So in November last year the government got around to switching me over from Incapacity Benefit to the new ESA (Employment and Support Allowance). In the process of this switch over, they decided that I was actually capable of working, and that they were going to stop my money altogether.
I did not take this news well. In fact, I had an all out Episode. It was not pretty. I appealed the decision, and they put me on minimal money for the duration of the appeal. I got the paperwork involved, and read the absolutely appalling assessment from the medical that I had. The woman obviously did not listen to a single word that I said. Aside from anything else, she wrote that I spend all day playing with my son. For those who don’t know, I don’t have children. None at all. Not even a son.
It’s taken a while to get the appeal date. Months of waiting, and being incredibly broke, and stressing. Not being able to really make plans for anything, because on the amount of money I was on I couldn’t do anything. I could barely afford groceries.
Finally I got a letter through with the appeal date. All of a sudden the end was in sight, and I was ten times as stressed and terrified. I had panic attacks, crying fits, sleepless nights. The beginning of last week was horrible. I couldn’t focus on anything. I had no energy. I didn’t even want to stitch – which is a serious sympton.
Wednesday night my Mum came up from Basingstoke to be with me, and on Thursday morning we picked up Cayden and we went to the Tribunal Services building. We didn’t have to wait long… although it felt like hours. I was terrified. I wanted to jump out of the window. If Mum hadn’t come up, I don’t know if I’d have been able to force myself to even leave my house.
The (slightly cute) clerk led us into the room, and we were faced with two old guys, who introduced themselves as a Dr and a judge. And it began.
They asked some questions, let me know I could stop at any time if I needed to. I did my best to stop shredding the piece of paper in my hands (I failed), and to answer their questions. Mum interjected a few times. I think Cayden may have done as well.
About ten minutes in to the tribunal, they stopped me halfway through what I was saying, and said that they weren’t going to put me through any more. They were going to approve my appeal.
I felt a little bit like I was in shock. I didn’t want to believe it. But once I had the decision letter in my hand (the second version, because the first version had me down as a “he”) I felt like so much weight had been lifted from me that I could float. I didn’t realise how tense I’d been until my muscles just kind of melted right then and there. The Twix McFlurry that Mum brought me was definitely needed to bring me back down to earth.
I know that public opinion about benefits is very divided. And I agree that there are too many people out there who take advantage. People with alcohol and drug issues who take the money and don’t bother to look for work. People who lie about their health in order to receive money so that they don’t have to work. I know that there are people who have children just to get more money from the government, and people who are just too lazy to get a job. But I do get angry when people assume that everyone is the same. Some people are on benefit because they need to be.
It isn’t that I don’t want to work. I’d love to have a job that I enjoy (and I don’t want anything fancy… I’d love admin work), and a regular routine and a normal life. But when you wake up in the morning and can’t force yourself out of bed, it’s kinda hard to have a job. When you have panic attacks upon leaving the house, you can’t work. When you can’t focus on a task for more than five minutes, you can’t work.
I don’t want to be on benefit forever. I want to go to counselling, and to get better, and to be able to work and support myself. But right now I can’t do that, so I need the money. Believe me… this money is not un-earned. If you could live in my head for just a few hours, you’d understand how hard it is just to be conscious. I would happily trade those thoughts and problems in order to be able to work a 9-5 job.
But I can’t. Not right now.
So, what does winning the appeal actually mean?
It means that my fortnightly money goes up to a slightly higher rate. It’s not a lot. Technically I still live in poverty. But it means that I can afford fresh food, and meat. It means that I can afford the occasionally luxury – like a yarn purchase. It means that I can afford to leave the house more than one day a week, and that I can go to the cinema with a friend, or go out for a dinner or a drink. It means that I can pay a little bit more off of my debts each payday, and that I can afford to put some money away to save for my trip.
It also means that I get a nice backdated amount of money. The difference between what I was getting, and what I should have been getting, will be backdated right back to the date of the original decision. When that money comes through, I’ll be able to pay back the friends who’ve helped me out a little, pay a big chunk of my debts, and two other very important things.
1) I’m getting an iPad. Not the new one… I’m happy with the old one. But it’s something that would be used a lot, will provide me with a lifeline when I’m out of the house, would help me beta test my friend’s games. And it’s my 30th birthday present to myself.
2) I’m moving. Cayden has moved back to his parents house in Hampshire, and the only three friends I have left here in Stoke are very popular and busy people who I’d see at most once a fortnight. I have no life left up here. So I’m moving back to Basingstoke. In Basingstoke I have friends and family already, and I’ll be close enough to the rest of my family in Southampton that I’ll be able to see them. At the moment I have a nephew and three neices, and a cousin that I’ve only met once, 18 months ago. I don’t like that state of affairs. I don’t want to miss out on them growing up. I don’t want them to grow up not knowing who I am. For those, and a million other reasons, I’m moving back to Basingstoke. Just as soon as I find somewhere to move to.