Where are we now? Two thirds through January. At the beginning of October my Incapacity Benefit payments were stopped because I had a medical assessment which deemed me fit to work. The advice was to appeal and, in the meantime apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which I would get at a reduced rate until my appeal was heard.
Well, it turns out that, in the assessment phase of (non-means tested) ESA, they will not release payments until either my appeal is heard or I have my capability for work assessment. I'm not sure if this is right but I'm too overwhelmed to check. The backlog for appeals is seven months and I have yet to receive an appointment with ATOS (the same people who incorrectly assessed me) for my new medical examination.
The loss of this income has meant a reduction in our household income of 25%. We have reduced our shopping bill by £20 a week by stopping the veg box and eating less meat. We still eat lots of vegetables but I've found it's cheaper to buy things like peppers and mushrooms frozen. We don't go out, we don't buy clothes, my car has gone and we try and use the woodburner for heating as much as possible and collect free wood. I know this all sounds very middle class - family loses right to organic vegetables shock! But the hardship lies not in the material but in the stress of it. We are still making the rent, but one more straw and we have to move.
My response to this, and David Cameron would be proud, is to try and find some work to supplement our income. I've been doing some hand to mouth website design for a friend of mine who's trying to get a business off the ground. The truth is, I can't manage it.
I was doing so well. The new HRT had given me my mobility back but now, after a gruelling Christmas with so many family demands and little dosh, and no down time for me at all until yesterday, I'm crashing. Have you ever tried to get the air out of an inflatable bed? You push down one area and it just pops up in another. I'm physically tired, yes, but I have become very fragile psychologically to the point of unbidden suicidal thoughts and very angry, violent outbursts of rage. My doc wanted to refer me to the crisis team again but I didn't want to go there as they were so useless last time. So she's referring me to a psychiatrist for a second opinion about my medication.
Before you get all hot under the collar, this isn't about my CFS. My doc has carefully negotiated this with me and I am in full agreement that I need some extra help. She would like to change my meds but can't without a psychiatric consultation. I am certain the trigger for all of this has been the withdrawal of my benefit.
I heard it said on the radio the other day that the government thinks it the poor by are only incentivised by a reduction in income and the rich bankers are only motivated by an increase in income. Well, my case is a very good example of what happens when you take away support from sick and vulnerable people. They cost the country even more money because they become sicker. That's not counting the human cost in suffering and the pressure it puts on families. My situation is being repeated over and over again all over the country. What I feel is betrayed.