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Benefit Review!

Amanda Thorpe


Those of us in the UK receiving benefits will be feeling the government's hot breath on the back of our necks as they review us, one by one, in an effort to get as many of us off of benefit as possible, that's purely an opinion. The ill health benefits criteria has changed so the government has decided that everyone in receipt of these benefits must be reassessed. Never mind that our circumstances might not have changed! Never let the truth get in the way of a benefit review!


When first diagnosed with diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis I felt like one of "THEM!", a creature from a 1950's black and white sci fi but as I found other people with scleroderma I felt less isolated, less freakish and more human again. The review process has made me feel like a hunted species with no dignity but a price on my head. Okay, clearly I have a flare for the dramatic but as I prepared to complete the 20 page form from the Department of Work and Pensions, hunted, well maybe just hounded, is how I felt.


Said form asked many useful questions but also some bizarre ones, well bizarre to me as I could not see how they assessed my ability to work, or lack of. Questions like "can you pick up a £1 coin, can you pick up a cardboard box?" Who cares? How can this possibly be a relevant question for assessing how disabled I am and what my capabilities are? Better to ask for letters from specialists who are able to assess what my capabilities are. As it happens they've been seriously limited for a long while which is why my former employer determined back in 2008, that I could no longer work, would never be able to again, and in recognition of that awarded my occupational pension to me at the age of 40.


I am very thankful to a lovely friend, who used to complete these forms for a living and helped me complete said form. This lovely friend did so at the drop of a hat as I had left said form sat on the side for weeks. Even though the completion deadline loomed, even though I know I can't work, I froze at the thought of actually filling out said form. Ironically people working the system have no such qualms, after all, they can always get a job should they be declined.


Here's the thing that really bugs me about this whole process, back in 2007 I was busy being busy at my career, I would grab a tall latte from my favourite coffee shop, wander in to work, sit at my desk and enjoy the whole day. I actually looked forward to going to work and did not expect it to end so abruptly and horribly. Even as I became ill, even as colleagues began commenting on my obvious symptoms I kept working. I only went off sick because my manager sent me home after I admitted that working was making my symptoms worse. I didn't sweat it as I had an upcoming appointment with a rheumatologist at which I would be diagnosed, prescribed treatment and then return to work in say 3 months or so. I never expected to be told I had a rare, incurable disease from which I would never recover. Yet, in the wake of such a diagnosis my first question was when could I go back to work! Needless to say the answer was ill health retirement and although I rejected this as ludicrous at the time it came to pass some 14 months later.


I would never have abandoned my career if there had been any chance of being able to keep it and being a responsible, motivated, intelligent person I know that I cannot work and if I could work I certainly would work. Who chooses to receive measly benefit rather than a plump salary? Certainly not me! Who chooses to partake in this difficult, stressful review process? Certainly not me!


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