Saturday, 19 March 2016

Conflicting reports

Exhaustion reigns at Dusty Towers. I'm still struggling to get back to my pre-funeral trip baseline. Mornings are a blur of getting the basics done and then I collapse on the sofa. A sleep helps in the short term but then I don't sleep at night.

So, back in January I had the dreaded work capability assessment. Unusually, the health practitioner doing the assessment managed to get under my radar. I have a problem of always painting a picture better than the reality. I can't help it, it's a defence mechanism because if I get in touch with the reality it is very uncomfortable. It is also an ancient survival ploy; to appear strong. Anyway, her perceptive questioning got past this and I crumpled like a crumply thing.

It being March already and no sign of a brown envelope I decided to give the DWP a ring to find out if I'd been found fit for work. Always a possibility. It has happened in the past and I have been stripped of my benefits. Apparently, on this occasion they have put me in the support group. This is the first time I have had my disability properly recognised and I have mixed feelings about it. Who wants to be classified as that disabled in a world where there is still so much stigma? I also have to confront my own internal prejudices about it.

If you don't already know there are two strands to Employment and Support Allowance: the Work Related Activities Group (WRAG) and the Support Group. If you are put in WRAG you are expected to carry out work related activities in preparation for employment. This could be volunteering, doing a part-time course or filling shelves for ASDA for nothing. You can do "permitted work" in WRAG and earn up to about £100 per week for no more than 16 hours work - but only for one year, after which you lose the ESA if you earn a penny more than £20 per week. I fell foul of this when I was well enough to work but not well enough to make the jump from 16 hours to the 25 or so I would have needed to make up the loss of my ESA. I tried and relapsed.

What the job centre doesn't tell you is you can get around this fiscal cliff by doing "supported permitted work". Find an organisation which helps peeps with disabilities into work. If you work under their aegis this rule is waived and you can carry on earning after the year is up. Pity I didn't know that before.

Also in WRAG you get bothered by summonses for work focussed interviews. I have always found these to be absolutely pointless. If you don't attend though they can take your benefits away. These are called sanctions, which is another name for punishments. The job centre sent me on a health pilot which was a programme designed to help me set targets, make better lifestyle choices and so on. It got me no nearer to getting better and, in fact, I found them quite stressful since they were so patronising and there was no continuity. One of the four different people I saw in the process suggested I try fostering to boost my income. My jaw just dropped. 

The support group is a slightly better place to be. You get an extra £7 a week, you can work up to the permitted work limits indefinitely and they don't expect you to attend work focussed interviews. It's where I expected to be with my level of decrepitude but it has not been recognised before. 

If you've read some of my previous posts you'll know I also applied for Personal Independence Payment and had the assessment within a month of the work capability assessment. I scored zero points according to the PIP criteria. I asked for a reconsideration and sent in some extra evidence. The reply was still zero. Apparently I chatted with my friend and went up the stairs to the loo. So I am appealing that decision.

What I want to know is this. How can I be so disabled I need to be in the support group on the one hand, but on the other I appear to have no disability that warrants even a point? The two assessments were within days of each other. Well, I think the answer is that the assessments are not fit for purpose and, of course there are plenty of other factors. Different companies assessed me, different places, different day, one at a centre and one at home, my fluctuating condition and so on.

Meanwhile, I'm working on recovery. I'm pacing and resting, looking at my diet, doing as much as I can outside of the house without overdoing it. Trying not to rant too much on Facebook and failing. Till next time. . .

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