The benefit system is confusing to say the least. Sadly you get large quantities of genuine cases still slipping through the net, people who are clearly not fit to work but somehow still fail their medicals. In today’s post I’m going to look at the reasons for this and the flip side, where people get what they don’t deserve, simply because they know how to work the system. I’m also going to share what it’s like having to live with a long term health illness, having to rely on benefits and how you are perceived by others, whilst you’re doing this. How much of this is a fair judgement and how much is completely unreasonable.
The Dreaded Medical
There can be numerous reasons why genuinely ill people can fail their medicals. Obviously nerves on the day can have a huge influence, You’re already in a highly sensitive state and having to rely on one person deciding your fate like this, is extremely daunting to say the least. I know lots of people who have life altering disabilities and most of them are very positive in nature, as they try there best to get on with things, despite their circumstances. They refuse to moan about their limitations or any discomfort they may be feeling. My dad was one of these people.
The whole process starts with a lengthy form to fill in, with hundreds of tedious questions, most of which are completely irrelevant to you and your condition! It’s hardly surprising to us that my dad didn’t lay it on thick enough with the answers he gave, and his claim was declined. We encouraged him to appeal the decision, as did his doctor. In 2010 my dad passed away. A few days after his death he received a letter saying that his appeal had failed and in their expert opinion he was fit for work. I won’t go into detail about his condition or how the family reacted to this letter, but needless to say he had been nowhere near fit to work and we were angry and bemused by the decision.
My dad is one of many cases just like this, not to mention those who have committed suicide, shortly after their benefits have been stopped or they have had a sanction issued. It’s a hard thing to prove either way, so I don’t have any accurate statistics on this. However I have read some alarming stories on line from families of deceased, who are convinced that a benefit decision has lead to their loved ones taking their life. A friend of mine works at a local food bank and she tells me that the number of people coming in, who have been sanctioned by the job centre, is getting out of hand. She describes these people as being in a desperate state, feeling completely degraded and often in floods of tears by the time they arrive.
FUN AT THE JOB CENTRE
I’m sat for what seems like hours, I glance down at my watch and I’m alarmed to see it’s not even been ten minutes yet! Welcome to the job centre, the place where time truly does stand still.
Now imagine the person you’d least like to meet down a dark alley. Built like a brick outhouse, heavily tattooed, crazy looking eyes and looks like he could crush you with his little finger!
He’s sat directly across from me, giving me what I can only describe as a death stare. I’m desperately trying to avoid glancing in his direction.
You get used to seeing all the usual crowds, to my left is the single mums club, all congregated together with their army of prams. Normally they’re discussing having more babies and getting their benefits increased. A baby is an excellent prop to have with you in the job centre, as you can get away with so much more. Lets just say you’ve been a bit slack and not managed to apply for your allocated number of jobs, what are the chances of someone getting mad with you whilst your cradling an infant. If that infant happens to start crying, that’s a big bonus cause you’ll likely get seen and sent away much quicker!
Looking to my right I see the hoodie brigade, some sat, and some stood up, mainly consisting of young lads wearing ridiculously baggy pants that hang down showing half their boxer shorts or worse, sometimes their arse crack! Their faces are part covered, in an attempt to look as menacing as they can. Their conversations consist of bragging about crimes committed and time spent in prison or young offenders institutions. Two of them are comparing their ankle tags and discussing when their curfews are up. As well as this, they’re all ogling the girls at the other side of the room. It feels like a scene from a high school disco!
Also grouped together in the corner is the so called none English speakers. These people are very interesting, whilst in the waiting area their English is perfect and they appear to have a larger vocabulary than I do, but as soon as they’re sat with one of the advisers, something magically happens to them and all of a sudden they can’t speak two words of it. Another successful tactic implored at the job centre.
Much of the people attending are playing a game of warfare. Those who know the system inside out and know exactly what they can and can’t get away with. They choose to manipulate and deceive their way through the whole process, in an attempt to avoid work for as long as they possibly can. I know this because I’ve heard them discussing tactics in the waiting area!
Then you’ve got the security guards who I’ll politely describe as a total joke. There are several signs up throughout the building, saying no food and drink and no use of mobile phones. It’s no exaggeration to say, every other person has a chocolate bar or sandwich in one hand, and their mobile in the other. In the middle of all this you have the security, who are blatantly ignoring it all and going round hugging and high-fiving people that they know.
On the other side of the desks you have the job advisers, who funnily enough never seem to give any advice! I’m reluctant to badmouth them too much because they do have a lot of spiky characters to deal with on a daily basis. They have a tough job to do, in having to filter them all out. So I cant really blame them for coming across miserable and unenthusiastic. What I can’t forgive is them tarring everyone with the same brush, which is exactly what most of them do.
They see a young person and make an immediate assumption that you’re trying to cheat the system and you’re not putting any effort what so ever into your job searches. This annoys me because as well as all the types of people I’ve described to you, there are also many genuine ones who are trying there best to get a job. They don’t deserve to be talked down too, like they’re the scum of the earth!
What I used to hate most of all was the inconsistency of it all. One week I had to face a complete interrogation and however much evidence I produced, it was never enough to satisfy them. They always managed to find fault with something. The next time, I went even more prepared. I took a bag full of evidence showing all of my job applications and confirmations going back several months. I see a younger adviser who doesn’t ask me a single job related question. All he asks is “is it still raining out” and then sends me on my way.
It’s these complete polar opposites that used to make going to the job centre such an unsettling experience. The fact that you could be greeted like a long lost friend one week, and then like their worst enemy two weeks later was truly mystifying and quite frankly laughable.
Also laughable was the amount of jobs you were expected to apply for. A minimum of ten jobs per fortnight, if you didn’t manage this you’d risk having your benefit stopped.
You may be reading this thinking, that’s fair enough, people should be expected to apply for plenty of jobs, and they should be punished if they don’t. The problem was it was rare you’d be able to find ten suitable jobs. So everyone ended up applying for things they had no qualifications for and had no chance of ever getting. They did this just to avoid the wrath of the advisers.
It’s a big relief that I don’t have to attend the job centre anymore. I honestly don’t know how I’d cope with the pressure, whilst in my current mental state, so I am grateful for that small mercy.
When I went for my medical, as well as being a nervous wreck, I was angry and disturbed by what I heard in the waiting area. It was just like being back in the job centre. People were bragging about how easy it was to play the system and plotting ways in which they could further deceive the mental health nurse. I know there are benefit cheats out there, I’m not completely naive! But I tend to see the good in people and was still shocked by what I saw. It’s people like that, that make it so difficult for those of us who are truly deserving of the support. It’s already hard enough having to go into detail about your illness, having to prove yourself to a complete stranger, it brings everything to the surface and makes you feel extremely vulnerable. I’m dreading having to go through another medical and know that i’ll be summoned again shortly. What makes it worse is that I don’t know the exact date and I’m constantly living on edge whilst I wait for the dreaded brown envelope to arrive!
When You’re on benefits it feels like you’re under constant scrutiny, like everything you do has a hidden agenda and you have to justify your every move. When your illness genuinely prevents you from working, the only opinion that truly counts is that of the medical professionals who have diagnosed you in the first place. However, I can’t help being influenced by other peoples opinions, I hate the idea of not being believed. With mental health it’s so much worse as your symptoms are often only obvious to fellow sufferers. It’s very hard to explain an illness you can’t see.
It’s so easy to tar people on benefits with the same brush and make inaccurate assumptions. I’m ashamed to say I’ve done it myself. In the past, long before I had a mental health illness, I would regularly sit in the pub with the lads moaning about all those people on benefits, spending our tax payers money whilst living a life of leisure. Television documentaries such as benefits Britain and life on the dole, Don’t help. Let me categorically say, we’re not all like those people!