Changes Bristol are an organisation, running support groups for those suffering from mental distress. This article was written for an edition of the internal newsletter on the 17th January
Article Author: Sarah Rudston
The news of the benefit cuts has been somewhat unavoidable recently (unless you‟ve been living with your head in a bucket and believe me, I am tempted to start…). “75% of people on disability benefits are able to work!” scream the Daily Mail, forgetting to mention that according to the current testing methods, if you are able to pick up an empty kettle you are apparently able to hold down a full-time job… Those who are going to be hit hardest seem to be those who are less capable of defending themselves, with the impending measures to cut Disability Living Allowance and the enforced testing of those currently receiving Incapacity Benefit and ESA. As I am someone who has previously applied for ESA (and been rejected, no surprise there…) as well as having many friends who are unwell and unable to work, the news has not been pleasant reading in the slightest.
Furthermore to the bleak outlook peddled by the news media, I have also been disturbed by the accounts of sheer terror, despair and helplessness as shown on mental health websites and personal blogs. I recently read an account written by a woman who is so traumatised by the thought of losing her benefits and therefore her home, that she has stated she will end her life should it happen. (See here, but I will warn you, it is harrowing reading, http://purple-noise.blogspot.com/2011/01/beginning-of-end.html). I was so shocked and appalled that I posted the link to my Facebook in the hope that maybe someone would share my feelings.
Unfortunately, the first response I got was from a friend of a friend, and here it is: “Sorry to play the Devils Advocate but this is Darwins Law at work. It may not be pretty but it is true. In times of hardship the strong will prosper and the weak….”
The ellipses are used to avoid stating what he obviously meant: that the “weak” will die as a result of what‟s happening, and this is the only way things could be. Happily, he did not go unchallenged and I was reminded of why he is only a friend of a friend (and enjoyed some very pleasing daydreams of him turning up at a Changes meeting and being pelted with coffee mugs and goal books).
I couldn‟t avoid thinking about the incident, however, and how many people perceive those with mental health difficulties. I know how hard it is to live in battle with your own mind, but what makes it so much harder is the lack of understanding from others: the “pull your socks up” attitude, the discomfort, neglect and even scorn that comes from others after mentioning you live with a mental health problem. This all leads to a massive amount of misunderstanding which penetrates our society from the low level insults from someone you don‟t know, to the people at the top who make the decisions about how you live your life.
If we do not challenge those who see us as “weak” or “scrounging”, then we risk the attitude continuing to the point where lives will be lost through ignorance. It is frightening to contemplate what will happen in the next year, but there is hope. The backlash against the decisions has already been enormous. You can see its progress by following these blogs: Where‟s the Benefit?, The Broken of Britain, the superbly named Benefit Scrounging Scum and One Month Before Heartbreak, a response to the proposed consultation about DLA reform which is happening on the 14th February.
The collected voices are heartening to read: there is a lot of anger, passion and well-reasoned arguments. The feeling is this: If the people at the top were counting on people being too “weak” to fight back, they’re in for a surprise.
Where‟s the Benefit? http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/
The Broken of Britain http://thebrokenofbritain.blogspot.com/
Benefit Scrounging Scum http://benefitscroungingscum.blogspot.com/
One Month Before Heartbreak