On Wednesday I went to the doctors and as I was leaving there I missed a call on my mobile. When I listened to the voicemail I was concerned to hear “Hi I’m calling for Emma my name is (whatever it was) and I’m from the Department of Work and Pensions. I wanted to talk to you about your reassessment but I’ll send you a letter instead and if you have any questions after you get the letter they’ll be a number on it you can call.”
She didn’t leave a number to call back on. Wednesday mornings are my day I do volunteer for social policy at CAB and by the time I got there (its at the opposite end of town to my doctors) I was freaking out. Luckily we have the phone number I needed in the bureau and I wasn’t seeing clients so I grabbed it and shut myself in a room and called them back.
I’ve been awarded ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) for two years and placed in the support group.
ESA is the benefit which is replacing Incapacity Benefit and other benefits for those out of work on groups on disability (Severe Disablement Allowance, some forms of Income Support). The process of my transfer began in September last year. I received my form in November and submitted it on 3rd December. I’ve been waiting ever since to hear if I needed further assessment in the form of medical from ATOS (I didn’t because apparently a 20 page form, 9 additional pages and 4 sides of letters from my neurologist and my GP was sufficient to determine my life long and incurable condition is what it is) or what the decision would be. I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement that they received my forms.
Being placed in the support group is basically the equivalent of my remaining on incapacity benefit. It’s for people who are considered too disabled to be expected to undertake any sort of work. Things won’t change for me. The other alternative is that people who qualify for ESA are placed in the work related activity group (WRAG) which is for people who are considered to have the possibility of being able to do some forms of limited work with the right forms of support.
I never had a problem with being reassessed, I had nothing to hide and I’ve always been pretty open about my condition so it wasn’t embarrassing putting it all out on paper. I always thought there was an easier way of doing it but unlike many of my friends and relatives I mentioned the reassessment too I never thought my being required to go through it was “disgusting” or “outrageous”. That said, I’m very relieved that my ESA decision is here and that my award is for two years. I can stop worrying. I know the support group is the right place for me.
But a little bit of me is sad too.
Because from as far back as 2007 when they first started talking about bringing in this new benefit I’ve always secretly thought that it could be a brilliant thing for me and that I’d end up in the WRAG. The things I would need to try to do the very tiny amout of work I might manage should be available. It would be brilliant.
With all the talk about how terrible ESA is and stories of people put in the WRAG who seemed to me to have much worse conditions than me I was more and more convinced that I’d be in the WRAG. It really did seem as though you had to be practically dead to get in the support group. When I looked at the eligibility criteria whilst filling out the forms and realised that I almost definitely qualified to go direct into the support group I was shocked. And I wasn’t happy. Because I wasn’t “that disabled”. Was I?
I’d like to work. Mobility and fatigue and all sorts of other issues I have would make it incredibly difficult for me to do so and manage to take care of myself. I need, realistically, to be in the support group. But… I’m a coper. I get on with things and I do my damndest not to let my disability stop me. I love who I am and I wouldn’t change my condition. I spend as little time as possible dwelling on can’ts and as much on cans. I’m not the sort of person the press and the government meant when they talk about strivers (hateful term) but I’ve worked all my life to push the boundaries of my CP and be as independent as possible. It’s not the sort of striving that will get me money or even be recognised by others but if I hadn’t done it I’d probably cost society a lot more in terms of care etc.
Getting ESA is a huge relief and I’m pleased and glad I can get some stability and stop worrying. But at the same time I feel like I’ve just been told I’m a hell of a lot more disabled than I thought I was. And it hurts. Because its not where I’d have chosen to be.