For disabled people on benefits, there’s nothing that can fill you with sudden dread more than the sight of an unexpected brown envelope on your doormat.
This is usually from the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP), the authority who control disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payment and Employment Support Allowance. They’re supposed to be there to support us but for many disabled people, their rigorous testing and assessments are impossible to pass.
Even if you do qualify for benefits, you find yourself living in fear of sudden reassessment (you’re supposed to get benefits for a continuous four-year period, but they’re known to spring reassessment on you after three years).
If you’ve recently had a benefits review or assessment, you’re left in limbo terrified of picking up the post for fear that you’ll find out your benefits are getting reduced or cut entirely.
This week, disabled people were treated to an unexpected panic, but thankfully it was only to say that the DWP yearly Christmas bonuses were coming through.
‘Bonus’ is a strong word – it’s £10.
Imagine caring so little about disabled people that you think 10 measly pounds constitutes a bonus.
The concept of a yearly bonus is an insult, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Well done for performing as disabled enough this year, here’s your precious £10 – don’t spend it all at once, urchin.’
As my friend pointed out, this is like something out of A Christmas Carol. He compared it to Scrooge begrudgingly giving Bob Cratchit the day off for Christmas Day.
But, to me, it’s more like when Scrooge is astonished that people would rather die than go to cruel establishments like workhouses or prisons and replies: ‘If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’
The way the DWP treat disabled people is akin to Dickensian England.
If we don’t seem ‘disabled enough’ to them – a concept which is dictated by their strict non-negotiable guidelines – we’re left with nothing. If they decide we can walk a short distance with aids, can lift our arms above our heads or most insultingly don’t look sick, we’re denied the financial support we need to survive.
We either have to work ourselves into the ground or die from hunger, lack of support, or suicide. This is why we dread brown envelopes so much.
For many disabled people and those on other benefits, the cost involved with Christmas is too much. It’s an extra expense on top of what we already have to spend our insufficient benefit amount on.
I myself had run out of money by the time I’d paid my bills and then bought Christmas presents for my family.
The most depressing part of the DWP Christmas bonus is that it has been the same amount since it was introduced in 1972. If it went up with the rate of inflation it would be closer to £130.
A more substantial bonus like that would actually make a difference.
I might be able to treat my husband and I to a nice Christmas meal out, or maybe buy a couple of extra presents. When I found out what the inflated rate should be, I was particularly hurt because my monthly allowance was cut by £80 during my last reassessment.
A Christmas bonus is supposed to help make the Christmas period easier, but there’s not much you can do with so little.
The festive period costs hundreds, not £10. With presents and nights out, it can double your monthly spending, and that usually starts in November, not December. That’s two months of getting ourselves into debt to be able to do everything we want to.
It’s almost as if they expect disabled people to just sit at home all day and never have any fun – that we should be sat at home all day and night, no matter what time of year. That if we’re so disabled and depressed, we can’t possibly have friends and family who we want to share the festive period with.
If the DWP actually wanted to help disabled people and others on benefits, they would give us a bonus that would actually make a difference.
Otherwise it’s just not worth the stress of the brown envelope.