Monday, 1 July 2013

Let's judge the disabled!

Honestly, I don't really know why I'm writing this post. I feel like I need to warn people I suppose, that's all.

A few months ago I contacted DIAL about my DLA application. I had just been turned down when I applied myself, and had absolutely no income.

There is a huge stigmatism around benefits in the UK at the moment. As such a lot of genuinely sick and disabled people are being declined benefits that they genuinely need. The media has done a very good job of turning every day normal people against the sick and disabled. People who would normally help someone they actually see in distress are begrudging those people the tiny amount of money that they need for simple things like food. People are starving, food banks are at breaking point. Anyway ...

I am disabled. I've spent years trying to deny it to myself, but in the last few years I've been forced to admit it. Even my family, who's had their head in the sand over the fact that I'm ill, has started recognising that I have these problems. I'm disabled!

I have M.E. and Fibromylagia. I am hypermobile and have recurring back problems. I have PSTD and suffer with severe anxiety attacks. I am in constant pain, which is only partly relieved by very strong pain killers. The severity fluctuates; on my best days I can potter about the house a bit, maybe even go for a walk. On my worst days I have to knock myself out for the day to avoid the agony. I suffer with fatigue and exhaustion the like of which you can only imagine if you've actually experienced it yourself. Walking is painful. Remaining in any position for more than 15 minutes is painful. The fatigue means I struggle to meet any expectations placed on me (doctor's appointments, shopping trips, taking medication at designated times, etc). It means that I frequently have problems performing simple tasks or formulating sentences. I'm often mistaken for being drunk. (I don't drink).

Being disabled is hard. Even if you're not disabled, having a long term illness is hard. You have doctor's and specialists whom you try to keep happy. It's human nature to wear a mask, leading people to believe that things are better than they are. That doesn't apply any less to sick or disabled people. If anything it applies more.

So, you spend most of your time trying to put a positive twist on all these difficulties ... and then you have to fill in forms describing how bad things are. It is very hard to make such a huge mental u-turn. You have to scrutinise every little thing you do. For me it includes measuring how far I walk between each tick - because every tick can cause me to fall when I don't have my stick. Before filling in the form I didn't realise how frequently I was actually ticking! You end up learning that you're far more disabled than you thought you were. Really, most of us are actually in denial until we go through this process properly. As such it's very demoralising, and often causes distress and depression.

You can imagine how easy it is for those who wish to commit benefit fraud, can't you. They don't have any of these difficulties to face, just a little research into a condition, tick a few boxes, tell a few lies.

So, as I was saying, DIAL helped me with my recent DLA application. Honestly, with everything else going on in my life at the moment I'd totally forgotten about it (people dying, and my mother having strokes). I was resting in bed, my body is currently inflamed with a Fibro flare, which I have to rest off. At approximately 1pm I received a text from my boyfriend telling me that he'd had a call from someone regarding my DLA application. She told him that she'd been trying to call me, but I wasn't returning her calls. Funny thing: I've not had any missed calls! He took her details and texted them to me.

I phoned her back. Obviously she has an advantage over me, in that she knew where she was phoning from and why she was phoning, both pieces of information she refused to give me. Understandably she needed to ask me security information. Having dealt with the DWP over the last few years, both for myself and for others I'm way too familiar with how this works. She did not stick to protocol. For example, she only asked me my date of birth. Part of that protocol is to ask you which other benefits you're on - anyone trying to fake another person's ID is likely to have checked out their date of birth, address, all the obvious things; asking what benefits someone is on is not obvious, so it's an easy way to catch people out. She didn't ask this. Instead she said to me "You're receiving Carer's Allowance, aren't you!".

When she asked if I was receiving Carer's Allowance, obviously I answered that I am, because I am. She then asked me how. I did not understand this question. She went on to elaborate that my form states that I have zero mobility, and asked how I manage to care for someone if this is the case. She did not give me time to answer. Instead insisting "Do you have zero mobility or not?" Again, she did not give me time to answer, instead moving on to asking me about wheelchairs. She told me that I use a wheelchair when I go out, but that my partner cannot push it, so told me that I must push it myself, despite reading off the form to me quoting a part where it says that I can not self propel.

She kept going like this, not allowing me to get a word in edgeways, putting a twist on everything in a snide smug tone. I ended up raising my voice over her to try and communicate my actual answers to her questions. Obviously, I do not want her twisted version of things going on my record. I do not want to be turned down for DLA again, unless it's legitimately. Plus, I do not want her lies on my record as they will be referred to for future assessments. It's because of a medical assessor lying on an ESA assessment a few years ago that I have these problems to start with.

She told me that my form stated that I have expensive night time needs. I didn't and still do not know what this means. I tried to ask her, but she kept going. By this point I was crying and shaking, so I asked her to talk to my support worker instead of myself. She told me that she doesn't have to do that. I told her that I was officially asking her to. She repeated that she doesn't have to do that. Then, while I literally sobbed the request again to her, she hung up on me.

A pretty bad panic attack followed. I really do not cope well with confrontational situations. I sent a fairly vivid description of what had happened, to my boyfriend, via text, asking her to phone her back again. I also dragged myself out of bed and sent my support worker an email about it, crawling back up the stairs to bed afterwards.

My gripe is this: she knew that I was at home alone, she knew that I was bed bound at the time I was speaking to her, and she should have known that I suffer with extreme anxiety. It was her choice to push me, and deliberately wind me up the way she did.

When my partner spoke to her afterwards, firstly she told him that she wouldn't talk about it with him. She told him that he had refused to answer her questions when she had phoned him previously. This was untrue; she didn't even ask him to answer questions, she'd only said she was having difficulty contacting me. He told her that he had caused a massive panic attack, explaining that he now had to leave work to sort it out. She claimed that she did not know I suffer with anxiety. Every piece of my supporting evidence describes severe anxiety and PTSD. My form mentioned anxiety throughout. She basically told him that she didn't look at either my supporting evidence or my form before trying to contact me.

I suspect she speaks to every applicant in exactly the same way she spoke to us. I also suspect she never reads their information until she's speaking with them, thus causing a lot of anxiety issues for people similar to myself. That woman should lose her job. A position dealing with people who are sick or disabled needs someone with at least a little empathy, particularly if that job requires judging them and being responsible for their future .

So, anyone applying for DLA, please consider yourself warned about the phone call you might receive during the application process. You don't have to put your phone number on the form. Eliminating it will avoid this horrific part of the process.

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