The social insecurity system

Sue Watson

We should be more understanding when people need financial help, because the reality is that most people claim social security benefits at some point in their lives, writes Dole Animator, Sue Watson. 

Well what a few years it has been!

I had plans for my future having just started an aromatherapy business in 2007. These included having my own aromatherapy shop (or possibly shops!) which I wanted to use for training in aromatherapy and producing aromatherapy products, both for the general public and specifically designed products for individuals. This was my long term goal for the next 10-15 years

Everything changed in the beginning of 2008 when I was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis. It is as an autoimmune disease which currently has no cure and means I have a higher probability of heart attack, stroke, depression and certain cancers. Stress and anxiety exacerbates the condition. My life expectancy is reduced.

Having been in work for over 30 years I was very aware of the benefits of being in work from the financial to the social and everything in between. Stopping work was not something I had planned for or had even thought about – and why would I? Everything was going well for me and I had had no idea I would be so ill that I had to stop work and look to our social security system for help. This was definitely not – as has been implied by many of our fearless politicians – a lifestyle choice.

I currently receive both disability living allowance and employment support allowance (support group). I am very anxious about the continued changes to the social security system as I am unsure how this will affect me and I dread that brown envelope landing on the doormat one morning.

Whilst I appreciate there have to be some systems and checks in place to ensure claimants are genuine, I do think the current system (even after – or because of – all the changes) makes it more difficult for people to get the help they need. If I hadn’t been so angry and frustrated at trying to find out why my second ESA claim had been rejected (after being in the work related activity group for the previous year) I wouldn’t have contacted my MP to see if he could help me. This he kindly did and within a couple of days of him confirming he had contacted the jobcentre I had a telephone call from a senior adviser!

Being reasonably intelligent I was even more angry that I had been given the run around whereas my MP merely had to voice a concern about my case to receive a quick response. Speaking to an adviser made a huge difference to me: I was able to explain my limitations due to my illness and go through my medical information. I was told that the initial decision to put me in the work related activity group was incorrect and I should have been placed in the support group instead – which is where I am now.

However, it is not just a case of being able to speak to the right person. There was one incident when I went to the jobcentre to see an adviser during my first year in the work related activity group that I can now look back on with some degree of amusement. I was early for my appointment and so decided to get a cup of coffee to take in with me. When I walked into the jobcentre with my coffee I was immediately surrounded by three, burly security men all shouting at me saying I couldn’t bring coffee in with me as it was a ‘dangerous weapon’ as I could throw it over someone!! There was no way I would even consider doing so not least because I had spent £2.30 on it. I was ushered out of the jobcentre very quickly and was made to feel as if I’d committed a heinous crime.

I am of the opinion that there will be more changes to the social security system that will adversely affect many people, including those both in and out of work. More and more people will be living below the poverty line.

The reality is that at some time most people will claim one of the current 40+ social security benefits – be it child allowance, tax credits or job seekers allowance. So, we must put a stop to the idea that people in work are ‘better’ or ‘more deserving’ than those currently out of work. Life can sometimes bite you on the bottom when you least expect it and this may mean huge changes to your working life in the short, medium or long term. We shouldn’t become a nation of people who penalise people for needing financial help at times when their life has crashed in front of them.

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