The Abused Wife

I’ve not seen my children in 2 years and am at risk of losing them permanently and irrevocably due to Tory cuts to legal aid. My ex was abusive, he is now on remand for battering another woman, there is a police investigation into historical abuse of me by him, but unless or until he is charged with a crime against me I won’t get legal aid. He is a barrister and his dad a QC so they have no such money worries. I have mental health problems and part of the abuse by my ex was getting me a wrong diagnosis on purpose. A mental health assessment is out of the question due to cuts to mental health services and as for any actual treatment, forget it. My mother has a chronic health condition and had to go to a tribunal to get her PIP as the assessor lied and even got her name wrong in the assessment, others are more vulnerable and can’t navigate the system so end up with nothing. People are literally dying, children are actually starving, families are being made homeless. The NHS is on its knees! I believe in Labour and Corbyn so much I am a member of the party and momentum and unite. I’d be happy to have any kind of discussion with you about why I believe in them and why I vote how I do. Your vote is your choice but I think its really good you are trying to get a more informed view and are open minded enough to think about these issues even if you’ve not been affected by them.

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Not a Cop Out or a Scrounge

Today I chose to buy much needed baby grows for the little one and a pair of shoes for my eldest. He’s been walking around with holes in his school shoes for about a month, the baby has been wearing onesies with the feet cut out for ages. I couldn’t put it off any longer, I now don’t have enough cash left to do the food shop. Beans on toast will be it for the next few days until the tax credits come in. The tumble dryer died yesterday, we can’t afford to replace it. The choice to either buy food or pay for something else we need is just normal for us, if we were paid fairly things wouldn’t be such a struggle. A life dependant on benefits of any kind is not an easy life, not a cop out or a scrounge. We exist week to week, hand to mouth. Nobody wants to live like this, but the Tories have engineered this existence by bringing in zero hours contracts and actively encouraging employers to make their staff work harder for less money. Tax credits are a joke, they would not be needed if employers paid better wages but profit is king and we are all subjects.

My PIP pain

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This is one of mine. This is copied from my Instagram post after I got my first rejection letter: To the Department of Works and Pensions, is this how I should have looked all through my PIP assessment? I did burst into tears twice, once at the humiliation of telling you I only manage to shower once every fortnight as needing my husband to help me into the shower, combined with ever present pain and exhaustion and his shift work looking after vulnerable women mean that the window in which I can shower is narrow. The second time I cried it was when you asked about socialising and I pointed out that my distress was because I don’t see my friends and that I had barely seen even my best friend in months and yet you have assessed that I have no problem socialising. In my assessment the few movements that you made me do caused me so much pain that I had to stop and take morphine. I couldn’t open the bottle and so I handed it to my husband to open. I also told you that I need him to cut up my food. Though you assessed that I didn’t need help with medications or food. I told you that often I’ll get stuck on the toilet. That in the middle of the night I’ll have to call my husband to wake up and help me off. I told you if I know he’s not home to help that I won’t drink so I don’t need to go to the toilet even though this makes my heart condition worse. Yet you assessed me as having no problems toiletting. I could go on and on. Your report describes someone so different from the woman that you met on the day that I’d almost believe that you had sent the wrong letter. But you haven’t. You do this time and time again. Countless people who just need a tiny bit of support of eat, to move, to live in a clean house, to be clean themselves. You assess them wrongly and cruelly. Shame on you. I’m not after money. I’m after dignity. You seem hellbent on stripping me off both.

I’ll go on to add that I eventually did get awarded a full care & mobility allowance of PIP. It took 9 months of humiliation, stress & a ton of admin that I would have never managed without my husband.

After the initial rejection I went to the next stage: Mandatory Reconsideration. I had more letters off doctors, I pointed out the errors & the falsehoods in the report but the decision was still upheld. I put in for a tribunal. Two days before the tribunal I get a call. Someone has looked at it & given me full points for both care & mobility. The whole thing took nearly 9 months. Was distressing, humiliating & the amount of times I nearly gave up were staggering. I read yesterday how the DWP has a target to refuse 80% of MRs. Yet don’t want the successful appeal numbers going up, they currently stand at 47%. I just thank God I had my husband fighting for me or I would have given up. And I suspect that’s what they rely on.

And these cuts aren’t necessary. The fingers are clear as day. The money they save is tiny & they aren’t pursuing revenue in areas that really could have an impact.

Our Safety Net Isn’t There

I have fibromyalgia as well as being bipolar and slowly losing my hearing (loss is up to 70% now) I have been to scared to apply for ESA and PIP and finally did so when my GP got rather stern about it! I have my first PIP assessment next week and I am still waiting to hear when my ESA one will be so I am still on the lowest rate for that. My anxiety levels are through the roof and I rarely go outside because of this.

I have had to stop all work and when I do give someone a reiki session or massage it is for a trade of skills rather than for money, this is for basic things like haircuts, handmade gifts for birthdays, someone to clean my house because I can hardly do it and my husband is tired out from being my unpaid carer….If we do end up getting carers allowance the moment he earns over £100 pw it stops so being self employed is hurt again.

Two years ago before I got too ill even to be able to hold my head up some days we had plans for self employed businesses – his be leathergoods for cosplay, larp, tv. studio and me making the non leather things like headdresses as well as holding reiki sessions…

That plan is kaput – under Tory rule it is so impossible to maintain a basic level of living and work for yourself…

We have had to move into a smaller house with a postage stamp for a garden because renting a bigger place is now beyond us as is getting a mortgage.

So yes if I could work like I used do – 40 – 60 hour weeks in management we would be rocking this lifestyle the tory government want us all to attain as it is I am worried about my sons future schooling due to the cuts that have happened in Cheshire and he has such plans that take him through 6th form and into university, plans which we have had to discuss the possiblity of apprenticeships over Uni as we are now unsure if we will be able to afford to put him through uni.

I really hope you never get ill enough to need to rely on what is supposed to be a safety net we have all paid tax into supporting because you will find that help is now barely there. I hope that you will always be able to afford private healthcare as the NHS is starved and holding on by its fingernails – for example my mum had a much needed operation postponed THREE times with months between each date and meant she became a shadow of her former self and had no aftercare the irony of this being she usually works as a one to one carer for people in their homes.

Without Family Support I’d Have Been On The Streets

As a young person I have been massively affected. I will leave university with £52,000 worth of debt. Which is triple the amount it was in 2012. We live in a society that penalises people for being educated. It is much harder for my generation to get on the housing market and it is likely I will never own my own home. I am currently a student living with my partner and we have often been through times of hardship where we would’ve needed housing benefit to keep us going, however that has been scrapped for under 25’s. If it wasn’t for the help of my family I would’ve joined the many young people living on the streets, despite “working hard”. I work and study over 40 hours a week and my partner does the same and we can barley afford to make ends meet. I want a future where there is hope for me to own my own home and have a comfortable life but at this rate that’s not going to happen under a Tory government. I want a future in which my future children think that they live in a great county with amazing opportunities and not feel held back by their social class.

My Autistic Son Panics When he Sees the News

My son has high functioning autism, he is “too bright” to be able to attend the local special needs school as they are only funded for those who struggle to achieve grades in school.

So he has to attend a big noisy mainstream school who are fantastic in the ways they help him but every cut to school funding shows – his one to one help has been cut down to 13 hours per week so if he goes on a school trip where he needs his TA to go with him he hardly has any hours left over for the rest of that week.

My son is 14 and is already politically active in fighting for educational rights and trying to get UK children help so they do not have to live and die in poverty. He is lobbying to have the cuts to Cheshire schools stopped as well as adding LGBT elements to school education.

He has stress and anxiety attacks about what is happening to the country he lives in – high functioning autists suffer with anxiety issues which lead to panic attacks, hyperventilating.

I am proud that my son like me cares enough to be active – he has been a Voice since he started high school and he was able to be politically active – he was voted in as Pupil Citizenship advisor in year 7 and firmly holds on to that post every year.

I am also sad that my child feels he has to fight for the victims of this government whilst trying to also achieve high enough grades so he hopefully will be able to get his dream jobs – He wants to work for the European Space agency, he ideally does not even want to train and work in this country because of the state of it now and how it will be if the tories stay in power!

At 14 I was worried about balancing homework, time with my friends, hair and makeup and who was interested in whom at school – I was out at the cinema, parties, horse riding etc. My son researches political campaigns and speeches so he can write his own, in between playing minecraft which he uses to make designs for deep space going spaceships as well as play with friends he studies for the way to juggle a political career with his school work!!

And when my child sees news reports he has meltdowns, severe anxiety attacks and cries for those victims that are not in some third world country but are right here in the country he lives in and is supposed to be proud of.

He’s Brave, Not a Scrounger

My story of difficulty under the Torys, is more about my partner. He was born with cerebral palsy which effects his brain and legs and means he has had to use crutches or a wheelchair all his life. His condition is complicated by type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis and massive wear and tear on his shoulders from using crutches and a manual chair for so long. Until five years ago he worked full time, often to the detriment of his health, but he has had to take early retirement after falling and breaking his hip. This has left him more vulnerable and in need of care to get up and go to bed. He is constantly waiting and anxious about an envelope dropping through the door telling him his car is being taken away, or his benefits will be stopped. It’s like a noose hanging over him. He’s had letters and forms to fill in asking if his condition has improved and when he thinks he might get better! He has been like this since he was born, CP is not degenerative but the associated complications means things will not get better. Ever! The threat of being assessed with ever changing criteria is like a dark cloud looming over us. Some days he is more able than others but he has to ‘play the crip’ when he is at his flat with the carers so they don’t say their help is not needed. Some days he can cook a meal but other days he’s unable to do anything. Assessments do not take this into account. It’s too black and white and flawed to deliberately get even deserving people off benefits. He feels like he is constantly being judged as a benefits scrounger due to the negative media comments and this has made him more reclusive for fear of being attacked verbally in the street. People with disabilities were once praised for being brave and getting on with things, now they are seen as trying to con the system if one day they use crutches rather than a wheelchair. It’s odious.

I Don’t Want To Think About My Disabled Son’s Future

The services my non mobile, non verbal son uses have had their budgets cut, some services have even been sold off. It’s hit and miss whether service users get the help they need, or suffer for extended periods of time.
7 years ago, these services worked. There were enough staff to do what needed to be done, and enough money in their budgets to provide all of the equipment disabled children in the area needed. Now it’s long waits, assessments, sometimes making do with substandard equipment (which can be dangerous), and only being able to get the generic equipment, because the specialist stuff costs too much (one size doesn’t fit all).
It’s getting worse and worse, and at this rate, I really don’t want to think about the future and the probability of private insurance and health care, because I won’t be able to afford it for my son, who is as deserving as any other human being out there, of the best services, surgeries and equipment possible.
And then there are all the prescriptions he has.. I would never be able to afford to fill all 7, so it would probably come down to a choice: do I get his epilepsy meds, his muscle relaxants, his bowel meds, or his dietary supplements? It’s not a choice I ever want to have to make.

Funding slashed 70% over 7 years

I’ve felt effects from Tory cuts & more are coming. I’m probably going to lose my PIP payment. As an insulin diabetic I worry about the NHS becoming a paying service. I watched the health and social care budget being cut in my area. Lost my job due to funding cuts. We also lost a lot of clients who died when the cuts in provision meant that their treatment offer changed. Some may say they deserved to die as they were homeless, drug and alcohol dependent clients. I believe addiction is an illness, often exercebated by underlying mental health conditions, poor early family life experiences and trauma. You wouldn’t think that a government who continually cuts services for those who are the vulnerable in society, homeless and disabled do care if you worked in this sector. Funding was slashed by 70 percent over 7 years.

The week the Coilition took charge in Westminster in my borough the housing repairs
section stopped repairing council housing as efficiently as they had when a labour government was in. There were longer wait times and things that were formerly repaired they now said were not being repaired anymore. I know it’s small beans but everything literally changed over night.

Vix’s story. From helping to not getting help.

I was a drug and alcohol worker for 10 years and I loved my job! The cuts led to enormous reductions in funding, pushing caseloads higher and higher, and forcing the services to work on payment by results as part of their contracts, so staff were pressured to manage more and more clients and push them through treatment faster. Ultimately, it becomes very unsafe. If a heroin user stops using and leaves services, then relapsed, they are at risk of overdose due to their reduced tolerance to the drug, however we were under pressure to move them on. Also, with so many clients to manage, eventually you’ll drop the ball and overlook something, which could a safeguarding issue, or a life and death issue. The reductions in funding also made access to rehab and detox virtually impossible for clients, which was very demotivating. For staff, the stress levels were astronomical.

I took voluntary redundancy last September. The stress had led to me being unable to function properly; sleeping through most of the weekends, coming home too exhausted to cook, eating tons of convenience food and high sugar snacks for energy boosts, and piling on about two stone. I haven’t worked since September and I’m still not well enough to work due to chronic fatigue. Was I accepted for ESA due to my illness, caused by the cuts? What do you think? Onto Universal Credit, 6 weeks with no payments (and no backpay) and expected to do 35 hours a week job search.

The Tories are a fucking disgrace. They’ve ruined my career and my health, and put the lives of vulnerable people in danger!

Taking the Support out of Employment & Support Allowance

This is the last one of my posts about how I have been affected by Tory policy. I wrote this back in 2014:

We will say to people that if you can work, and if you want to work, we will do everything we can to help you. We will give you the training, we will give you the support, we will give you the advice to get you going and get you back at work.
David Cameron.
Bold and encouraging words there from our Prime Minister. Words that reassure you that systems are in place to support you if you have found yourself out of work. Words that tell you that the government’s main objective is getting the unemployed employed, getting the people living on welfare off benefits and into the workplace. Excellent. Bravo. Well said Mr Cameron.

But wait. I want to work. I’ve found a way that means I can work and yet this very morning I have walked away from a voluntary meeting at my local Job Centre Plus being told that there is nothing they can do to support me into work.

So here’s my situation. I’m a single mother. I have been since just after my son’s first birthday. When my son was three I decided that I’d had enough of trying to survive on Income Support and, much to the shock of the JCP adviser, I decided to go back to work. I had a nursing degree and had worked as a Ward Sister in a Marie Curie Hospice before the birth of my son. I got a job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Palliative Care, I was doing what I loved, looking after patients in the NHS as they approached the end of their lives. As much as I loved my job I started to become unwell; I was having panic attacks, crippling insomnia and levels of anxiety that interfered with my ability to do my job. After a period of sick leave I was given no choice but to resign and try and concentrate on getting well. I was then back on Income Support.

My diagnosis jumped around, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and I was eventually diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. I have been under the care of the mental health team for over two years, according to the Disabilities Act I can class myself as disabled.

The British people think that if someone is disabled, then they should get all the care and support that we can offer.
George Osborne.
When my son turned 5, in February 2013, I came off Income Support and applied for Employment and Support Allowance. The way that ESA is set up you are supposed to be at the pre-assessment level for 13 weeks and then placed in either a support group or a work group depending on your assessed work capability.

35 weeks after I started claiming ESA I was due to have an Atos assessment. I was having an especially mad few months, daily panic attacks and symptoms that frankly I’d rather not talk about here and therefore I contacted them asking for it to be rearranged. 25 weeks later and I never have received another appointment.

Recently, even though I am still under psychiatric care and I know I am not well enough to cope with the pressure of employment I have been thinking about ways the I can be self employed and therefore come off ESA. I booked my appointment to discuss what support I could get and that is what took place today.

The short answer is none. Zip. Zilch. There is a scheme called the New Enterprise Allowance, it is made for people like me. It supports you in setting up as self employed, takes you off ESA/JSA and then gives you a payment of £60 for 13 weeks and £30 for 13 weeks as you get yourself on your feet. It would be the ideal support for me as I built up my copywriting client base. Except I don’t qualify. To qualify you have to be ‘fully on ESA’, ideally in the work group. In order to be in the work group then you need to have been assessed as capable to start looking for work. The Job Centre couldn’t tell me when I might get another assessment date through. The Job Centre insisted that the government no longer using Atos was not having an effect on the time it would take to be assessed. Apparently me saying that I feel able to start doing some work, and that I want to work is not enough. So I have no choice. I can’t start working for myself, or at least if I do I have to do it with no support, no financial cushion for the first few weeks.

The system is broken. The system isn’t built to get those who want to work into work. It is built to demoralise and humiliate people. To ensnare them into a benefit trap so that they can be sneered at by the rest of the country. Excellent. Bravo. Well done Mr Cameron.

Legal Aid RIP

This was a blog that I wrote back in 2014 when I was trying to divorce my abusive husband:

Today would have been my wedding anniversary. That’s not a hugely relevant point other to say that at almost exactly this point in time 7 years ago I was in my beautiful dress in a vintage Rolls Royce and not thinking for a second how I would meet legal costs in the case of a divorce; I didn’t marry my ex with my escape route already planned. I thought we’d stay together. I guess that’s my starting point.
For the two years following that wedding day I changed, I was constantly put down, told I wasn’t good enough, told I was embarrassing, told how to dress, how to act, how to think. Any protest from me was met with my ex getting teary and threatening suicide ‘just like your dad’ and me turning into a guilt ridden and terrified mess. A year and a month after my wedding day my son was born. This gave my ex yet more power to control me. He’d dictate who my son could see, he’d criticise my parenting, he’d even criticise how he imagined I’d parent in years to come. I was made to feel like an inconvenience yet always with the caveat that he loved me (& that no one else EVER would) almost said resentfully as if I bewitched him.
A year on from my son’s birth we broke up. A messy complicated break up which culminated in him assaulting me. To this day I’ve never feared for my life as much as I did in this period.
I obtained a restraining order but this didn’t curb my ex’s behaviour. He spread toxic lies to my friends and family, he reported me to the police twice stating that our son was at risk, he sent me a terrifying email that led to sleepless nights of me listening for the slightest noise in the house as I was convinced he would break in and rape me. I wouldn’t take the same route home from nursery two days in a row, I didn’t go out if it wasn’t necessary. I was scared.
After a while the initial terror lessened slightly, the general abuse didn’t. There are too many incidents to list but over the last 4-5 years I’ve been subjected to constant claims that I had ruined his life, threats of suicide, name calling, power trips, malicious behaviour, threatening my friends, threatening me with his money and power and feeling arrogantly confident that he will evict me from the family home, not through any need but because he can.
It’s been horrible. Constant stress, tears, fear, the last two years being so unwell with stress & anxiety that I lost my career.
Now we are finally divorcing. I wanted to do it sooner but every time I talked about beginning proceedings he would manipulate me or threaten me and so I’d hold back. I am currently on ESA and therefore have a very low income and yet I got refused legal aid because I can’t ‘prove’ abuse in the last two years. The legal aid agency letter which turned me down accepted that I had been subject to domestic violence, it’s not that they disbelieved me it’s just that it wasn’t recent enough. So I don’t qualify and the abusive ex’s assertion that he has more money for legal advice and therefore will ‘hang me out to dry’ seems to be true. And I’m left with the feeling that if only I’d not felt too weak to stand up and divorce him sooner or hadn’t felt guilty for leaving him and therefore tried to show compassion on delaying divorce proceedings that I wouldn’t find myself in this position.
Well done government, seriously well done.