I like to think that I’m a fairly intelligent person, and yet one thing continues to baffle me; the idea that disabled people enjoy claiming benefits.
I wish I could gather all of those misguided, ignorant, self-righteous creatures together and tell them this – no disabled person would be choose to be disabled and dependent on other people, whether those people are our family, friends, or tax payers.
Yes, some people claim benefits unjustly, but here is a key point: those people are not disabled. Can you see the difference? Those people, who are in the minority, despite what the scaremongering in the media might lead you to believe, choose a life of sponging off of the state, despite the fact that they could work for a living.
Disabled people have no choice but to be disabled.
I desperately want to be able to work. When I listen to my friends discussing their duties in the workplace, their colleagues habits (good and bad), even the irritating person on their train that morning, I feel a pang of envy. They are out earning their livings, they are contributing, paying taxes, they have a sense of purpose and of achievement. When they get their wages each month, they know what they’ve done to earn it. I would love to experience that, to know that I’m a contributing member of society. I don’t need any more “incentives to work” than these. I just need to be able to work.
Instead I am reminded every day that a section of society voices the worst opinions I have of myself: sponger, worthless, a drain on society.
You may be wondering why it is that I don’t work; it’s because I was born with a genetic skin blistering condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), of which I have the Recessive Dystrophic sub-type. Chances are, you’ve never heard of EB, so I will enlighten you. Due a lack of connective proteins in my skin, the slightest friction or trauma causes it to lift, either in to fluid-filled sacs of blisters, or to detach completely to leave raw wounds. Imagine developing a third degree burn, simply because you turned over in bed, or got dressed, or misjudged your footing. That is the effect of EB.
Having been rampaging around my body for the past twenty-four years, EB has cost me: the sight in my left eye and caused great photosensitivity in the right, the majority of the dexterity in my fingers, my toes (which have fused into a solid mass on each foot), the ability to walk more than a few yards at a time and the ability to swallow (meaning I need a feeding tube in my stomach). On top of this, frequent systemic infections, anaemia, nerve-damage causing restless legs and extreme pain, and the amount of time my wound care takes every day all leave me very tired and lethargic.
EB is unpredictable; I often wake up with corneal abrasions, caused by my eyelid tearing the skin on my eyeball, leaving me blind and intolerant to any light for days. I can suddenly feel very ill due to an infection, or experience a huge amount of pain in a wound and be unable to move. None of these things are conducive to doing a good day’s work. I spend a lot of time at the hospital seeing specialists, and being admitted for surgery and procedures.
Now, tell me. Would you employ me? Would you give me sick pay for all of this time? Would you adapt your office, or supply me with an assistant to act as my hands and feet? Could you afford to pay someone who will be absent so often?
No, of course not. How could you?
But do you understand that this is not my ideal life? That I’m not living the life of Riley on the taxpayer’s (including my parents, sister and extend family) money? It’s worth noting that, whilst the NHS is a crucial part of my life, I have to pay for dressings, treatments and supplies that aren’t covered by the drug tariff.
At home, even though I’m an adult, I am still dependent on my mother, who is my 24-hour a day carer. However much we love each other, however much we laugh together and just get on with it, there is an inherent feeling of humiliation at having to be put to bed, helped into your underwear, even sometimes helped on to the toilet in your twenties. There is also the knowledge that, however much it may be denied, you are a burden to those you love. Even my friends have push my wheelchair, cut up my food and help me get my trousers down on nights out!
You might point out that I’m blogging, that I tweet (yes, Nadine Dorries, I’m admitting it!), that I go out with my friends, that I speak for charity (in order to raise funds to cure EB, which would save tax payers money!), and I don’t deny any of it. But I can only do these things because they are worked around my disability; I have no deadline, and no one is depending on me. If I need to have a sleep half way through writing something, I can. If I need to write spitting in a bowl because I can’t swallow my own saliva, I can. If I need to cancel at the very last minute or leave at a second’s notice, my friends and the charity understand. I could not do those things in the workplace.
When you think about it, it’s strange that benefits are so called. Are they meant to be the benefits of being disabled, the upside to being trapped by your own body? I can assure you, all of us who claim them legitimately would gladly swap for them for a job, for security, for freedom.
Maybe they should be called compensation? No one questions someone being compensated for an injury that keeps them away from work, even if it is caused by an accident. Well, what happened with my genes was an accident, and it caused me injuries that keep me away from work. But disabled people are increasingly begrudged the money they need simply to survive.
I’m really not in the habit of bemoaning my lot. I have a wonderful family and friends, a roof over my head, medical care, and food on the table. But there is a huge amount of injustice in the air right now, and those who will suffer most are those who are not able to fight against it. I have a voice, and I can use it, and so I want to support those who aren’t, for whatever reason, as fortunate as I am.
David Cameron has claimed that “we’re all in this together”, but these cuts won’t affect him in the slightest. He is not relying on friends or family to enable him to live from day to day. He is not facing the prospect of having his care funding cut, and being left to lie in his own urine and faeces all night, because his carer has been replaced with an incontinence pad, nor is he looking at spending every day of his life within a respite home, because the removal of his mobility Disability Living Allowance component has been withdrawn and he can no longer afford an electric wheelchair. He will not be a working person, taking over from the agency carer the local council can longer fund. He won’t feel suicidal because he is being made to feel that he doesn’t deserve to live, or because he simply does not have to means to do so. These are real issues being faced by people with disabilities.
So please, the next time you see a story about the ConDems cuts on benefits in the newspapers and you tut about these disabled people draining the state, please remember three things:
1) Disabled people aren’t spongers, they are people who truly need the money, and desperately wish they didn’t.
2) When you go to bed tonight, you won’t need someone to dress you, or clean your bottom, and you won’t be left to lie in your own defecate. You will be free to do as you please.
3) Not all disabled people are born that way, and many are disabled due to accidents and illness, and you may find yourself in their dependent shoes one day.
On 14th February 2011, the ConDem government will make their final decisions about cuts to Disability Living Allowance, the “benefit” that helps disabled people to fund the expenditure relating directly to their disability, whether care or transport (paying for cabs, an adapted car, or even simply a wheelchair). This decision will impact upon disabled peoples’ ability to have the best quality of life they can possibly have in their various circumstances. If cuts are made, many disabled people will be forced under the poverty line, living lives as second class citizens.
In conjunction with The Broken of Britain, a non-party political action group for people with physical and mental disabilities, and their carers and supporters, One Month Before Heartbreak are giving a voice to those who will be affected by these cuts, and bringing their plight into the public conscious, and hopefully conscience. Please visit their websites to see how you can help us fight for people who might not be able to fight for themselves. You never know, you might need them to fight for you one day, too.