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An Open Letter To David Cameron: “I Rely On ESA To Keep Me In Teabags”

July 4, 2015

From yesterday’s New Statesman:

Another day, another rummage down the back of the benefits sofa to find a spare £12bn. This week: changing Employment Support Allowance to incentivise ill people to get back to work.

One problem: I already have the best incentive to stop being ill and get back to work. It’s called “being ill”.

I would love to go back to work because if I were able to work, I would no longer be sick. Long-term illness nibbles away at your identity from the edges, taking out chunks of the things that make you you: the friends you meet, the shops you wander into, the job you do. I would love to work, if only because it would give me something to use in small talk, a context in which to place myself, the grit around which an imperfect pearl of who I am can begin to re-form.

I would like to have a job. I would like to feel productive. I would like to do more with my day than clutch at cups of tea and switch on the radio because I can’t keep my eyes open for the television. But currently I can’t and I rely on ESA to keep me in teabags.

This proposal makes two fundamental mistakes: that illness and disability are a) passive and b) attractively lucrative.

If you think I do not work for my benefits, you are wrong. Ringing the DWP at eight in the morning to find out why my benefits are a month late, only to hear a recorded message to tell me they are busy and that perhaps I ought to call back between eight and nine in the morning. The constant stream of sick notes I have to ask my doctor for, pick up from the surgery and post to the DWP, because the backlog means that if I wanted to get assessed in a reasonable timeframe, I should have applied for ESA roughly six months before I got ill. The sight of a brown envelope on the doormat makes my heart pause; I fear each one will contain a ransom note of sanctions. My doctor asks me what causes me stress. I can answer in less than three words. I can answer in three letters. Dee. Doubleyew. Pea.

Use of the word “passive” is nonsensical, as though one can be “active” for sickness benefits. Perhaps I could open my home to visitors and charge them to look at me. Come, behold the Incredible Chronically Ill Girl! She’s only 25, but she walks with a stick! See how she struggles to do her own laundry! GASP as her overwhelming fatigue prevents her finding the words to answer your basic question about tea!

Chronic illness often feels like a terribly paid admin job, chasing down missed payments, posting doctors notes, requesting repeat prescriptions, sending in bank statements. The rigamarole around being ill seems to tower, colussus-like, over the actual illness. The welfare state should exist to make life easier for those in need, to offer a helping hand in times of crisis, no matter how long those times last. Welfare isn’t lucrative. It’s enough to get by.

Disease isn’t like a gas meter. It has no notion of economics. It doesn’t switch off because you’ve stopped putting money in. This isn’t some kind of elaborate con I’ve been running, shutting myself away from the world to trick you out of the princely sum of £48 a week. Cutting my benefits won’t get me back into work. It will make my life smaller, more stressful. It will make me sicker.

Please do not be taken in by the weaselly misuse of the word incentive. Incentives are nice things, rewards, like cream cakes or that video of Michael Gove falling over. Cutting the money that sick and disabled people receive isn’t an incentive to work, it’s a disincentive and a punishment for being ill. You can paint it orange and call it a carrot as much as you like, but if you’re beating people into the ground with it, it’s still a stick.

This isn’t just a question of economics, of ideological war on the welfare state. This is the insidious, callous notion that sick and disabled people are ultimately not trying hard enough. This says what people with chronic illnesses and disabilities hear all too much from their friends, from their families, from even their doctors: we do not believe that you are ill.

If you think that eventually you can make people so sad and stressed and poor that they will “get over” being ill, that you can starve them out and they’ll end their little displays of sickness, then you are very much mistaken. We have all the incentives we need to get back to work; cutting ESA will only make it harder to do so.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick permalink
    July 4, 2015 11:10 am

    All the government wont to do is to kill off these people and to not use a bullet so that they die unnoticed normally alone without anyone to help them into the support group and when there dead the police not really understanding on why they have died

    There is no answer to the extreme measures used by this government just as there are no answers as to the mad Tunisian who killed 30 British holidaymakers last week

    At the end of the day and throughout history some people are just born evil and there is nothing whatsoever that you can do about it

    • The Infamous Culex permalink
      July 5, 2015 3:48 pm

      There s something one can do with people like IDS and David Fraud, who seem to have been born with a tendency to do evil and which tendency has only worsened.

      They could – and should – be locked up in a padded cell for the rest of their lives.

  2. July 4, 2015 11:27 am

    This isn’t anything to do with the “deficit” (the government are still spending more than they earn). It is – as that article points out – an ideological war on the welfare state.

    Well let me just remind the architects of this war (the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Cameron, Osborne, and Duncan-Smith): the Nazis didn’t start out with Auschwitz in mind. They started out with a notion that the Jews were to blame for Germany’s economic ills. So they began to persecute the Jews. And this is the crucial part : the more they got away with, the harder they drove on, until it all ended at Auschwitz and the other camps.

    The war on welfare is no different. Ok, we won’t be put in gas chambers, but the principle of “propaganda, then test the waters, then more propaganda, then drive on harder and harder” is EXACTLY the same.

    • Nick permalink
      July 4, 2015 12:31 pm

      That is very true tiddk the Nazis didn’t start out with Auschwitz in mind. They started out with a notion that the Jews were to blame for Germany’s economic ills. So they began to persecute the Jews. they also rounded on the sick and disabled as in their mind a waste of space and that fits in well with a right wing conservative mindset

      The only reason the government have been able to kill off many sick and disabled over the past few years is because it has been done by stealth

      the sick and disabled over the past few years have died in large numbers some have starved to death with the majority having committed suicide and with the majority of those deaths going under the radar and the public by and large just like in the war with Hitler the people unaware of what was going on until it was too late

      As i have said above some people are just born evil with evil intentions like IDS and David Cameron it’s called Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and others and Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

      and that my friends in a nutshell is IDS and David Cameron and if their stealth polices continue to work with the help of the right wing press they could go on as in the days of Hitler to kill many thousands of people in many types of groups as ultimately they believe in Eugenics a set of beliefs and practices which aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population and that in all probability is where we are heading

  3. July 4, 2015 12:48 pm

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  4. Daniel Tavet permalink
    July 5, 2015 3:35 am

    Reblogged this on Leeds Wellbeing Web.

  5. The Infamous Culex permalink
    July 5, 2015 3:44 pm

    Cutting back yet further on ESA will give some sick people an “incentive”.

    They will have an added incentive to kill themselves and/or kill the Tory tossers who added to their utter misery.

  6. July 7, 2015 8:16 am

    Nick and Tiddk are absolutely spot on. I agree 100%.

  7. Barry Believable permalink
    July 27, 2015 4:38 pm

    This is absolute bullshit and I’m amazed how much the administrators of this site are allowing members to get away with! I would prefer to leave with all this eugenics crap.

    So what did Labour do for any of us while they were in power? Where is the fantastic number of social homes they built? Improvements in health care?

    Do yourself a favour and look at the big picture we are let down by every political party because we spend to much time bitching!!
    We allow groups like Mind and Scope to speak to government on our behalf why the hell do we do that???

    It’s time we organised a non radical, non communist, non self publicising, group for people through a proper membership system and constitution, too be able to pressure government and civil bodies as a group not affiliated to any particular political party so able to say the things that need to say.

    However to be honest after reading the bullshit higher up this page the chances of anything same coming off this web site in the near future are as rare as rocking horse shit!

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