Able Magazine encourages views on disability issues from its readers. Here, Samantha Shelley responds to Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson’s column in the Sept/Oct 2015 edition of Able. We’ll be passing this to his office in due course.

The Minister for the Disabled says:

“We should do everything we can to give people the dignity of a job, the opportunity to achieve their career aspirations and the security of a pay cheque. The focus should always be on what a person can do, giving them every opportunity to fulfil their potential. No-one should be written off to a life on disability benefits and it should always pay to work.”

The ‘help’ I have received to get work has been pitiful. I was on Incapacity Benefit due to degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis – there is no cure, I won’t get better. I am in constant pain and have mobility problems. However, I was found ‘Fit For Work’ and now receive Job Seekers’ Allowance. I am £30 per week less well off, I can no longer afford taxis when I need them, can no longer afford better quality food, can no longer afford to pay my heating bills so spent the early (cold) part of this year with the heating off. This new-found poverty has impacted directly on my physical and mental health.

I now have to attend the Work Programme five days per week to ‘Job Search’. I am constantly exhausted, constantly in pain. After eight months on the Work Programme I have had no practical help in finding employment, unskilled and ignorant ‘advisers’ have in fact hindered my efforts. Their suggestions on how to get back to work have been risible and amateur. They have ignored my qualifications and experience and attempted to force me into unpaid work in completely inappropriate fields. Being subject to a hostile sanctions regime has had an impact on my blood pressure and I now suffer from stress and insomnia. Despite many hours of searching for work in the areas I have been mandated to search by the Job Centre, I have had no replies to my letters and CV – in EIGHT MONTHS.

Clearly, your definitions of ‘dignity’ ‘opportunity’ and ‘security’ come from a different dictionary than mine. I cannot afford new clothing, new shoes and I cannot even afford to put credit on my phone. My household is sliding into debt fast. I am dreading the winter. On the Work Programme I am in the company of many, many others in exactly my situation. They, too, are still disabled and unemployed months or even years after being declared ‘Fit For Work’. The only dignity we have is in our shared experience and defiance of your government’s attacks on us.
Minister, in short, disabled people can well do without your ‘help’ in finding us work.

Samantha Shelley