Friday, October 26, 2007

Stupid is as Stupid does

Far from the plasma screen and real leather recliner lifestyle so popularly described in many right wing blogs and msm, the reality of life on benefits is life lived on a knife's edge.

Neighbour has been experiencing increasing financial problems which have come to a head today. She has congenital hip problems, was actually born without a hip, no socket or femur bone which in itself you'd think would be painful enough, but when she had her artificial hip put in some years ago the surgeon caused massive nerve damage which no-one since has ever seen fit properly attemp to treat. This of course impacts on her knees, the whole of her pelvis and spine.

As a result of these problems neighbour receives Incapacity Benefit at the long term higher rate. It totals up to around £368 every 4 weeks. She has been receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which is £180 every 4 weeks. Housing Benefit of approximately £82 per week, with a rent of £475 per month. Suffice to say she has over £100 a month shortfall between what housing benefit provide and her actual rent. There are never available council properties for people without children, with disabilities who are under 65, which is why a few years ago a social worker wanted me to be grateful for her efforts to put me into sheltered accomodation for the elderly. I was 28. As neighbour receives Incapacity Benefit she only gets part of her council tax paid for her.

Recently neighbour reapplied for discretionary housing benefit, a top up to housing benefit paid to those in particular need. It's difficult to get and deeply degrading to apply for, you have to justify every penny you spend, supplying receipts for your food shopping etc which, whilst making it utterly humiliating for those genuinely in need, I suspect may make it a fraudsters paradise. Although she had previously been granted this top up payment (but still left with a much smaller shortfall) this time she has been refused. No reason was given, it's just how it goes.

Neighbour phoned the Benefits Enquiry Line for advice. They informed her that she receives too much money to be eligible for Income Support. They also informed her that her DLA mobility should have ended two years ago (she had thought it was a 'lifetime' award, she's only going to get worse after all) and that despite it being completely the fault of the Department of Work and Pensions for continuing to pay her after not sending her out more forms to assess whether she was still entitled to DLA they are very likely to attempt to aggressively pursue her for this money.

Neighbour is terrified. It is near impossible in the area we live in to find properties to rent for under £450 per month, those scant few that appear for less are in areas no-one wants to live in and certainly where a single, disabled woman would feel even more vulnerable, that's if they don't state 'no pets, no smokers, no DSS' like the vast majority of private rentals do. Neighbour is facing a situation where her total income will be under £700 every 4 weeks, with rent of £475, thus leaving her just over £220 to pay council tax, gas, electric, all other utilities. They add up to more than £220 per month despite the fact she has no luxury items. I don't think it unreasonable to count an internet connection as vital when you are lacking in mobility and have to shop for food that way.

This is of course the same neighbour who despite her own problems getting around has been ensuring that I eat and helping me since social services decided that despite witnessing my hip dislocating repeatedly and without trauma, commenting on the obvious amount of pain it caused, recommending I get a community alarm as I would be safer that way, that in their opinion none of that meant I needed any help as I could obviously manage.

I am in many respects luckier than neighbour. I am substantially more disabled, and have care needs as well as mobility. Who'd ever have thought being more disabled or that pissing yourself could ever have an upside? Well, it means I'm entitled to the care component of DLA, although funnily enough those needs I have during the daytime that the DWP granted me middle rate care for bizarrely disappear at night, well according to them they do, and that's so they didn't have to grant me the extra £20 or so a week that giving me higher rate care my GP wrote and told them they should do, would have meant.

Unlike neighbour, I'm not entitled to Incapacity Benefit. Well, not really. The benefits system is wildly complicated you see, so I had to apply for Incapacity Benefit and Income Support so that I could be turned down for Incapacity Benefit and only get the national insurance credits part of it and be granted Income Support. Why can't I get Incapacity Benefit? That's a long story, but to do with not having been diagnosed until I was 28, being told I was lazy and malingering so working multiple part time jobs too poorly paid to reach the NI contributions limit so I don't have enough contributions to entitle me to IB and although I was substantially disabled in my early 20's, I wasn't believed so was determined to work and when I did try to apply for benefits found it rather difficult with a GP who insisted I was an attention seeking liar.
So, unlike neighbour I receive Income Support, which is paid at a higher level because of the premuims granted for my care needs. However, should I ever enter in to a relationship, even with someone on a low income, whoever my partner is will be deemed financially liable for me and all my (means tested) Income Support would stop. A hefty burden on any relationship I'm sure you'll agree, whereas Incapacity Benefit is non means tested and so if neighbour were to be in that situation her IB would continue.

People on Income Support are entitled to have all of their council tax paid for them, despite often having higher incomes than those on Incapacity Benefit. I get around £10 per week more than neighbour in housing benefit, which I am apparently entitled to because my care needs mean I need more space for equipment etc, although just like neighbour I still have around £100 rent shortfall.

Neighbour will have to wait at least a week until the DWP send her out new forms to fill in for Disability Living Allowance. It will take around a week, probably more to fill out the forms correctly, we're not sure where to find the specialist help she needs to do this in our area, services have been cut. Last time I had to reapply for DLA it was approximately a 3 month wait to hear back. In the meantime neighbour has more going out on rent and utilities than she does coming in.

This is what it's really like to live on benefits. No plasma tv's here, just fear and if we don't pull together as friends and a community, as I've experienced in the past, you can get very cold and very hungry, very quickly. Welcome to the real world.

7 comments:

Casdok said...

Your poor neighbour. I am also a benifit scrounging scum, so i know all to well how cold it can get.

steph said...

Hi again Bendy

Sorry to hear how damn tough things are for you.

I've just written a post on EDS which may be of interest to you although when I read your story, it makes mine seem very manageable by comparision!

http://biopsy.wordpress.com/

Regards,
Steph

BenefitScroungingScum said...

A couple of years ago my MP (who's actually not bad for an MP) came to the house as part of a 'we're in the neighbourhood to see if we can help' thing, even he admitted that he would not be able to live on the amounts provided in benefits, particularly with any kind of health problem, and was horrified at how cold it was, however, beyond writing letters there was nothing he could do as of course I was receiving all the right benefits which he'd admitted he couldn't live on! It's a crazy system where we pay fit, healthy 18 year olds to stay in bed cos they can't be arsed to get a job whilst others who'd love to work go cold or hungry. Sigh.

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

What if she went off the incapacity benefits and on to income support? Then her whole rent will be paid.

I know what a pain in the arse the system is. Like being turned down for legal aid, because they estimate I'm on £11,000 and earn too much to get. Hello?? Single mother of two. This is less than tne minimal wage if I worked full time.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

That's the stupid thing Vi, She's entitled to incapacity benefit so that means she's not entitled to income support. I'm only entitled to income support because I'm not entitled to incapacity benefit. Even if she did somehow manage to claim for income support (I'm hoping to find a way to claim even a penny a year in income support for her) there's no way her whole rent would be paid by housing benefit, just like mine she'd still have a shortfall of around £100 per month because they estimate rents on the cheapest areas, (as in its a myth that you could rent at that price) mixed with council rents and we all know how much council housing there is so that the full cost of private sector rent is never met by housing benefit.

The really irritating thing about your legal aid is if you were on benefits with 2 kids, not only would you be likely to get more than £11000 a year (which might be where their estimate comes from) but because you'd be on benefits they'd give you legal aid without any hassle. It's just so stupid!!! I meant to ask if you get all the tax credits etc that you're entitled to and if you can ignore the maintenance as it doesn't count as income on tax credits so maybe it shouldn't for legal aid?

Anonymous said...

if your neighbour gets DLA at the middle rate they should be getting income support top up cos of disability premiums.....

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Anonymous: hello and welcome. TY for your tip. She has moved away now, but she was only getting the mobility component of DLA, she wasn't entitled to the care part, so no top ups. Bendy Girl