Sarah Jane Brownlie is the Disability officer for the Kingston and Surbiton CLP.
She shares her experience of the current welfare system letting down people with disabilities, single parents and those in work poverty, in her role as a independent disability advocate.
I will take you through the mean experience of a typical financial life of the people that have come to us needing support.
As independent disability advocates with 20 years voluntary experience in the field of advocacy it seems more and more really do not understand what people with disabilities are currently going through under the Conservatives or the consequences of the Lib Dem/Conservative (or the Condemn Coalition as I call them due to the impacts of their Welfare reforms).
For the sake of this experience we will use a fictitious member of the public to really give an idea of the people who are currently slipping through the safety net.
Mary is a 52 year old disabled single mother who six months previously lost her disabled husband that died once his support was cut off once he was found fit for work after his 5th medical assessment in 6 years. Fortunately he had just lived long enough to see the birth of his beautiful baby twins. Unfortunately having been born into a family who already had two boys in it there is no support for Mary’s twins. Mary is disabled with fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. Which means she is confused and in a great deal of pain with every movement. The tiredness is something else as it leaves her full of brain fog .
Due to the medication and the health problem she has, although she would very much like to work so is currently unable to, but would at some point in the future like to study. She has twice previously been turned down for Employment Support allowance and for personal independence payments even though she had been on incapacity an Disability living allowance.
Her current entitlement on a 5 person household with 1 boy of 15, one boy of twelve and 2 boys of 6 months is Income Support £73.10 a maximum rate of child tax credit of £224.52 Housing benefit of £224. However her rent is £300 due the benefit cap meaning she will need to pay out £76 for her child credit. With council tax coming in at £30 per week. Which is the relief she gets on it.
Mary has had some debt problems in the past so now has a key metre for both her gas and her electricity. Putting £20 on the electricity and also put £10 on her gas. Finally Child benefits per week is £ 61.80 giving her a total income of £473.08 per week taken from this is £300 for the rent, £30 for the council tax Gas and electric £30 This leaves her with £113 for everything else. She is on a payment plan with the funeral directors after her husband’s death, and the loss of her carer’s allowance, and the benefits he received. Currently she is trying to pay off £20 a week further depleting her income.
Unfortunately her eldest son aged 15 has had some issues from a young age which although she has asked for help when he was excluded from school. No one could put a label in him as he did not fit the categories of autism even with a significant number of traits. As he does with those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Later on at his new school they did test him for emotional behaviour disorder as well as defiance disorders but could not come to a conclusion. This has resulted in her son smashing up his classroom Which Mary had promised to replace the damaged equipment so that it did not come out of the schools already depleted incomes. Mary pays this off at £10 per week.
Mary is now in the situation where she has £20 per person per week to feed cloth and get any provisions that might be needed. Or £2.85 a day She is trying to breastfeed her sons but with two of them it is not enough and finds herself having to get a milk formula for them so that they continue to grow. That's at a cost of £8 with nappies also costing £10 per week.
After all that will be cheaper than when they both soon will need to be weaned onto solid food. That’s brings her per person per week down to £14 each or no more than £2 a day. As you can tell from this it would not take much to upset the apple cart for Mary. With both her boys at school and needed new trousers every week or so it feels for Mary. This is the sort of person who needs the food bank. As not for herself she has already lost 2 stone since losing her husband. She goes for her boys. Three times a year she get a voucher & twice a token for her electricity. So she can get them trousers. It also gives her variety in their diets as porridge does get a bit much when you can’t afford milk.
Although the name is fictitious this is the current state of a Safety Net that isn't working in my experience.