I continue to recover from the benefits debacle and am approaching something like my old baseline. Still haven't had any money yet but I rang the DWP yesterday and it's on the way, my regular payments have been reinstated and the back pay is being processed. More and more I've noticed that when you ring the DWP (job centre) you'll get a ring back. So have they got to the stage where they are employing people just to answer the phone and then hand the call onto someone with a little more experience? Perhaps it's more efficient? Any hoo, fully ten months after my benefit was wrongly removed after a deeply flawed assessment, I'm about to receive my entitlement. It took them less than ten days to stop my payments.
I have been radicalised by this experience and am getting stuck in to my new career of volunteering in the realm of local mental health services. Yesterday morning I got the bus to the coffee morning group I attend on a Wednesday. Went into Tesco's to buy milk and some fruit, stopped at the cash point, bent down to pick up my shopping and my back went. I cried out, drawing looks from all around, and a lovely Tesco assistant came to my aid. I had a short walk to the place where the coffee drop in is, so he carried my bags while I hobbled along. When I got there everyone was waiting outside and I remembered the key was in the bag that AJ had taken to Wales that morning. Doh! We have a back up plan though, and I knocked on the door of a service user who lives next door. It's a sheltered housing complex. He shuffled up and produced five different keys which all looked very similar. Poor bloke has disabling pain after a bad accident and also suffers with severe depression. The act of coming to the door though, helped him decide to come for a cup of coffee. So we both shuffled along. When I've done my back in I walk like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques. I was worried in case he thought I was taking the proverbial.
Coffee morning went well once we'd managed to open the door. It was livelier than usual. It's one of several local drop ins that used to be part of the Social Inclusion and Recovery Service (SIRS) to help people move on in their recovery. Some have been attending for years. The entire SIRS has been cut and the local authority expect the service users to step up to the plate and run it themselves. I offered to pick up the cudgels for this group but once we lose our last support worker it will be hard to get people to attend as they don't feel safe. It's hard enough to persuade anyone to buy two pints of milk for the next week. And as for funding . . . the rent is paid for six months. I've looked into grants and such like and most organisations won't offer a grant where they feel there should be statutory funding. I'm meeting someone from the local Council for Voluntary Services on Friday to see if I can get a volunteer to help me with this. It's one drop in and the only one that has any hope of survival. All the rest are just dying on their feet or have already lost all their attendees.
So what happens to the people who were using the service? For many it is their only social contact in a week. SIRS would also visit people in their homes, but no more. What happens is their illness becomes critical again and they have to go back into hospital, thus costing the community much more, but at huge cost to the individuals concerned. Sometimes these people just drop off the radar altogether, they kill themselves, or they become homeless as they are incapable of accessing the benefits they need.
I can only do so much with my limited energy and I do look after myself in that. I turned down a very tempting invitation to a training session on peer review in the NHS. My long-term plan is to start getting paid to be a service user that serves on NHS boards for recruitment and policy making. The volunteering provides me with a focus for my anger and frustration and it's something I can drop in and out of.
I got a taxi home yesterday - annoying as I'd bought a day bus ticket - and spent the afternoon sofa surfing with my TENS and a wheat bag. I gave up and went to bed as I had to be horizontal. This inspiring little piece came on the radio. Hilary Cottam talks about how disadvantaged families become held at the centre of a vortex of services who don't really help. She is trying to change all that by giving the families the voice and the ability to design the services they really need. Worth a listen if you have the time. (Sorry I think it's only available in the UK). http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b012lj4k/