Big Brother.

The Department of Work & Pensions are best described as a necessary evil, & that’s being generous. You’d think that an organisation that is supposed to support people in finding employment & aiding us in retirement would be well-loved, but the fact of the matter is that much like the NHS, the idea has outshone the execution.

Lots of people have cause to dislike the DWP, but the hostilities are perhaps felt most strongly among disabled people. Simply put, the majority of us live in fear of them.

At the time of writing I’m on the higher mobility rate of Personal Independence Payment & get nothing for the care rate. My powered wheelchair, without which I couldn’t go to work, is paid for on a scheme that takes the money from my monthly allowance before I have received it, and the little that’s left over goes towards (but by no means pays for) medication, other mobility aids, & transport. When this contract comes to an end, I plan not to renew it, but to buy my own wheelchair independently. Why? Because all it would take is someone from the DWP to put my benefit up for early review & the rate be dropped, & I would lose my wheelchair instantaneously.

This may seem paranoid but multiple acquaintances of mine have already experienced this, & the cases reported in the news demonstrate that this is not as rare as you would think.

CCTV footage from public places, particularly supermarkets, has been used as evidence in court to show that someone is not disabled on multiple occasions. On the surface this might seem sensible, or at the very least, not objection-worthy. However, despite clearly stating on my application form that I am capable of standing up & walking short distances with support, & that my condition varies greatly day-to-day, I still find myself looking for all the CCTV cameras in a store when I’m on my walking frame. I worry that I don’t look disabled enough, particularly on days when I feel well. Quite frankly it is like living under the judgemental gaze of George Orwell’s Big Brother.

At this point people like to argue that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. I wish this was true but I fear wrongly convicted criminals might feel a little differently. The fact of the matter is that while in a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty, the reverse seems to be true for disabled people.

For example, I have to watch what I post online, which for someone with a blog about disability is rather contradictory. I like to take photos of my outfits for Instagram, but I’ve taken to sitting down for most of these out of fear that someone could take a snapshot quickly taken before sitting back down, & use it to claim I’m lying. Every picture & comment becomes a calculated risk, & even this blog post is no exception.

Even being called back for your review assessment after the assigned period of time since the last one is dehumanising. Assessment centres are often inaccessible, but your application will be denied automatically if you fail to attend.

Even if you do make it into your assessment, the assessor is not the one who makes the decision about your benefit; this decision is made by someone who has never met you. They take the assessors report, look at any other evidence you have managed to supply (the majority of which they will tell you is ineligible due to arbitrary reasons), & having never seen how you have to live will make a decision that controls how you live for the next few years. Appealing poor decisions takes months, is highly stressful, & everything you say & do is subject to scrutiny for the duration of the procedure. Anyone who does choose to appeal is made to feel like a criminal.

Disabled people are not criminals. Being disabled is not a crime. Yet it is demanded of us that we repeatedly prove our innocence. Under any other circumstances this would be deemed diabolical, yet it is how many of us, myself included, must live.