Part of the coalition government’s passion for cutting expenditure has been to attack the disabled who rely on welfare benefits to exist. It has/ will be made more difficult to claim the range of disability benefits available and the message is clear- those who don’t/ can’t work are a burden on the public purse/ society.
Yesterday I was appalled to discover (entirely accidentally) another aspect of these cuts which will have severe consequences for many disabled people who want to work, but which has received no publicity.
In recent years, there has been a provision known as the ‘linking rule’ for those in receipt of certain disability benefits. This arose from a recognition that many disabled people want to work, but do not know how working might affect their condition. It enabled them to take a job with the knowledge that if they had to later stop working due to their disability, they could reapply for their previous benefits within 104 weeks and would be rewarded for their attempt by being placed back on their previous rate of benefit. (New claimants receive a lower level of benefit initially, designed to discourage long-term dependence upon the state).
This linking period therefore provides a safety net for disabled people (such as myself, incidentally) to attempt working without being financially penalised if unsuccessful. However, this provision end on 31st January. People currently working will no longer be covered by the rule; people wanting to try work will now have no safety net. If they try working and find that in fact they are unable to sustain this, they will be financially penalised.
Of course, the idea is that this will save the government money on the benefits bill. Re-claims will be paid less money. Some may not be paid anything, if they are found to be no longer entitled to benefit (a situation unfortunately becoming increasingly common).
The ramifications of this are obvious.
For example, I have two medical condition which can flare up seemingly randomly. Both can be extremely debilitating and could make working difficult, if not impossible at their worst. I think I will be able to cope with working full-time in a stressful job (social work). I have completed two full time six month placements, without problems. I am reasonably confident.
But, I cannot be certain. Students are relatively protected from stress and pressure; placements are time limited and when ended one can rest and recover. Employment is neither of those things and I have previously been forced to leave work due to my disabilities. The linking rule was greatly reassuring- even if working full-time proved impossible, finding out wouldn’t cost me anything.
In a week’s time, it will. It will cost me half of my current weekly income, should it become impossible to work. I would have to leave my current home and find cheaper accommodation, further from my support network. I would have to relinquish my car and associated independence. Life would be very different which would further impact on my disabilities.
I want to work. I have spent the last 7 years working towards being able to work. Work is known to be beneficial , in terms of self-esteem, income and mental health, and I’ve certainly found this to be true.
Despite this, the professional apprehension I referred to yesterday related to my new job are now accompanied by very real fears. What if I’m (physically/mentally) not up to it? What if working causes a further relapse? If that happens, what impact will the additional financial stresses have?
I’ve decided to remain positive. I’m determined to try and not give up. Some may call this reckless or even stupid, given my past history. It’s common knowledge that past history is the best indicator of future events.
It’s a risk I’m willing to take (after a lot of careful thought, re-employing my rather fetching rose-coloured spectacles and digging an extremely deep hole in the sand to stick my head into if all else fails). The extra pressure is certainly weighing heavily though.
I’d certainly understand anybody not being willing to take that risk though. I suspect this reform will lead to fewer people being willing to voluntarily try working, as the risks may be simply too great for them to contemplate. Maybe this is the reason for the lack of publicity given to these changes?