I suffer with CFS/ME, fibromyalgia and depression. My only income is fortnightly Income Support / Incapacity Benefit at £102 per week. Since the Coalition have taken government, I have already seen my housing benefit slashed and have to top it up by just over £25 a week and this year alone I have seen my gas and electric bill rise by nearly 10%. My money comes in and it goes straight out again on rent, bills and food. I have nothing left over. To the point that friends and family sometimes send me a little money, just so that I can have some variety and get out and about.
So I was already apprehensive by the morning of the Autumn Statement as there was wide spread talk about possible cuts to benefits, with the rhetoric already in full swing on the TV and radio. However, that day I was in good spirit and my health was managing well. I took a seat in my local coffee shop and listened to the Chancellor deliver his statement on the radio.
I smiled and scoffed wryly at the Chancellor’s tractor factory style regurgitating of numbers and figures, whilst he supposed that because of ‘this’, it showed ‘that’. The usual game, I thought. But then, amid a strange convolution of unrelated reasons and warped logic, came the announcement about benefits: from next year they would only rise 1% per year for three years.
I burst in to tears right there in the coffee shop. I was stunned. It felt like my whole world had been snatched from beneath me. I could hardly speak or breathe. I cut the radio off and I felt such a sinking feeling of sadness; depression hit me physically and mentally.
Many dressed it up as “an effective freeze,” saying, “Income would still be going up…” I’m not stupid; I know full well that if inflation rises faster than your income, it is a real cut to one’s spending power. I estimated that in three years time, with food and fuel inflation as they are, this would result in an effective cut of around a quarter to my income.
The real question is: how will I manage when I am already struggling to manage right now?
To compare wage increases with benefits increases is frankly ludicrous. I cannot make any more savings within my budget. There is no cushion, no buffer, and no give. The only savings left will affect my health, well-being and mental state, when I am already struggling with all of those anyway.
The Chancellor is completely wrong when he says disabled people are protected. They are struggling and they will see cuts to large parts of their income regardless. But worse than that, he has decided that Employment Support and Incapacity are not now disability benefits with the stroke of a pen and a flick of the wrist.
I feel quite strongly now that the current government do not care about society and that they care even less for the poorest and most vulnerable. If they had a social conscious, or any shred of empathy, they could not even for one minute contemplate inflicting this Spector of abject poverty on people like myself.