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.