As a disabled British citizen, one of the things that I am periodically subjected to is the routine appearance of the dreaded brown DWP envelope. Even at this time of writing, I am waiting for a date to attend my Personal Independence Payment appeal. For disabled people like myself, that is an incredibly scary, incredibly anxious and exceptionally stressful time.
I was born with borderline hydrocephalus and mild spina bifida and scoliosis. I was later diagnosed with milk cerebral ataxia, mild low tone hearing loss and anxiety, In 2001, after a wrist and foot injury, I was also diagnosed as having Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Although not necessarily life-limiting by any means, my disabilities to manage to hold me back on a much smaller scale in many ways.
From a rational perspective, it is not hard to see why our government would want to reduce the number of claimants on benefits. However, in many cases, it is unfair that people with long-term or even lifelong disabilities are unfairly penalised to help meet the costs of meeting the latest budget. Of course, no disabled person should be targeted by a system that takes from the nation’s most vulnerable, but it is particularly cruel for the system to repeatedly target people who have had unchanged disabilities for several decades.
I am no stranger to work and indeed, I have always said that if the means were there for me to work, then I would happily and gladly accept employment for a day’s pay. In 2009, I was found a part-time role as an administration assistant, working for the NHS. I lasted 7 months before I had to quit because of my physical and mental health. My wrist ached from operating a date stamp (I even got a health & safety lecture for that, heaven forbid I tried to stick it my eye or something) and my foot hurt from having to walk all over a two-storey clinic. My head pounded because of daily tension headaches which were the consequence of depression and anxiety. I hit burnout within weeks and my employment record suffered greatly because of it. My work required two buses with an average journey time of 90 minutes each way. I spent more time on the bus than I did working, and the work that I did was for very little additional pay. While it was certainly an experience, I knew that eventually I had to make the choice between more hours and paid employment, or living a life on benefits. While I had no desire for the routine reappearance of the aforementioned brown envelope, I realised that more hours weren’t something I could do. I’d spend an average of 7 hours out of the house and spend most of my evening sleeping, anxious, depressed and in pain. It was okay if you could do it, but I knew for me that it wasn’t the way.
After that, I cycled through several different different employment agencies in the hope of finding other work, more local work, that was better suited to me. One of the most glaringly obvious issues for disabled people and employment is that physically disabled is also the same as mentally disabled, and that simply isn’t the case. Stephen Hawking was not thick, so why are disabled people treated this way? I was offered simple roles like shoe shiner for Shoe Zone or shelf stacker in Sainsbury’s, roles that undermined my 5 high-grade GCSE’s and ECDL Level 2 pass, while simultaneously being wholly incompatible with my physical disabilities. I tried several standard employment agencies in the hopes of finding part-time receptionist work that I could manage, but that call never came.
I was eventually referred to an Equal Opportunities centre who specialise in helping disabled people find access to work. I attended their appointments and discussed the barriers to work, but time and time again I found that the opportunities again were undermining of smart, disabled people. Our bodies may have given up on us, but our brains have not. Time and time again I told these agencies the same thing – I don’t need wheelchair access and I don’t need a bearing loop – all I need is somewhere that I can work on the first or ground floor, that understands if I’m a a bit late or slow in the winter (which is always worse when you have RSD) and is no more than 16 hours per week. What I needed shouldn’t have been too much to ask, yet it was just as elusive as my winning lottery ticket.
One of the really exciting opportunities that was put to me was the opportunity to work from home. I was excited, because while it was still work, it would mean that all I needed to do was make sure I logged into the computer and worked at the right time each day. I’m dedicated, hard-working, passionate and committed. All I needed to know was what to do, how to do it, and I was away.
That our government isn’t putting more funding and support into helping disabled people work from home is damning at best. Many, many disabled people can use a computer and a telephone, and many, many disabled people would love to learn new skills that give them confidence and a sense of purpose in society. Disabled people absolutely can work, they just need the right access, support and conditions to allow them to work, and that is where there is a real problem with funding.
Becoming a blogger was a decision I made from a dire situation, I was cleaning daily but mentally unfulfilled. I’d become the proverbial shoe shiner, if you like. I enjoy writing and time and time again I get good feedback for the stuff that I write. I don’t get paid a dime for what I do and I hope that, as time goes on, I will have enough written pieces to make something of it. I applied for voluntary work two years ago and only lasted a day. Now that I manage the home and my blog to my schedule, I realised that a manager was the last thing I’d want or need. I am ready to work from home!
In our modern world, more and more people are working from home and there absolutely can and should be more focus on finding roles that suit disabled people and their wide range of personal needs. Yet, while our government is doing all that it can to stop disabled people living an easy life on benefits, it seems that there is also little interest in helping them explore and discover real, feasible, home-based employment opportunities.