Flash Says…

Archive for September 2010

[Crossposted to Where’s the Benefit where I am one of the team.]

It seems that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can be quite misunderstood. Even government ministers seem to get confused, sometimes referring to it as an “out-of-work” benefit. (It isn’t.) And now DLA, along with many other essential benefits for disabled people, is under threat. Here are a few basic facts, and an illustration of why DLA can be critically important, in the words of those who receive it.

DLA is not means-tested. It is a benefit which exists to compensate the disabled person for the extra costs of living they incur compared to non-disabled people – many examples of which are given below. It’s paid regardless of whether the recipient is in work – in fact, in some cases DLA is crucial in helping the recipient get to or continue in work. There are two parts to the benefit – one covering care needs, and the other relating to mobility. The money is paid directly to the disabled person for them to use as they need.

The government has already said that, although fewer than 1% of claims are thought to be fraudulent, they intend to reduce claimants by 20% via new medical tests. Read the comments below and see if you can imagine one in five of these people having to manage without it. The government may not wish to pay them, but their needs will not disappear.

I spoke to a variety of people who, like me, receive Disability Living Allowance. Here are a selection of comments illustrating its importance.

Education and work:

“DLA means I can sustain myself enough to study. It also pays for taxi fares to university.”

“I damage clothes more quickly than other people because I fall over and sometimes have to crawl; DLA means I can buy new clothes and maintain a professional appearance in my work.”

“I spend my DLA on my education – I need a room on-campus (which is more expensive than alternatives), photocopying and books. I have mental health issues, and that course literally saved my life.”

Food and bills:

“My DLA is spent on food – from ready meals to takeaways – because I’m not able to cook for myself.  Without DLA I’d rely on friends to cook for me or I’d simply go without meals.”

“I have extra costs such as delivery charges from supermarkets, but also I can’t buy the cheapest food because stores like Lidl and Aldi don’t deliver. So my shopping costs are more than for someone who could manage to get to the shops themselves.”

“I am so tired from my job that when I get home I can’t make food for myself. Takeaways are expensive and they have a minimum order price. DLA covers the difference.”

“My electricity costs more than most people because I need the heating on to reduce my pain levels, and I need to recharge my wheelchair. DLA helps pay for the difference in my bills.”

Transport:

“All of my mobility allowance goes to pay for a Motability car – it’s the only way I could ever afford one. But there are still other costs like petrol, so some of my care allowance has to go towards that, because I have to get around.”

“If my money was stopped I would not have a car and would be stuck at home all day while my partner was at work.”

“Until my DLA came through I had to cancel hospital appointments because I couldn’t justify paying a taxi fare except in emergencies. This continued for several months…”

“Without DLA I would literally be house-bound. I wouldn’t be able to get out at all.”

Independence:

“My DLA gives me back some control, it’s the one thing that doesn’t rely on someone else being willing to help me.”

“When my partner and I lived apart, I qualified for a lot more benefit, free prescriptions and so on. Now we live together, his job means that we get less money overall. This means that my DLA is even more important – so I have some income of my own.”

“I have a cleaner who comes every week – she does tasks that I can’t manage myself. It gives me pride that I can manage my responsibilities even if I’m not doing them myself.”

“The most important thing that DLA pays for is my independence. It means I am more equal to my partner and don’t have to keep asking them for money. It means I can pull my weight.”

“I’m recovering from mental health problems and I’m rebuilding my life. I use my DLA money for things like basic furniture and decorating costs. It’s providing much needed support in many areas. I also use it for help with transport. Otherwise I would be in debt.”

And finally…

“If I didn’t have DLA I simply wouldn’t cope. I have cut back on everything as it is, we don’t have any luxuries, so there is no room for me to exist with less.”

“Without DLA I would not manage at all. I would be forced to bed and to beg for assistance from my loved ones, but this position is unsustainable…”

Those last two comments are frightening but demonstrate how tightly many disabled people have to manage their finances and how close to the edge they are operating. They simply cannot imagine a way to cope if this money was taken away.  Essentials such as meals, prescriptions or heating would be at risk if DLA was cut back, and disabled people could be stuck at home, unable to access jobs or education.

Everyone I heard from relied on their DLA payment for independence and quality of life; it was as simple as that.

It is critical that this benefit is protected in its current state and that the government’s proposal to reduce the number of claimants by 1 in 5 is robustly opposed. The treasury may need to make cuts, but when it comes to Disability Living Allowance there is simply no room to manoeuvre.

Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!

I’m late, I’m late! Apologies, readers, but this blog was delayed because last week, after 16 years of using the internet, I was infected with my first computer virus. It’s taken several days to resolve and get back up to speed.

On Friday I was at work on my Windows PC – checking mail, reading documents, working on a website – when suddenly my antivirus software alerted. Seven beeps in rapid succession told me that infected files had been found. Adult dating sites popped up in my web browser. I tried to delete the infected files but was told “access denied”. I closed the popups and shut down at once.

It is amazing how quickly everything happened. I have no idea what I did to let the virus in but once present it took over in seconds. I was no longer in control of my own PC.

I restarted my machine in safe mode; in this way I was able to manually delete the files which my AV software had detected. I ran virus scans across my whole system. These identified malicious files including a rootkit, but could not delete them – their deletion was automatically delayed until next restart. So I rebooted.

Curiouser and curiouser…

When my PC tried to restart, I saw, for the first time, the fabled Blue Screen Of Death. A Stop Message stated that a threat was detected and my machine would shut down for its own protection. Of course, it instantly restarted… and stopped, and restarted… until I intervened and booted it back into safe mode.

At this point – oh the shame – I received an email from our ISP saying that my PC had been taken over and was a spam zombie, flooding the internet with unwanted email. The real embarrassment for me is that my husband Mike and I used to work at our ISP – it’s where we met – so most likely we knew the person sending the email to us. I felt that I had let people down by allowing my PC to become infected. Mike had no choice but to block my machine from the internet.

I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself you see.

I was still wrestling with my machine when Mike came home, bringing yet more antivirus software, this time on a memory stick. This revealed that not only was my machine infected but that the virus had also edited my existing antivirus software so it could not be deleted… along with altering my google tools and other programmes. The virus was so clever as to change everything and hide itself – leaving me wondering how much could be achieved, if only virus creators worked on legitimate projects. Meantime it became clear that nothing on my PC could be trusted. A complete reinstall was the only safe option.

Plans for the weekend were cancelled; I spent a miserable time backing up essential data to an external hard disk, before a reinstall got me back up and running. The first thing I did was to take a snapshot of my system, so if I’m ever infected again I can get going again much more quickly. At last, after 4 days I was back online.

The moral of this tale is that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

My husband runs a firewall on our home network. I don’t use my PC for email (Outlook is not configured to run, as I read my email directly on the mail server) so there’s no entrance for a virus that way. I run antivirus software and keep it up to date. I never open unsolicited documents and I don’t visit dodgy websites. I still don’t know how on earth such an evil program could have found its way onto my computer, and take over with such shocking speed.

So if you haven’t updated your antivirus software lately, or scanned your hard disk, go and do it right away. And if your computer is clean, perhaps now is a good time to back up your data and take a snapshot of your system, and to ensure you have rescue disks to hand just in case you need them later – at least that way you’d be back on your feet rather more quickly than me.

I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

(With a nod to Lewis Carroll)

[Crossposted to Where’s the Benefit where I am one of the team.]

Last week Chancellor George Osbourne paid lip service to helping disabled people saying “Of course, people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable, people who need protection will get our protection, and more”1 but then in the next breath made reference to people on long-term out-of-work benefits “who think it’s a lifestyle choice” – the same people that Labour have termed “work-shy”. Has Osbourne not considered that many people who are on these benefits ARE disabled people, exactly those who need his protection? He needs to think more widely, to realise exactly who he is hitting.

Today the Guardian published letters from a variety of people who deny that living on benefits is a “lifestyle choice”2– one calling this “the most crass and insulting demonstration of patrician insensitivity and ignorance to have crossed the lips of any politician in recent times”, another stating “to live off £102 as a couple leaves nothing that can remotely be described as a ‘lifestyle’.” Richard Hawkes from Scope asks “Where is the understanding that it costs more to live as a disabled person, or that to find employment many will need individually tailored support?”

Maybe there are a few people in the UK who prefer to claim benefits rather than go out to work, but that does not mean all long term unemployed people should be penalised, as for many it is circumstance rather than choice which is restricting their options. There are sure to be many disabled people who get caught out by these cuts.

One of the tactics proposed by government is to reduce housing benefit by 10% for people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for more than a year.3. This is estimated to affect at least 24,000 disabled people.

That is: 24,000 disabled people which we know about. What about others, such as those who are on Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were wrongly assessed by Atos – the government’s medical advisor- as not qualifying for Employment Support Allowance? So far, 40% of those who appeal against the decision, win.4 There must be many more people out there who accepted Atos’s judgement without question, or who lacked the energy and wherewithal to appeal, and are now stuck on Jobseeker’s Allowance without the capacity to hold down a job.

However, there are also many disabled people legitimately claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – perhaps they can do some work, where reasonable adjustments are made by the employer. Tell me, which employer, when faced with several similar candidates, would choose the one who would need concessions in order to do their job? Not just equipment (which may be funded by the Access to Work scheme) but perhaps assistance in the event of a fire alarm, a rearrangement of desks, or providing the chance to rest every few hours. Be honest, if all other qualities were equal, you’d hire an able-bodied person every time. Given the state of the economy, with [how many people to every job?] it is no surprise that disabled people are stuck on JSA in the long term.

It’s nothing new to suggest that disabled people are often treated less favourably in the workplace – indeed, when my own job was up for redundancy one of the criteria in deciding who stayed was how much sick leave each candidate had taken. I had taken more days off than the others but – as the company’s own doctor had said – “it is likely that Flash would have an above average sickness record due to her established underlying medical conditions”. Yet by adding the sick leave criterion to the remaining vacancies I was effectively excluded and thus discriminated against.

This sort of thing goes on every day.

So when considering which benefit cuts will affect disabled people, don’t just look at those with our name on them, think wider! The 10% penalty on housing benefit will hit those who really want to work, but just can’t get any. And disabled people will really hurt from the loss of every penny.

1. Welfare spending to be cut by £4bn, says George Osborne
2. Living on benefits is in no way ‘a lifestyle choice’
3. Warning over housing benefit cuts
4. Atos Origin don’t give a toss for the sick

I am on holiday this week, but here’s a quick blog I posted on Where’s the Benefit.

The BBC report that Welfare spending is to be cut by [an extra] £4bn – apparently this is what George Osborne has told them.

The article makes for grim reading. For example: ‘The BBC understands discussions are continuing in Whitehall about whether it is possible to limit pensioner benefits – such as the winter fuel allowance, bus pass and free TV licence – without breaking Prime Minister David Cameron’s election promise that he would preserve them.

So they are trying to find out if there are ways they can weasel around and make cuts while still claiming they haven’t broken any election promises?

Mr Osborne said: “There are five million people living on permanent out-of-work benefits. That is a tragedy for them and fiscally unsustainable for us as a country – we can’t afford it any more.”

He’s right on one point; it’s a tragedy when anyone is permanently unable to work and has to rely on benefits. I know many disabled people who would love to work but simply cannot manage it because their impairment makes it impossible to manage, or who would need so many adaptions and allowances that any prospective employer would run a mile. Yes Mr Osborne, that is a tragedy for them to be in this situation. However, if the country cannot afford it, then cuts need to be made elsewhere to ensure that disabled people can continue to be supported – there is simply no alternative to benefits for some disabled people.

However, George Osborne goes on to say: ‘Of course, people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable, people who need protection will get our protection, and more.”

He needs to start spelling out how we will get his protection. All I can see on the horizon are cuts:
* Changes to the way ESA is assessed, so that fewer will qualify
* Changes to the way DLA is assessed, so that fewer will qualify
* Changes to housing benefit, which will particularly penalise disabled people, especially those who need an extra bedroom for a carer.

So come on Mr Osborne, how will we get your “protection, and more”?

It’s time he put his money where his mouth is.