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This is a sequel. Last October, Vox Political published Living under the threat of welfare reform, a personal account of the hardships suffered by just one disabled benefit claimant as a result of the Coalition government’s crude and unnecessary attacks on people who are unable to work and must rely on social security. The author expressed fears about her future, after the main changes to benefits that were expected in April this year. Vox Political contacted her earlier this week to find out how she was coping, and this article is the result. Please welcome Sasson Hann:
Definition of ‘welfare’: the good fortune, health, happiness prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organisation; well-being: to look after a child’s welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.
When I first read ‘21st Century Welfare‘ published in the summer of 2010, 10 months after I was forced to give up my professional career, I realised that those of us reliant on benefits were facing an almost insurmountable challenge to their well-being: a challenge like nothing before in recent history.
At the time, I spoke to friends about the possible consequences of welfare reform, then subsequently became distraught and angry when hearing that people had died after having benefits reduced or removed; sadly, now a weekly occurrence. So when Vox Political asked me to write a guest blog – an update of my personal circumstances – in all honesty, I felt that my situation was nothing in comparison: it’s challenging nonetheless.
The collective mindset towards people who claim benefits has definitely changed since 2010. ‘Hate crimes’ are in the news; hateful comments under articles in online newspapers. In fact a new term coined by researchers for this change – particularly toward benefit claimants – is ‘infrahumanism‘; people viewed as ‘less’ than human. Colin Brewer, the disgraced former Cornish councillor who was forced to resign after making derogatory comments about disabled children is an extreme example of this. Only yesterday he was reported as saying that society should treat disabled babies like farmers treat deformed lambs: the police are investigating. What concerns me more is why a community recently voted him back into office: what does this indicate?
Attitudes have certainly altered towards me, though not as drastically. Strangers think that they have the right to walk up to me and demand: ”What’s wrong with your legs then?’ People think it’s fair that the government should force me from my home of 27 years. Others cast doubt on my integrity, not believing that I’m too disabled to work. Some repeatedly ask me to explain why I receive certain levels of care and benefits, even why I should need a wheelchair outside: not indicative of ‘infrahumanism’ exactly, but definitely insensitive. Of all the pressures a disabled person faces, frequently having to justify your disability is one of the hardest challenges.
As for financial matters, my income has dropped drastically since 2010. I receive DLA and I’m in the ESA support group; a half decent income. That was until 2 years ago when my local authority started charging me for my care – some £3,000 per annum – despite me having no assets or savings. Nevertheless, I adjusted, and figured that unlike some, at least I had a ‘personalised’ care package.
Then I had a care reassessment last year. The assessor informed me that most of what my carers do was ‘no longer funded’. Basically, the new packages focus on eating and keeping a person clean: we do more for pets. I fought and gained a hollow victory: whilst I retained 75 per cent of the hours, social services dictated their use; I would also have to pay extra for private care. Ironically, in 2011, the government published a document about personalisation, but implemented the exact opposite. The reassessment commences again in July – another six months of stress compounded by the additional yearly financial and disability reassessments. I tell myself this is the ‘new normal’: I must rise to these challenges; not so easy when chronic illness dominates your life.
Beginning in April, I had the extra cost of a £100 per month bedroom tax (my housing association has nowhere for me to move to); along with the extra care costs, this totals £5,900 per annum. As a result, I can rarely socialise now, and it will take much longer to save to replace things. I reasoned that at least I have a home, enough money to pay bills, buy food, and the occasional treat. It’s unnerving though not having a financial buffer if my benefits are removed: a sobering thought. I have a good network of family and friends to help me, but ultimately, like others, they can’t afford to keep me financially long term; is it any wonder that some feel they cannot carry on, that there is no way out?
Multiply what I’ve lost by thousands of households in my area and country-wide, and imagine just how much money is being taken out of the local/national economy; how damaging this will become. In Wales for instance, due to historical poverty, the cuts to benefits have affected one in three people, such that the Welsh Assembly have recently appointed the first ‘Poverty Minister‘, claiming that austerity will cause hardship not known since the 1930’s.
When the Conservatives were last in power in the 80s, they scrapped housing benefit for the low-paid, water was privatised, and the Poll Tax was introduced. It had a dire affect on my family: we couldn’t afford heating so we suffered painful chilblains and contracted continual chest infections; without heating, the flat developed inch thick black mould on the walls; we couldn’t dry our clothes properly so they smelled of mildew; we were lucky if we could afford one meal a day; after a number of years our clothes and shoes wore out; we regularly had to go without soap, washing powder, loo roll, personal hygiene products and the like. It was a dark and miserable time for us.
I cannot begin to describe what it is like to have your dignity stripped away like this; I never thought I would see such hard times again: I was sadly mistaken. The current cuts to services and benefits go much further than this, leaving people with no safety net and no access to legal services. Incredulously, it isn’t even saving the government much money.
The government say we can’t afford the welfare bill, but regular readers of Vox Political will know there is in fact plenty of money sloshing around. The moving of public money into private hands, and also into the pockets of MPs and Lords: money that should be used to stimulate growth and improve the lives of all. If the post war government had enough money to set up the NHS, the welfare state, and embark on a massive building programme – when they were in a far worse financial situation – then our government can do the same. Yet laughably, MPs were this week lambasting the BBC because of the ‘excessive’ £24,000 average payment made to staff who moved to Salford, when MPs claim far more in expenses every year. On the other end of the scale, the ‘stock’ – as the government like to call us – who suffer and die for the sake of a few pounds a week are collateral damage; acceptable losses like deformed lambs. And if those who are left cannot afford a home and food, so what? A nightmarish ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario.
I can’t do much to oppose this; I’m too ill to attend protests. Occasionally I help people claim benefits and appeal, apply to charities, look up information and advise them, write and print a CV, and I’ve even negotiated with bailiffs! I tell everyone I meet about how welfare reform is affecting people, and I write as much as I’m able. This is all some of us can do; facing each challenge and fighting each battle, one by one. Notwithstanding this human catastrophe, I remain sanguine: I love life and I will not despair.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge.” The government’s answer to that ‘challenge’ is to make the poorest destitute, the opposite to the definition of ‘welfare’: in this we perceive their ‘measure’. Consequently, we ‘infrahumans’ are facing a challenge so great that it will be remembered in history: are you up to this challenge? For all of the people who aren’t; for the many families who have lost loved ones: those of us left have to be.
Sasson Hann May 13, 2013.
Chris G said:
Thank You!! I have Borrowed Parts of Your Piece ! And re-posted them as I’ve taken them . I lost my career having been beaten to a pulp by some thugs, Had to have 3 ops to repair the damage to my head and face almost lost my life! Now I’m in another Battle against a State that treats me Less than human and a Society that seems to be going the same Way. Thank Goodness for Friends and Family and those in the fight against this Evil that is growing out of our Politicians and spreading into Society as a whole . Again Thanks
Roberta West said:
With you in solidarity, Chris! Hope things get better for you soon.
Thanks Chris G – Sorry that you’re going through tough times too; I know that there’s a lot of people who identify with what we’re suffering, and it’s good that we can talk on sites like this about it.
Glad that you have a good support network too.
All the best to you.
Forgot to say Chris G; will give me a link to your page too please?
Roberta West said:
I really liked your article and I recognised a great deal of what you describe, not only about this governments austerity measures and their affects upon the disabled, but also what we, as a young generation had to deal with in the terrible Thatcher years. I was the eldest of 5 children living in abject poverty in Cornwall at the time….reading your description of what we had to go through, brought back those hideous memories. I still live in Cornwall. I suffer from chronic RSI…an invisible disability that has plagued my life since the last boom and bust of the 1980’s! I fought for compensation for near on 10 years and lost due to negligence by my lawyer and barrister, and corruption throughout the Judiciary….evidence went missing, court dates delayed for years, et etc etc., but I fought on, because ‘they’ the employers (estate agents/surveyors) had ruined my life and I had nothing to lose. I still suffer bouts of incredible pain, and I suffer in silence most of the time due to the ignorance and scepticism of people (including my extended family) all around me. However, I, like you, am a fighter, and I do whatever I can to protest against injustice…I was horrified by Collin Brewers disgusting comments about the disabled and I am campaigning for his dismissal from Cornwall County Council and I won’t stop until I either drop or HE GOES….By the way! The only reason this horrible little man got back into office, is because of his contacts…it took 330 votes by others like minded bigots to get him re-elected, unfortunately, this is the way of local elections. You must remember Cornwall is where all the posh old crooks go to retire!lol however, there are a great many more decent citizens of Cornwall who are protesting and standing up against such fascist opinion. I have a blog where I have written about various issues, including Brewer’s disgraceful attitude…please take a look and feel free to comment on any article that interests you…
I wish you the very best for the future…never give up, and as the old expression goes, what doesn’t kill us can only make us stronger….and from my experiences, it certainly has made me a force to be reckoned with!
Reblogged this on kickingthecat.
Thank you Roberta; glad you liked the article.
I didn’t mean to be derogatory about Cornwall in any way, so hope that you weren’t offended. I understand of course that there are many decent people in all areas of the country and that unfortunately bigots tend to live in certain areas, so it’s not unusual that certain people like this despicable man are elected.
I sympathise with your circumstances too both past and present. The government has made what was already hard, impossible for us. But we are expendable and always have been. Perhaps they throw a bone to us like we’re dogs if they’re having a boom, then take it away on an ideological whim.
I’m glad that you too get the information out there, and I look forward to reading your blog.
Keep strong too!
Mark Nagle said:
Sasson I have total empathy to yourself. I have gone from being a very skilled and sought after chef to being an object of ridicule. I was even confronted in my local social club to being a stinking scrounger!! I was in the support group, I thought permanently as I have two vertebrae that have deformed and a degenerative disc disease. I have been informed I am getting better. A miracle perhaps, a miracle that they decided this without myself having a medical!!!! Keep the fight my friend
Yes, a miracle indeed Mark!
Sorry to hear that about your circumstances. You know, it’s hard enough to deal with the loss of a professional career that you loved; I needed therapy to get over that. But to then be treated with such derision in your community is soul destroying.
Soon after xmas, I went with an artist friend to my local real ale pub. I can hobble about and it’s painful: I really pay for it afterwards I can tell you. Anyway, we were talking about world events, art, my book, the government all sorts. Then my friend goes to the loo, and the fella behind us goes to the bar to order a drink. He’d obviously been earwigging us and said really loudly whilst flicking his head towards us: ‘beer on welfare eh?’.
I’m going to be like this for the rest of my life, and I’m sorry, but I’m not going to apologise to people if I got out occasionally. The way I see it Mark, is that since setting up the Welfare State after the war, and even before that, my family were business people. They’ve never claimed a penny from the state. I figure that they’ve paid more in taxes that I will ever claim back in my lifetime.
So, NO, I’m not going to feel guilty for having the odd pleasure. As I said in the post, we give pets more than food and keeping them clean. We are worth more than that. We are not ‘outside’ humanity.
Thanks for your comment and keep up the fight too!
guy fawkes said:
Perhaps the ignoramus that insulted you was buying beer from “extortion”, could be a gang master, a lousy landlord,playing the markets where the public have to pick up the tab ,or a drug dealer, or money lender etc, etc. So comfort yourself that you are better than that scum.
It’s funny isn’t it that sometimes the people pointing the finger at you are the ones actually doing dubious things themselves, and in some of these cases it was true? Not on the scale you mention, but still relevant.
One of them who told me I should give up my home had a large family; the husband worked, but they received a hell of a lot in child tax credits, but they didn’t consider themselves as benefit recipients. The husband ‘moonlighted’, but they wouldn’t consider themselves tax cheats. I’m not pointing the finger myself, just showing that other people are not ‘whiter than white’ either.
The other family that put pressure on me by keeping on asking about my disability and why I get this and that benefit, why I receive care, and even why did I receive these benefits without a formal diagnosis of my illness, were also doing iffy things benefit wise; things that could get them into serious trouble. Again it’s nothing to do with me, but why do people think my circumstances are anything to do with them?
Thanks for your comments.