“Work for those who can. Security for those who can’t. Support for all.”

Work for those who can. Security for those who cant. Support for all.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Support stops us falling further

Has ESA empowered me? No, but it has saved my life, writes "Nora".

Many years ago I had what seemed an innocuous injury, a complex break to my leg that refused to heal. I was working at the time, and tried to continue working as best I could.

However after many weeks it was confirmed that the lack of healing was significant, my employer couldnt keep paying me, and I had to claim benefits. I claimed sickness benefit at the lowest rate, Incapacity Benefit (IB) set at the same level as income support. 
I lived in a very old house with economy 7 heating and quite ludicrously high heating bills. As my savings dwindled away at an alarming rate - they were insignificant to start with - the cold actually started to bite. I found myself wearing firstly a coat indoors, then a hat, and finally gloves. It was at this point I knew i had to really start cutting back, so I started to maximise the cheap electricity rate, turning off the freezer in the day, measuring water into the kettle, and when the battery went on the ancient laptop, using a car battery charged overnight to run it. After 6 of the most horrendous months imaginable, sleeping fully dressed under a pile of duvets and blankets, my IB finally increased. 
I wasnt sure how I had managed, but by this point I was very ill, living with the bare minimum of everything, including hot meals, struggling to cook or wash. I was then visited by a representative from the Job Centre who recognised that I wasnt fit for work, I was desperatly ill, and asked did I know about Disability Living Allowance (DLA). I didn't, so I applied. 
A further 3 months passed and my IB increased again. I now started to appreciate those few extra pounds - I could now afford to use my gym prescription that my GP had given me. I could afford a taxi to the GP, so I was getting better care. I could afford to eat slightly better. I was still on a financial tightrope, but those extra few pounds served to be the balance pole that helped me not to fall.

When I was awarded DLA I no longer had to provide sick notes to get my IB. I was free from the constant suspicion and worry that I would, by some bad judgement, be found to be not sick or disabled enough for IB. Continual DLA awards ensured I didnt have to talk to my GP about sick notes - I could use the time to talk about why I wasnt getting better.

Then 2 years ago I was working with many others on the failings of Atos and ESA, and the proposed change to PIP from DLA. Digging that deeply into it was truly frightening. Reading testimonies and stories from others, and trying to help hundreds of people with their questions and forms, eventually the fear of ESA gripped me too, and I had a fairly spectacular breakdown. It was to be another year before I was migrated, and yet the sheer fear of being back in a house with no heating, of being without that tiny differential, that small stipend, sent me quite, quite mad with terror. No matter how many ways I worked out the figures, I could not afford to heat my home without this supplement.

Some would say that I could alter my circumstances - but that statement wouldnt stand up to much scrutiny. At the end of the day the costs of living grossly exceed the income from JSA, and it takes a fine balancing act to sustain a sick and disabled life on ESA.

Has ESA empowered me? No, but it has saved my life, and the sickness benefit for me came not a moment too soon. People can't manage on a subsistence benefit for ever - unemployment benefits are set low, as people are expected to return to work - I expected to. What I didnt expect was to live in fear.

With the cost of living rising constantly, and heating, transport and food all taking up the vast majority of an income I feel that IB and ESA have kept my head above water, but I have been very close to going under. ESA does not have the security of IB - it is terrifyingly unstable, so instead of the security of knowing that there is a tiny supplement, ESA gives, but always with the constant fear of it being taken away.


  1. No moaning. No complaining. No 'pity poor me'.

    Just an honest, true & straightforward account of someone's journey through the Hell that is the benefits system in this country at the moment.

    Thank you very much for sharing.