Dear Mr Cameron,
Last night on question time you said "a life on benefits is no life at all". I am upset, now I know I'm not your target audience, I have no intention of voting conservative, but for you to disregard my life just like that is plain hurtful. I think I need to tell you a little about it.
This is what makes you say that my life "is no life at all":
2009: My first claim for benefits was at age 15 (three years after the onset of my disability), for DLA. Had an ATOS assessment. I was turned down and was subsequently awarded it at appeal a few months later.
2010: At 16 had to reapply. Again I was turned down initially, I had an assessment with an ATOS doctor and was still turned down. At appeal 2 years after the original claim I was awarded DLA.
2011: In the mean time my condition changed so I put in a new claim, had an ATOS assessment and this time I received a small award straight away, I was entitled to more but to scared of losing what I had been awarded to appeal. At the appeal for the previous claim this was changed so I was awarded a higher amount.
2013: age 19 applied for ESA. No medical (that's rare), after more than 6 months waiting (for the uninitiated, a decision is supposed to be made in 12 weeks at the time 6 months was at the time around the average wait) I was placed in the support group (the higher rate where you are not expected to work or prepare for work).
2015: DLA claim due to end in the summer I applied for PIP in February. After a stressful assessment (though not as bad as the ATOS ones) in received the decision this week awarding me the highest rates of PIP.
I have never worked. Benefits have been my only income, I don't expect that to change soon. I am one of those people who you said have "no life at all" . Based just on my income, on the information attached to my national insurance number, you have written me off. You have reduced me simply to the source of my income. According to you I am nothing else my life has no other qualities, my life is not a life.
What my NI number can't tell you is what it's happening outside of my bank account.
In no particular order:
I am a university student (a politics student no less)
I am an activist
I am a Christian
I am disabled
I am a leftie
I am a volunteer
I am a democratically elected officer at my student union
I am a tweeter
I am a reader
I am a hugger
I am a listener
I am a thinker
I am a problem solver
I am a friend
I am a little sister
I am a big sister
I am a daughter
I love pretty things, flowers and glitter
I am a people person
I am an animal person
I am a letter writer
I love to cook
I sleep a lot (and I mean a lot)
I like to see other people happy, I try to make it happen
I need help to do, be and enjoy all of those things
I am a recipient of social care
Mr Cameron my life(which is not a life) is wonderful and varied and full. My life (which is not a life) is hard and complicated and needs a lot of planning. My life (which is not a life) is beautiful, and fun and exciting and boring. My life (which is not a life) is exhausting and colourful and full of love. My life (which is not a life) is a lot of things but I can assure you it is definitely a life. It is a life worthy of respect, a life that ought to be viewed as a whole not reduced to where I get my money from.
By characterising me as having no life at all you have written me off and those like me off as not worthy of your attention as voters, just as an object of scorn. You have used me as an example of the perils of social security, you have invited people to look at me and condemn my life (which is not a life), you have opened me up to ridicule and abuse. Sure there's always the get out clause "I didn't mean you, I meant all those other people" but how many of those other people are like me?* You don't know, the media don't know the public don't know because you don't care have decided that the only important information about us is the our status as claimants. For you people are either shirkers or strivers there is no in between and there is no possibility that people can be complex. People are one or the other, that's it.
Someone might start their adult life (which is not a life) on benefits by claiming carers allowance at age 16, they're not able to claim it under 16 regardless of the level of their caring responsibility.
Someone might start their adult life (which is not a life) on benefits by claiming tax credits because their pay is ridiculously low.
Someone might start their adult life (which is not a life) on benefits by claiming job seekers allowance because despite leaving school with okay qualifications they cannot find a job easily.Someone might start their adult life (which is not a life) on benefits for any other number of perfectly valid reasons.
For me and many others the reason I depend on benefits in order to live my life (which is not a life) is disability.
Guess what, all these lives are complex and messy and beautiful and hard. Their lives are all lives. You do not get to dictate who has a "life". That is not okay. You cannot say who's life is worthwhile and who's life is not. To do so is dangerously close to saying something else, it almost sounds like you're talking about who should get to live.
In truth though my life (which is not a life) could be taken as a social security success story. Social security benefits have meant I can make a contribution to society as my impairment and the disabling barriers of society will allow, without worrying about whether I can afford to eat.
Someone Who's Life is a Life and Worthy of Respect as Such.
*That's no judgment on the people who aren't like me, just a response to the comment I always get when I raise this issue.
This post was written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015 #badd2015 more BADD posts can be found here.
I had planned to post a blog on housing but right now this is more important.