less benefit money anyway thanks to cuts and caps etc.

Taking an overview and from a personal perspective I’d be fearful of the ‘Big Brother’ nature of this (if they actually get the IT to work of course!) and my instinct has been to keep under the radar. The nearest brush I had with benefits was contemplating jobseekers allowance and we heard from Mark Dunk of Right to Work who had personal experience of this and how your efforts to apply for jobs on line (however futile you believed that process to be rather than going out and knocking on doors etc., as some prefer) could be monitored and that you were required to do this as proof. How much easier it would be under the new system to track you and impose a set number of hours doing this sort of thing.

After the workshop I did go on to the plenary session which was really about where does the campaign go from here. I was succumbing to a bad headache by this time so my concentration was not at its best, but the most immediate, acute concern for some was fear of eviction due to bedroom tax/benefit reduction/caps whatever. It is hoped that Labour councillors might play a part in stepping in to prevent this on the ground – it’s the usual cry of where is the Labour Party in all this and what is it doing? In fact as we’ve seen this week Labour’s Bedroom Tax campaign has borne some fruit and IDS has had to publicly retrench a wee bit. Otherwise it was hoped that people would rally round their neighbours to oppose bailiffs and physically prevent evictions – all rather desperate stuff really. On a more positive note, we were encouraged to support some of the bigger protests coming up, for example the PCS Strike Day on the 20th March, and to link up with unions, trades councils and supportive councillors (Labour/Green Party) etc., as a united front. There is going to be a follow-up Benefit Summit on 11th May 2013.

To see OccupyNewsNetworkUK coverage of the Benefit Justice Campaign Summit click here

Cut Rents, Not Benefits – Can’t Pay , Won’t Pay – Can’t Move , Won’t Move

In Benefits on 05/03/2013 at 6:25 pm

Benefit Summit

11am

Saturday 9th March

University of London Union (ULU)

 Malet Street

London WC1E 7HY

Cuts in benefit are an unjust attack on the poor and they must stop. People are already being driven into debt, hunger and homelessness. From April millions more will be hit by the Bedroom tax, cuts in council tax benefit, ending Disability Living Allowance and further vicious cuts. In one of the richest countries in the world, the rise of foodbanks, destitution and poverty is not acceptable. People receiving benefits did not cause the banking and economic crisis and we do not accept them being scapegoated to pay for it. The Campaign for Benefit Justice has called a summit event on 9 March in central London, bringing together tenants, disabled people, trade unions, the unpaid and the low paid as one national voice to end the war on the poor.

Collecting unpaid corporate tax, capping private rents, insulating, repairing and greening homes and building 100,000 first-class council homes would be a sane and just way to raise funds, build for growth and cut bills and rents.

Register For The Summit

Download Leaflet for the Summit

Benefit Justice Campaign A4 poster

LGBT and Disabled communities fighting the cuts

In Benefits, Cuts, QUAC on 04/11/2012 at 12:39 pm

By Dr Joseph Healy (This article first appeared in Eco-socialist)

Firstly, it is necessary to state that as a HIV+ gay man I straddle the divide between both communities but it is also necessary to point out, that there is already a large overlap between both communities. Many older LGBT people are disabled, there are many disabled people who are LGBT and, of course, there is the large number of people living with HIV, some of whom, like me, for over 20 years. Both communities are in the firing line for these cuts, although it is more obvious how it affects the disabled community than the LGBT one. The response of both communities has also been markedly different and there are lessons to be drawn from this and also warnings.

Apart from the large pan anti-cuts organisations such as Coalition of Resistance (where I am a national officer) a large number of anti-cuts organisations have arisen voicing the protest of various communities and putting their agenda forward to both government, trade unions and national anti-cuts bodies. These have ranged from Women Against the Cuts to Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts. One of the most active has been DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) although it is necessary to state that there have been other disabled groups also actively campaigning against the cuts, such as Black Triangle, based in Scotland. DPAC have organised high profile protests, such as the Alternative Paralympics, which included a large picket outside the HQ of ATOS Medical Services. DPAC members have also spoken at national anti-cuts rallies and seem to have a national structure as well as several very active bloggers. They have brought to the attention of the press and public the deep impact that cuts in the welfare budget to payments such as Disability Living Allowance will have on the lives of disabled people, including those living with illnesses such as HIV, cancer and sickle cell.

Less obvious, and partly because of its relative lack of protest until now, is the impact of the cuts on the LGBT community. There is a general view of ‘the pink pound’ etc and that the LGBT community is insulated against austerity. This is not the case. Much of the LGBT voluntary sector which meets the needs of those such as young homeless LGBT people who have often been the victims of bullying etc, are threatened by the cuts. One such organisation is GALOP which deals with hate crime against LGBT people and also relations with the police. Many older LGBT people also live alone and a recent Stonewall survey indicated a high rate of social isolation and mental illness among this group because of a history of harassment and discrimination. In order to mobilise the LGBT community against the cuts we formed QUAC (Queers Against the Cuts) a year ago and I am its Treasurer. So far we have marched in the Brighton and London Pride parades, taken part in Black Pride and held public meetings on issues such as the impact of the cuts in housing benefit on young LGBT people as well as the reduction in disability benefits and their impact on HIV+ LGBT people. Both communities are being targeted by these cuts which hit the most vulnerable and both are determined to resist.

Squeezing until the PIP squeaks – Disability benefit and the HIV positive community

In Benefits, QUAC on 29/08/2012 at 5:04 pm

By Joseph Healy

This article first appeared in Baseline

As a gay man living with HIV since at least 1990, when I was diagnosed, I have always been extremely grateful and reliant on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – as have many others with HIV for whom it has been a life raft since it was introduced in 1992, ironically enough by Mrs Thatcher’s government. It is a benefit which is not means tested and which allows HIV positive people to return to work, part-time in my case, and still be assured that if they are unwell or unable to work full-time that they will have something to fall back on.

Several years ago I attended a meeting organised by Terrence Higgins Trust when it seemed that many of us who had been awarded DLA for life, could have that benefit stripped from us. There were people there, some of them in their 70s, with real terror in their eyes. Many had given up jobs and life insurance and for them, DLA is the only guarantee of any sort of quality of life. A recent article in the Guardian also referred to this.

The new Welfare Reform Act intends to abolish DLA from next year and replace it with PIP, Personal Independence Payments. It is clear from debates during the passing of the legislation and from Department of Work and Pensions statements since, that the aim is to remove half a million recipients from DLA. Even worse, ATOS Medical Services, whose cut throat methods have recently been exposed in the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme and elsewhere, have been given the contract to assess who should and should not receive PIP. The quota will be what drives the assessment and not any real need.

The process will start from next April with face-to-face interviews. It is likely that many long-term recipients of DLA will not be eligible for PIP under the new harsh testing regime, which resembles the “computer says no” scenario from Little Britain. What is even worse is that DLA is a gateway benefit, thus those refused PIP will also lose subsidised travel, housing benefit and many other benefits and be cast into the grinder of being dependent on Employment and Support Allowance. The impact, both in terms of mental and physical health, for many people living with HIV will be huge.

It is vital that people living with HIV join the campaigns being mounted against these huge benefit cuts and the demonisation of disabled people by the anti-cuts and disability movements. In Greece, for example, because of the severe cuts, only those whose CD4 cell count is below 200 receive benefits, with the result that some are allowing their health to fail to access food etc. Two organisations I am involved in are Coalition of Resistance, the national anti-cuts campaign and Queers Against the Cuts, fighting against the cuts for LGBT people, many of whom are HIV positive. We must fight together or we will sink together.

Queers and the Great Benefit Swindle

In Benefits, QUAC on 15/07/2012 at 8:58 am

Thurday 26th July

7.30pm

Vida Walsh Centre

2b Saltoun Road

SW2 1EP

This government is ploughing ahead with its devastating cuts to benefits, and concentrating on many disability benefits, including Disability Living Allowance, which many LGBT people who are HIV+ depend on to survive.

Housing benefit and other benefits which affect many LGBT people living in rented accommodation will also be affected as will cuts to many services which LGBT people rely on to offer help and support.

Come to an open  meeting to discuss how these changes will affect many LGBT people and what we can do to oppose them. Speakers will include a HIV+ gay man who has been active in the anti-cuts and LGBT rights movement for many years and will outline the impact that the removal of DLA will have on many LGBT people

We will also hope to have a speaker on Housing Benefits, who will describe the changes which the government has in store over the coming months.

We must unite as a community against these cuts and stand together.