Monday, 19 February 2007

Disability Carnival #9

Well, I've got plenty to say on the theme of employment, which will be the next great debate on Thursday, given that I have been looking into starting some work again after a long period of ill health. I haven't worked at all for over a year, and prior to that was doing the odd bit of paid writing (I am a writer) under the Permitted Work rules in the UK. The rules are there supposedly to govern how much you can do, how much you can earn, and for how long before your Incapacity Benefit is affected.
The idea is a graded return to working and earning. The reality is somewhat different.
Now I ran into an interesting situation when I resumed some work, for a short time after becoming ill. I'd stopped working when I went on to Incapacity Benefit, but after a time wanted to do a bit of work again. I followed the rules, wrote to my local JobcentrePlus office, contacted the Incapacity Benefit office, and was promptly turned down for Permitted Work.
On what grounds? The Decision Maker (God I hate that term) decreed that I wanted to take up work that I was doing before. This wasn't allowed. What's wrong with that, you may ask? Well, according to the people who make the rules, you can't just go back to your old job. In my case, I worked from home, am freelance and have such restricted energy and mobility due to my condition that the ONLY work I can consider taking up again is short bursts of online work. Such work is out there, but this didn't seem to fit with the rules.
I wrote them a letter, with a supporting medical letter, explaining that I wasn't returning to my old job in the true sense of the word as I was taking on writing that didn't require me to leave the house. Online work, rather than out-and-about work. No meetings, conferences, just me and a desk, a computer and (on a good day) maybe a phone. I didn't hear back, did a few bits of work with my health continuing to decline and then had to give it up anyway.
I was left with a sense of frustration, to put it mildly, and thought of all those people out there who want to resume work, but are not allowed to because they want to do what they have trained for, built up a business doing, and want to do again.
What is the problem? Have I got it wrong? It seems not.
The latest version of what you can do, and how, when thinking about returning to work is here
The main issue I have is that when you've not been working for a while, they automatically assume you need your hand holding when approaching the big bad working world again.
The fact that someone may be prepared to rebuild their career from home, start paying tax again and generally feel more useful and, well, employed, kind of passes them by.
You seem to have to, and correct me if I'm wrong, enrol on a workshop, do some voluntary work, work in a hospital and suchlike to become employable again.
Or, you can only do two stints of Permitted Work at 26 weeks each (adding up to a year) followed by a year's break. Why?
My confusion over the rules tells its own story. It becomes very difficult to know who to approach, what advice to ask for and how to resume the work you WANT to do, and that fits in with your ongoing ill health, when things are this unclear.
The fact that I am self-employed should not complicate matters or prove a barrier to me working again. On the contrary, it should be encouraged.
Basically, I want to write again. I want to stick within the allowance of £86 a week or whatever it is, and build it up until I can inform the Incapacity Benefit people that I don't need it any more. That would be nice. It would make me feel good.
But with the prospect of being channelled into a 'scheme' for which I am entirely unsuitable given the fact that I have to rest for long periods each day, I am not inclined to give them a call.
I have to choose the best moments in the day in which I can work. As a freelance, self employed writer, I can potentially do this. Lucky me, if only the rules weren't getting in the way.


fluttertongue said...

My goodness me. Don't get me started on the Work and Pensions people. When I was refused incapacity benefit and had to look for work they scanned my CV and decided they should put down Dance Instructor, based on the fact I have a BTEC module in it, nevermind that I couldn't even stand up while waiting in line.
Then, after they lost forms, told me I was lying because the computer didn't agree with my statement and had me reapply three times, I actually broke down in the Job Centre and instead of consoling me they got a security guard to make sure I didn't disturb the veneered New Labour atmosphere.
I'm now back on income support which gives me £45 a week, £15 of which goes on rent (thank goodness for the council). I can work but I can't earn more than £20 a week, which I really don't have the energy to do anyway.
Your situation sounds like much of the nonsense that's accompanied the many policy changes and is exacerbated by the fact they are totally inflexible. You're not allowed to not fit into a box.

seahorse said...

Exactly. But my god, £20 a week? They really are sods. And WHY didn't you get Incapacity Benefit? Do you still not receive it? Let me know, I may have some pointers.
Oh and having just read over my post, i've decided that stating I am a writer in the manner I did was a little pretentious. But that's writers for you :-)

Anonymous said...

The rules are not only apparently rigid - bad enough by itself - but are rigid AND OPEN TO each petty DWP employee's own view of the matter.
Challenging them is almost impossible and for someone who suffers from any further stress adversely, a complete "no-go" area.
I live in fear - literally - to almost panic attack proportions - of the dreaded 'brown' envelope arriving and the added dread of not only its inevitable 'bad news', but the worry of having to respond in any way that jeopardises my already tenuous link to health!
Like seahorse I have a huge variation of what I can and cannot do in any 24 hr period. Any 'schemes' mainly voluntary that have given me the lee-way to participate are not deemed as being "approved"! I tried going via a voluntary group into schools to do some good, so to speak, with primary kids on how to or how not to behave - the schools loved us - but No, must stop this or loose out. I tried giving some time to a small youth club about twice a month unpaid - certainly not suitable - no reasons given of course.
God help us all.....perhaps we should just be taken out and put down?

fluttertongue said...

Doesn't sound pretentious at all! I don't get Incapacity Benefit because I haven't made enough National Insurance contributions - no matter that when I got ill I was 22 and had been doing a degree so couldn't have worked full time for three years in a row (the requirement). Anyway, it doesn't matter now because I've just failed my Work and Pensions test. Being put down sounds surprisingly enticing right now.

seahorse said...

Sympathies both. I'm choosing to stay as far away from penpushers as I possibly can. I hope for an improvement in health that will one day mean I can just go 'Been nice knowing you but I'm all better now.' A miracle cure in other words. But it still nags away at me...there must be a way to persuade them I can work, as long as it's work I can actually do?

fluttertongue said...

Sorry - I'm monopolising your comments. But, my advise is to get in touch with your local MP - I did that when I had problems first time around and it was quite helpful. Secondly, find out the name of the head of the Incapacity Benefit department at your local Job Centre and speak directly to them. If you are able to make them aware of how ridiculous they are all the better. Good luck!

Interrobang said...

Your entry actually gave me a shock of horrified recognition. Would you be startled to know that the situation is not much different outside the UK, at least in some jurisdictions? I'm Canadian, and I was at the tender mercies of the Beneficent State not long ago, and wound up getting workshopped half to death by a bureaucrat who wouldn't take "Three years, but I haven't been looking for that kind of work, and I have been working in the interim" as the answer to the question "How long has it been since you worked at a job where you actually had to show up and be in the office?"

Like you, I'm a freelance writer, and disabled, although my mobility problems are nowhere near as bad as yours (I do have those "god I have no energy, being put down is looking attractive" days at the corner of Thissucks St. and Rocks Ave., however). The System, such as it is, seems not to be kind to artistic and creative types in general, which is two strikes right there.

I now have a job where I work three days a week on-site, and it's less tiring than those geedee workshops, let me tell you.

Good luck with getting your benefits. If your political system is anything like ours, I second the recommendation about getting in touch with your local MP. If nothing else, they ought to know of some resources...

seahorse said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm moving through a list of To Do stuff gradually, and it'll be got to eventually, and yes, I think I may write to my MP, who I know to be very good. It's interesting getting perspectives from abroad. I guess bureaucrats are the same the world over.