Trigger Warning: mention of suicide.
Just about every day there is a story in the news about benefits, the money provided by governments to disadvantaged individuals to help make ends meet. The story is usually one of three; a huge fraudster has been caught, someone who clearly needs and deserves the help can’t access it, or benefits to one group of people are being cut yet again. Perhaps my view of these matters is biased but more often than not, the benefits in question are related to illness or disability.
If disability fraud is irritating to the average tax-payer then it is soul-destroying to those with genuine disabilities, because every time one of these stories hits the news you might as well draw a huge target on our backs. The pointing fingers and groundless accusations pile up all too quickly; I can feel total strangers staring at me, and hear them making snide comments when they think I’m out of ear-shot. On a national level, the pressure to make the thousands of disabled people accountable for the crime of just one leads the government to introduce yet more cuts. As with any budget cuts those subjected to them are put through intense stress and anxiety.
During the recent period of cuts in the UK I spent most of my days with a tiny, niggling thought lingering at the back of my mind that I couldn’t get rid of, like an itch somewhere I couldn’t reach. What if my money got cut? Cutting my payments would mean I could no longer afford monthly payments for my wheelchair, and being able to access one through the NHS is pure myth. Even if I did manage to sit through the months of waiting for a referral to the specialist, they would give me a cheap manual chair that I couldn’t push myself, and since I don’t receive any money towards carers I would be housebound. Let’s just say my mental health took a turn for the worse and I know that in other cases, suicide becomes a seemingly viable option.
There is a misconception that Personal Independence Payment, the disability payment scheme in the UK, is money given to disabled people to buy essentials and pay the rent. Personal Independence Payment is there to help people afford carers or equipment to give them enough independence to be able to get a job to pay the bills. I cannot afford to sit idly at home all day living off my benefits; I work, but I need my wheelchair to be able to work. Removing my benefits would simply put me out of work, costing the state even more in the long run. It hardly fills me with pride that I need what essentially boils down to sympathy money from a government I disagree with on just about everything, simply so I can have a life.
I know that many strangers see the wheelchair and immediately think “unemployed scrounger”. I could stop and tell these people the truth. I could let them know that they are wrong and that they are prejudiced and discriminatory too. I could ask them why they didn’t have better things to do than judge someone for having some time on their hands. However this would require them to speak to me first to tell me what they thought my wheelchair represented, and these people would never speak to someone they assumed to be a fraudster. They would also, ironically, take offense to the fact that I read their expressions and assumed that they were thinking these things. It would serve no purpose.
Writing it down, on the other hand, doesn’t require someone to initiate the conversation first…