The issues regarding universal credit have been continuing behind the scenes, over the past few weeks.
At the beginning of May, I had another commitment meeting, with my work coach. During this meeting, I handed in my latest copy of my fit note (also known as a sick note), now stating that I officially have gastroparesis. My work coach asked me if I was feeling better, I explained that things were much the same, hence the fit note. He looked a bit confused at the fact that I wasn’t getting any better: chronic illnesses are clearly a complex thing for people to get their heads around. There isn’t any “soon” in terms of me getting well. He asked me again if I could predict when I would be better and able to start work, so yet again, I explained very simply that I have long term chronic illnesses for which there is not a cure. I can not pick a random date and hope to be better by then, because that is not my reality.
So, yet again we went round in circles, with my work coach saying that he needed to in-put a date about when I would be better and he reminded me that on the system, I am available to attend interviews immediately and I am available to start work immediately. The computer did not randomly select these dates, my work coach in-putted into the system that I am available immediately, despite the medical evidence from three different medical professionals stating otherwise and me arguing that. He wasn’t very impressed when I informed him that not only have I not been job searching, but I have not attended any interviews and have not made any process in terms of getting a job.
You guessed it: I explained, for what feels like the billionth time, that I am very unwell. I am being sick every day, I am malnourished, I am exhausted, emotionally I am really struggling and actually, in no way am I fit to be in work. Despite all of this, I still desperately want to be working, to the point that I am now having literal dreams where I have a job. I still feel like a failure and a burden on people around me. I feel like I don’t have a purpose in life and I don’t know why I bother getting out of bed from one day to the next.
By the time that I had finished explaining this to my work coach, I had lost my shit a little bit, although somehow I managed to hold back the tears. I am so fed up of constantly needing to explain myself and being open to judgement by a man who does not know me and patronises me by telling me that he understands. Unless you have actually gone through this living hell, please don’t tell me that you understand because you don’t. Until everything that you have worked towards and aimed for in life has been taken away from you and you don’t know from one day to the next how sick you’re going to be, or whether you’re going to need medical treatment, don’t tell me that you understand.
After saying all of this to my work coach, he promptly turned around and told me that he didn’t feel that he needs to see me again. Naturally, this news delighted me but I was a little bit hurt when he said that he “couldn’t help me”. Maybe start listening and offer some support, instead of making me feel like crap? Just an idea.
So, things were left, I wasn’t sure what was happening but due to picking up an infection, I wasn’t well enough to start chasing a system which is more broken than me. I had received a form, in the post, which I had to fill in to tell people about my disability. Thankfully, it was a similar form to the PIP form so it didn’t hurt my somewhat foggy brain too much. I filled it in and then received an “invitation” to attend a work capability assessment.
And then, on the 23rd May, everything changed with one single phone call. I had contacted my local MP the previous day, so let her know that I was still awaiting a reply from the DWP, regarding the letter that I sent to Theresa May and she replied, letting me know that she would chase it again.
I received a phone call from the Department of Work and Pensions, attached to parliament. I was given a formal apology for how I have been treated in regards to my universal credit application and for any “undue and additional stress” that my treatment has caused. All of my work commitments have been stopped: I no longer have to be spending two hours a day job hunting, I don’t have to keep updating my CV, I don’t have to attend interviews and it has been agreed that I am currently too unwell to be working.
At last, someone with some common sense! I want to cry with sheer relief that finally, someone has listened to me. I’m also incredibly grateful that Layla Moran MP has given her time to fight on my behalf because I’m 99.9% sure that the common sense has prevailed due to her involvement.
I think that I still need to go through the formality of the work capability assessment, but I’m not totally sure. Either way, I’m not too worried about it now. Prior to the phone call, I knew that I would be attending the assessment with my work coach having said that I should be working and I knew that it would have been a tough job to get the assessor to think otherwise. But now that it’s been recognised that not only am I genuinely ill but also too unwell to work, my understanding is that the assessment is more of a box ticking exercise, a bit like PIP assessments.
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop fighting. There is still so many things wrong with a system which is [in theory] designed to help people. But instead, it’s failing people. It’s making people feel worthless and that is what needs to change. A work coach’s opinion should not outweigh medical evidence. Medical fact. If you are presenting with three different types of medical evidence, all stating that you are unfit for work, it is not down to someone without a medical degree to decide otherwise. I’m not sure what training you need to adhere to, in order to become a work coach, but I am fairly certain that it is not five plus years in medical school. Maybe it’s time that the knowledge and expertise of medical professionals is trusted, in the cases of people presenting with chronic, long term medical conditions.
Universal credit still has three major flaws, and until they are addressed, my experiences will be mirrored in other people, which is not okay. People are waiting up to 12 weeks for their first payment. That is three months without any income, potentially risking rent arrears, debt, financial insecurity, missing mortgage repayments and not being able to buy essential daily living items such as food, gas, electricity and water. Universal credit is also bloody complicated. People don’t understand it. I don’t understand it and the majority of the time, I have not had a clue what is happening and if I have been entitled to money. Because of this, people are not getting the help that they need and deserve because the system is failing them. It is failing the most vulnerable people in society, the people how don’t have a voice.
That is why I’m using my voice because I refuse to be silenced by a broken system.