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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Imagine

Imagine this happening in real life:

You're a single parent with three children. When your kids were all under the age of five years, you couldn't really work because of childcare and stuff  So, you got Income Support on the basis that you were a single parent. Your Income Support was awarded quite a few years ago. Before, you know, The Big Changes.

Also, you haven't been very well for a long time because of osteoarthritis and chronic migraine. You can't walk very well and you can't raise either of your arms above your head and you can't really move your neck, and your migraines are so bad that they make you vomit (this happens about three times per week). This is reason number two why you can't work. You have worked but working isn't an option for you right now.

Oh, also, you're a Dutch national. You've lived in the UK for 11 years though. So, you're pretty established here. And, remember, you used to work here. You used to work loads.

When your youngest child has reached the age of five, you get a letter from the Income Support department telling you that you're no longer entitled to Income Support because your children's ages have surpassed the threshold for you to be entitled as a single parent.

This is a correct and legal decision. And you think, this decision is legal and correct and fair enough.

And then you think about what your options are.

Options.

Oh, here they are:

a) you do nothing. This is a bad option

b) you try to find a job or at least make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance while you find a job. This isn't a great option because you're not very well. You're not very well at all and, even if you found a job, you'd probably have to take loads of days off sick and you'd end up getting sacked

c) you try to find out if there is another benefit that you can get to help you on the basis that you're too sick to work. And you find out that there is.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

You make a claim for this sickness benefit called Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and you get paid the basic amount of it while your claim is being 'properly assessed'.

After your claim has been a bit assessed, you get a letter telling you that you're not entitled to ESA because you don't have the right to reside in the UK. Because you're a Dutch national, remember? This means that you can't get certain means-tested benefits like ESA and Income Supp-

But, hang on a sec, you think. I've lived here for 11 years. I've worked here. And also, I got Income Support for ages and nobody told me that I didn't have the right to reside back then.

The benefit department shrugs at you.

So then you're a bit annoyed because it's not fair.

So you ask if you can appeal. And you can. So you do. But while you're appealing, you don't get any money at all.

But then you get told that, while you're appealing, you might be able to make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance so that you can have some money in the meantime.

But, hang on a sec, you think. Jobseekers Allowance is for people who are looking for work. And I'm not really looking for work because I can hardly get out of bed in the morning because of my migraines and my arthritis.

But you get told that making a claim for Jobseekers Allowance is the only way for you to have a chance of an income while you're appealing the right to reside / ESA decision. So you make the claim. And your claim is successful.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

When you go for your initial Jobseekers meeting, you tell the adviser all about yourself and the adviser tells you that you're not well enough to work and that you should make a claim for ESA.

You try to explain to the adviser that the only reason you're making this claim for Jobseekers Allowance is because you're waiting for an ESA appeal to be processed.

The adviser shrugs at you. 

And your Jobseekers Allowance claim is closed.

So, you quickly make a new claim for Jobseekers Allowance but the same thing happens again. And again.

So now, you're really peeved. And you're really broke. And you have to go to food banks and not have any electricity and not buy your growing children new shoes and your Housing Benefit stops and your landlord nearly evicts you and you're hungry and cold and quite down about it all.

And, after about 13 months you go to your right to reside / ESA appeal hearing. And your appeal is successful.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

It's explained to you that, even though your appeal about having the right to reside was successful, that still doesn't mean that you'll definitely be entitled to ESA because now you have to have a medical assessment. You see, the decision about the right to reside was made before any decisions were made about your health problems.

And you think, that seems fair enough. I'll happily go to a medical assessment.

And off you go.

And a few weeks after you've attended your 13-minute medical assessment, you get a letter telling you that you're not entitled to ESA because you didn't score enough points on the point-scorer. It's decided that you're well enough to work.

But hang on a sec, you think. I've got osteoarthritis and a vomit-inducing headache most of the time. How can I be well enough to work?

The benefit department shrugs at you.

So you ask if you can appeal. And you can. So you do. But while you're appealing, you don't get any money at all.

But then you get told that, while you're appealing, you can make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance so that you can have some money in the meantime.

But, hang on a sec, you think. Jobseekers Allowance is for people who are looking for work. And I'm not really looking for work because I can hardly get out of bed in the morning because of my migraines and my arthritis.

But you get told that making a claim for Jobseekers Allowance is the only way for you to have a chance of an income while you're appealing the ESA decision. So you make the claim. And your claim is successful.

Hooray!

But, actually, not hooray! because imagine if this happens next:

When you go for your initial Jobseekers meeting, you tell the adviser about yourself and the adviser tells you that you're not well enough to work and that you should make a claim for ESA.

But hang on a sec, you say to your adviser at the JobCentre. It was your department that made a decision that I was well enough to work; a decision that I'm appealing. And the only reason I'm asking for Jobseekers Allowance is so that I can have an income while my appeal is processed. And now you're telling me that I'm too sick to work which is what I've been trying to tell you the whole time. I'm confused. I'm confused and tired.

The adviser shrugs at you. 

And your Jobseekers Allowance claim is closed.

So, you call the ESA call-centre to say that the adviser at the JobCentre - ostensibly a colleague of the person you're talking to on the phone - has told you that you're definitely too sick to work so can you please just have your ESA right now and be done with it all.

And the whole of the call centre does a massive, blank-faced shrug at you down the phone.

So, you decide that before you do anything else, you're going to go for a lie down and a nice read. And you go to the library and borrow a copy of The Castle by Franz Kafka and you read the whole thing in one go and then you read it backwards and then you cry yourself to sleep.