In the UK one million people have a disability, long-term illness or serious impairment. One in five. This is the story of one of them.
My son, Ben, lives in Cornwall. He is 44 and has been disabled since he was six months old after a vaccination precipitated Salaam epilepsy.
At Great Ormond Street Hospital, doctors prescribed a high dose of steroids which left him so weakened he contracted pneumococcal meningitis. He then developed hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid inside the skull which can cause catastrophic brain damage.
To alleviate the pressure, the hospital fitted a Spitz-Holter shunt to drain cerebral fluid from his brain into his heart. It was the doctors’ conclusion that Ben would never lead a normal life.
Since 1973, he has struggled against his physical and mental impairments. His eyesight is poor and the right side of his body has atrophied and shortened which causes him to walk with a limp. He often falls and has to use a stick.
He picks up common illnesses easily due to a compromised immune system. In recent years, he has had a recurrence of epilepsy.
Despite his limitations, Ben achieved a BTEC National Diploma in HND in Business and Finance but, other than an 18-month stint at MTV, has never been able to hold a full-time job. He occasionally picks up small bits of income working as a DJ and runs an online radio station from his home.
For 20 years, he received a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) of £80 per week and £108 per week working tax credits, a weekly income of £188. That’s £112 worse off than working full time at minimum wage.
He recently went for a scan on his right ankle which was causing him discomfort and was given anti-inflammatories and pain killers. His doctor is currently helping him with a request to be given an electric wheelchair.
Because his mobility was worsening, he contacted the Department of Work and Pensions to request assistance with his housework. He could only stand for 30 seconds without being in agony. He said, “They told me that my benefits had been stopped. As a result, my weekly income fell from £188 to £67. They said I could apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which had replaced DLA. I did so, but my application was rejected.
“It was a massive blow and has has left me with a huge shortfall. It’s crazy because my disability means I have to take five tablets twice a day as I’m in constant pain.”
Ben’s list of drugs include Keppra for epilepsy, Citalopram for depression, Omeprazole for acid reflux and sore throats, Paracetemol for pain and Ibuprofen for anti-inflamation.
He has lodged an appeal with the DWP, but this can take up to a year to be heard. His ageing parents are now using their savings to help him and he is fortunate to have a cousin who, as a lawyer, gives him free legal advice.
Ben will not end up on the street. He will not starve. He will not die. But what of the many thousands who face the same mistreatment at the hands of the DWP and don’t have family or friends as a safety net? Many are desperate and it has been acknowledged that ninety people a month are dying after the DWP has declared them ‘fit-for-work’.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, said ministers had to view the funding for people with disabilities in the context of a wider need to reduce the UK’s budget deficit. This is code for what lies behind government austerity polices.
According to the Resolution Foundation, last year the richest reaped 80% of the rewards from tax and benefit changes, while the poorest became worse off,
For this obscene transfer of money from poor to rich, it’s not so much “Let them eat cake”, as “Let them die”.