In Loving Memory

It’s April Fools’ Day, a day recognised all over the world as the time for jolly pranks and elaborate hoaxes. Today we’ll read absurd stories about spaghetti growing on trees, interruptions to gravity or Viagra for hamsters, and people will play tricks on each other.

But I’m not in the mood for hijinks because, on this day of foolishness – and this is no joke – the Government’s horrendous attack on vital benefits and national institutions comes into force. I’d love for the Government to suddenly declare its destructive plans a practical joke on the nation, but sadly I expect 1st April 2013 will be remembered by many as the day their lives got unimaginably harder.

As a disabled person I’m acutely aware of what’s being lost. But I know many people won’t realise the NHS, the benefit system and all the social support structures have all been surreptitiously dismantled, until they need them.

While Tourettes Syndrome has had an increasing impact on my life I’ve been given a web of support that’s kept me safe, allowed me a good quality of life, and enabled me to work and be actively involved in my community. Fortunately for me, when my mobility and independence started slipping away, the social services and the NHS could still afford to care. Their ability to do so from now on has been severely compromised.

What follows is a description of the key services that have kept me safe and well in the last year. Today all of these have changed – here’s what this will mean for us all.

DLA

If you’re aged 16-64 and have a disability that affects your mobility or means that you need help looking after yourself, from today you’ll no longer be entitled to apply for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to help with the extra costs of your disability.

DLA has been scrapped for everyone except children under sixteen and is being replaced by a new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). At first glance PIP looks much the same as DLA, but huge changes to the eligibility and assessment criteria will see to it that many disabled people will either lose the benefit entirely or receive a lot less.

From today an estimated 500,000 people will suddenly become less disabled or non-disabled in the eyes of the Government – and this won’t be because they were able to miraculously heal themselves as the Minister for Disabled People Esther Mcvey seemed to be implying was possible in a recent interview.

No, this policy has always been about cutting spending on support for disabled people and the reality is that many of us will not be able to meet the additional costs of whatever condition we have, which will put us at much greater risk as a result.

Without DLA I wouldn’t have had:

• The padded gloves that protect my hands from the way I relentlessly bash my chest
• The weighted blanket that provides enough resistance to my constant movement to allow me to get to sleep
• Numerous other small interventions that keep me safe – lidded cups, wireless doorbells, kneepads, helmets, plastic cutlery and prescription charges
• The money I need to cover the expenses of my friends, family and support workers who facilitate everything I do
• The ability to travel further than my friends can push my wheelchair

My DLA award will be reviewed in 2015. Tourettes is a changeable condition and I very much hope that my needs will have reduced by then so I don’t need the same level of support. But even if my needs don’t change, the new rules could still see me getting a lot less.

Many disabled people’s conditions won’t change – their brains won’t become undamaged, their spines won’t mend and their missing limbs won’t grow back. As a result their needs won’t change when they’re re-assessed, but many thousands of pounds will have been spent carrying out the re-assessments required under the new system.

The true impact of these cuts and changes won’t be seen immediately. But from today they’ll creep in, robbing many disabled people of help to meet their basic needs.

Social Services

Many people will know most about Social Services for the role they play in protecting children from abuse. Other areas of their work hit the headlines every now and again because of a crisis or a tragedy. But their real work, up and down the country, is making sure vulnerable people are identified and provided for according to their needs.

I work, have a loving family and a strong network of support, but despite this, two years ago I was struggling to manage and my most basic needs were not being met. After many exhausting months I eventually called my local Social Services’ Adults with Physical Disabilities Team.

Soon after that I was quickly assessed by an experienced and skilled social worker who took time to understand my needs and the challenges I faced. From tomorrow this team will no longer exist.

My Council’s restructured its social care services in line with Government recommendations. I no longer have an allocated social worker who knows me, or even an allocated team with a duty number I can ring. Every time I need help from Social Services I’ll have to call the Access and Information Team. Each time I need help I’ll need to start from the beginning, even through I’ve got an existing care package.

The Access and Information workers aren’t going to be qualified social workers. They’ve been tasked with assessing all new referrals and putting short-term interventions in place designed to ‘re-enable’ people.

For most people this won’t be possible and the social work teams that’ll then take over will have to assess everyone yet again. Because social workers will no longer be in specialist teams, it’ll be harder for them to share information, experience, or good practice. It means that an 80-year-old whose vision is failing may end up being advised by a worker whose previous speciality is substance misuse. For me this will mean every time I need to make a call to talk about anything I’ll have to explain my tics and battle to make myself understood all over again.

The NHS

The NHS is an amazing institution made up of many vital services. This year alone I’ve been seen by my GP, the Orthotics Service, The Ambulance Service, various Accident and Emergency Departments, The National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Wheelchair Services, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Cardiology, Ear Nose and Throat services and countless carefully trained doctors, nurses, therapists and hospital staff.

Changes to the way the NHS is structured, that come into force today, pave the way for an increasing sell-off of our health services to big business. This Government’s reckless enough to do what very few would’ve believed possible – they’re selling the NHS.

Aided by a shamefully complicit media, this’s been done in a sly and complex way to ensure as little opposition as possible. Many people won’t even know it’s happened…. yet! But the voices of countless health professionals and the organisations representing them have been repeatedly warning of the dangers a fragmented health service poses to patients.

For anyone still thinking that the NHS could never be privatised – it already has. Virgin Care now run more than a hundred NHS services, and the number controlled by private companies is set to grow hugely under the commissioning structure now in place.

The idea that quality will be driven up by the involvement of profit-making companies is fundamentally flawed. How on earth can it be argued that a collection of competing businesses motivated by the interests of their private shareholders will be better for public health?

If you believe that a sane society should provide healthcare to anyone who’s ill and in pain regardless of their ability to pay, you should urgently add your voice to all those who’re challenging what’s happening.

Many more benefits and services are also being scrapped, tightened or twisted. These include: Employment Support Allowance, the Independent Living Fund, Legal Aid, Housing Benefit, and the bedroom tax. The whole onslaught needs to be met by continued resistance.

David Cameron and the bankers who support him might say my point of view is evidence of a ‘Culture of entitlement’. If he’d listen I’d tell him I proudly believe that:

• Everyone’s entitled to support and protection when they’re most vulnerable
• Disabled people are entitled to have their basic needs met
• Everyone’s entitled to free healthcare at the point of need

I don’t live off benefits, but I’m only able to work, pay my taxes and survive because of them. The changes being imposed from today mean people facing illness or disability in the future may end up blaming their bodies for their poor quality of life when the real cause is our current Government.

These changes usher in a time of increased inequality, poverty, poor health and distress. It’s unforgiveable that institutions of such great value to all of us are quietly being dismantled.

In these times of political posturing and media scaremongering, it’s easy to become desensitized to the impact of this Government’s disastrous policies. Now more than ever it’s vital that we stay alert, cling to our compassion and take action whenever we can, before private school politicians make fools of us all.

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