So the time I've been dreading is nearly here. Any time from next month onwards I could receive the letter which changes things forever. The white envelope with "this is not a circular" emblazoned across the front, its contents demanding that I outline in excruciating detail every little thing I face on a daily basis. Guilty until proved innocent. The migration from incapacity benefit to ESA requires that I be reassessed, the fact that things haven't changed for me since my last assessment doesn't matter. It's not enough for them that I write "unchanged", I have to sit myself under a microscope and allow myself to be scrutinised until they are satisfied that I am not a fraud.
There are a few ways this could go:
- I fill in the form, they accept that and I move to ESA with no problems.
- I fill in the form and they "require further evidence" in the form of a face-to-face medical examination.
- I get refused without a medical.
- I get refused after having the medical.
To fail this assessment at any stage would leave me in poverty and ultimately homeless. Many people don't understand how this would happen, so let me explain. To fail to qualify for ESA would mean initially to claim Jobseeker's Allowance. OK, so for a few weeks I'd have less money to live on but would still survive on basic rations and have a roof over my head, fair enough. But soon I would be made to attend interviews, workshops and sessions all supposedly designed to help me find a job. Let's leave aside that many of these sessions are soul-destroying; pointlessly "sitting in a room for 8 hours a day with a couple of newspapers and a broken computer" seems to be a common theme from those currently subject to such an arrangement. But the point is - I can't work. Now if I can't work, how am I supposed to attend these sessions? If I was able to get to the required sessions, I would be able to get a job and wouldn't be in this position in the first place. So what would happen is, I don't manage to attend the session. Depending on the policy at the time (it seems to change quite often depending on which bare-faced liar - sorry, government minister - is speaking) I would face either a reduction in JSA, or no benefit for a fixed period of time, or get the benefit cut altogether. And there's the problem: no benefit means no home, no food, no nothing.
There is also the double-whammy of my Disability Living Allowance renewal, which will take place some time this Summer. Usually this would be a stressful enough process in itself. However this time we are told that any information used in the DLA assessment may affect existing IB/ESA information. Meaning that I could in theory be subjected to two assessments in a single year, both with the same possible outcomes of failing and losing everything.
I've been homeless before, and I'm not doing it again. I've slept under bridges, on stranger's floors, in the stairwell of a block of flats. I've given blowjobs in return for a coffee and sometimes a bath, I've slept with men to secure a warm bed for the night. I've washed my knickers in the sink in Asda's toilets. I've gone months without brushing my teeth. I once allowed a homeless guy to touch my breasts in return for him going into Tesco and stealing me a pack of sanitary pads, not wanting to steal myself and not being able to get them any other way. I've recovered from a paracetamol overdose, alone, lying in an alcove underneath a multi-storey car park.
I do not wish to go through any of that again, nor should I have to. However if I fail this reassessment - which is a likely outcome - I would be forced to. Unless I choose the only other option: death.
So I have my plan. I know how I will die if the time comes. I have undertaken much research to choose the method most likely to be successful for me, and I have acquired the means necessary to do so. Don't get me wrong I'm not about to voluntarily pop my clogs in the next 3 days or anything. But I would much rather die in comfort in my own home than wait until I'm on the streets with no resources to finish the job properly, so I have made the preparations while I can.
Let me get something straight here: I don't want to die. Sure, I've felt suicidal in the past and made attempts on my life in the past, but on the whole I want to try to live. Everything I do is based on survival, from moving house to a place that feels safer, to injuring myself as a way to cope with the otherwise uncopeable. It's an oft-quoted phrase by people who talk about suicide, "I don't want to die, I just can't face living any more". And that's the position I would be in if I was forced into poverty and homelessness, I would rather die than live like that. I want to make this clear, I'm not just some loony who was going to kill herself anyway. If I press the button it will be as a direct result of the assessment process. The process which has been made increasingly more difficult to pass even for those who are terminally ill or in hospital at the time. The process where those examining are given targets and incentives for failing people. The process where time and time again it has been proved that the examining professional has lied and written down something completely different to what the claimant has told them, or disregarded medical evidence provided by a clamaint's own doctors. The process that may not even include a doctor, where someone claiming on mental health grounds could get assessed by a physiotherapist. The process which is based purely on numbers and luck, and not on an individual's actual circumstances and needs.
That is what will kill me.
Originally posted at Purple Noise
Originally posted as part of the One Month Before Heartbreak Campaign Jan, 2011