Burning Issues with Jenni Meredith

August 7, 2018

Jenni Meredith, UCan2 contributor, on the pressing issues of the moment – from finance to fears over losing a carer…

Deflating debt

The other day, calling at our local optician’s to collect my husband’s new glasses, I had to wait whilst the assistant chatted on the phone to one of her friends. Not that I was eavesdropping, but it’s hard to avoid overhearing in small shops when you are the only customer. I think the friend or maybe a relative was sharing bad news because the optician’s assistant came away from that conversation fairly agitated and all worked up for a ‘put-the-world-to-rights’ session with anyone within shouting distance. I was that anyone. 

She was of the impression that unemployment was rife and that this is the main cause of depression, with which I disagreed. After all, we are told so many times that stress is a big factor in premature deaths and that work is a huge cause of stress. So it seems logical to draw the conclusion that employment can as easily cause depression as can unemployment. 

I countered her statement with the response that in my opinion the single biggest factor causing stress and depression is the D word — debt. I wasn’t only talking credit card debts or unpaid and in many cases unpayable utility and grocery bills. I was thinking of national debts. 

Jenni Meredith - cartoon by Tony MeredithThe failure of the Lehman Bank over a decade ago, bailed out with taxpayers’ money, has led to a continuing global stagnation and widespread negative equity for millions of homeowners. These people had once been sold the idea that buying a home, and opting for ever-increasing mortgages, was a risk free way to save for retirement; they would be able to cash in their chips at a huge profit in that dream future. These days the financial class even conscripts students to a lifetime of debt through what is euphemistically labelled a “graduate tax”. But to quote Robert Service “a debt is a debt”, so under those gift-wrapped words, the younger generation, trying to better their future prospects, is forced to start out with this millstone round their neck. 

Debt deflation is depressing. And austerity, seen as the ‘solution’ by most Western Governments, just makes matters worse. 

When a carer passes away

We were told in primary school that the population in the UK was ageing. For me that was several decades ago, so why did those in position to do some planning to accommodate this changing demographic not act sooner? The statistical trend was recognised back then, but presumably they all thought if they didn’t talk about it, the solid facts might melt into air. 

As family carers age, the Government is presented with a raft of new problems. Will the austerity promoting state be able to cope financially, providing care for these bereaved disabled people? Even grief is reduced to spread sheets these days, so how does it pan out for those who currently depend on a family member for day-to-day assistance and dignity? 

Will the Government try to cut corners by pretending they don’t need to adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which they are a signatory? 

Many family carers worry about the fate of the loved ones in their care should they, the carer, die first and their child or spouse or sibling not be properly consulted on their preferences for future care – or worse still, be left without any, or an inappropriate care package.

Many families are in this situation of caring for people who might always need assistance with some part of their lives, for example, those with learning disabilities. The Learning Disability Coalition estimates that 60% of learning disabled adults live with their families. This family support acts as a care package, often officially unrecognised. The LDC estimates the number of people in this situation to be around half a million, of which just over a third are living with parents, aged 70+. This means that Social Services should be planning for some 170,000 people to have their care transferred from the loving family home to a more impersonal, but hopefully on the practical side an equally viable support system, over the next few years. 

Is that possible in this debt-strapped age? It has to be. Since the last year’s PIP ruling, the Government knows all too well about how cost cutting measures end up costing more. 

‘Consult and ignore’ costs more

This thinly disguised cost-cutting exercise — phasing out DLA and introducing PIP in its stead — has already led to far higher costs with the Government being found not only to have acted in breach of Human Rights and with “blatant discrimination” against people with mental health issues, but also not to have had the legal power to introduce the changes in the first place, since they conducted no consultation. Presumably the lack of pubic consultation was seen as yet another way to limit costs. ‘Consult and ignore’ is the norm anyway, but at least the ‘consult’ part of the process pays some respect to those who are likely to be affected by such changes. And the ‘ignore’ part provides potential for legal challenges, for those who have the stamina. 

Thankfully with PIP, The Public Law Project had that stamina. And tragically plenty of individuals in the interim had their much-needed benefits cut. 

Whilst the rate of successful challenges is high (60%), that figure still represents over a third of erstwhile claimants losing their benefit, and probably many more, since not everyone is able to challenge. It takes energy; something which is depleted by many disabling conditions and the medications to alleviate those conditions.

The human cost in terms of lives turned upside down, can’t be easily reckoned. The financial costs have been estimated at nearly £4billion, which breaks down into legal costs, backdated compensation for some claimants and an on going caseload of some 1.6million people, which could be double that figure should someone decide another legal challenge is in order to make sure that everyone having claimed PIP since its introduction in April 2013 is included in the review.   Additionally there is the cost of legal challenges by those who disagree with their new PIP award decision. That is likely to be a substantial amount of those receiving assessments, which reduce or cut altogether the benefits on which they depend. Jenni Meredith

Careless talk costs living standards 

Many of the first people to attend these PIP reviews were told their funding would be cut immediately. That bad news wasn’t going to cause the already stressed any more stress, was it?! Because they had mental health issues rather than physical difficulties, the private companies tasked with the initial review assessed people as being able to make familiar journeys – even though some claimants were unable to leave the house. 

Everybody fears a review of the benefits on which they eke out a living. There are even websites devoted to guiding people about how to answer and plenty of online forum discussions too.

Of course we must be truthful. However, if you put on a brave face – as we all try to daily – then the likelihood of the Government agent seeing through that public grin-and-bear-it attitude to the real difficulties faced every day is dangerously diminished. 

When asked about what you can do on an average day, don’t forget that in this case ‘average’ is not idiomatic but mathematic. The question doesn’t require you to think that most days you manage, for at least part of each day, anyway. What is required is for you to think about the frequency and severity of the bad days and make some sort of mental calculation to balance the assistance needed then with the fewer waking hours when no assistance is needed. 

In short, we need to be cup-half-empty people when answering these questions and try to remain our cup-half-full selves outside of these oppressive interview situations.

Austerity, currently the buzzword for Western Governments, means measures to reduce public spending. Yet we, the public, are forced to spend more every time a Government makes a mess of things and the courts have to step in to decide a challenge to their actions.

• Find Jenni Meredith – who also writes poetry related to health issues – at wordsart.co.uk.

• Cartoon by Tony Meredith.

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