Archive for the ‘Disability’ Category

The Help Given To Disabled JSA Claimants
July 15, 2015

In the budget last week George Osborne noted that “…those who are placed in the Work-Related
Activity Group (WRAG) receive more money a week than those on Job Seekers Allowance, but get
nothing like the help to find suitable employment…”

He was leading up to the cut in Employment and Support Allowance, and this article does a fantastic
analysis of the problems with that announcement.

But as a disabled JSA claimant I wanted to tell people about this help I’m receiving.

Making The Claim

The first time I claimed the Disability Employment Advisor tried to persuade me to go onto ESA
instead. Perhaps this was her idea of trying to help me but she didn’t explain her reasons and
it felt like she was trying to get rid of me. Since I am genuinely looking for work, I can
meet JSA’s requirements and I don’t want to go through a medical I prefer to be on JSA.

When I made my second claim I was temporarily housebound as I was waiting for a repair to be
done to my wheelchair. Knowing how the Job Centre had never shown willing to do interviews over
the phone in the past when I’d been stuck indoors waiting for a district nurse, I decided to
wait until my chair was repaired before making the claim and asking for back-pay. I explained
the situation but they refused back-pay because they said I should have claimed straight away
and they would have done the interview over the phone.

Accessing the Job Centre

Apparently customers aren’t allowed to use the lift so I meet my advisor on the ground floor.
Not a problem as such, but I do question the purpose of having a lift when those who actually
need it are forbidden to use it.

The Job Centre used to be on the High Street, a location I could safely get to alone when
needed e.g. if PAs were away and I had nobody to cover the precise time of the appointment.

The Centre has now relocated to a place where I need help because I have to cross a busy road which has no dropped kurbs or pedestrian crossing but does have many potholes.

I was once permitted to miss an appointment because snow meant that I couldn’t get my chair
down the street. On the other hand, there has been no flexibility of appointment times or
permission to miss an appointment when:

  • I was stuck indoors waiting for a district nurse to come and change my catheter.
  • For one week in the year my PAs were away and I had nobody to guide me
  • I was waiting for a new wheel to be put on my chair (it having come off in a pothole) so
    couldn’t get out.

Sound familiar? “You should have made your claim earlier. We would have done a telephone
interview”.

Getting Careers Advice

I’d heard good things about the National Careers Service from a friend and thought speaking to
a Careers Advisor was worth a try. I asked my Jobcentre advisor about getting some advice and
it turned out the Careers Service was based in the same building, yet nobody had even thought
to tell me about it. Having requested it myself, I was then sent a very formal, strict letter
from my Jobcentre advisor saying an appointment had been arranged for me, it was compulsory,
failure to comply would result in no payment e.t.c.

I asked about interview practise and was told they “don’t really do that”. Later a different
advisor did set up a mock interview for me. But this wasn’t an interview for a specific job
and was only confirmed a couple of days beforehand so its usefulness was rather limited. It
turned out not to be a proper mock interview but a chat about my CV and suggestions which
contradicted those of the Careers Advisor. So no help with interviews.

They did give me a huge list of websites to try. Most of them no longer existed or were irrelevant
to me. In any case I’ve found plenty of sites for myself. Lack of jobs to apply for isn’t the
problem. What might help is some more work experience.

Getting Work Experience

I heard about a program giving unemployed disabled people a voluntary work placement and some
training. I asked the Disability Employment Advisor if I could go on it. She hadn’t heard of
it and was too slow in processing the necessary paperwork for me to get support from Access
To Work. So I had to pay for the extra hours of support I needed to get to the workplace out
of my own pocket.

I am shortly to be put onto “The Work Program”.

The Job Centre is a burden to my work search, not a source of support. The success I had, and
hopefully will have again, at finding work was despite their “help”, not because of it.

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Is Co-production Fulfilling Our Hopes?
February 5, 2015

When applying for a job recently I needed to talk about co-production. I defined this as the genuine collaboration and mutual respect between disabled people and professionals. I elaborated, but those defining phrases “disabled people” and “professionals” bugged me.

They seemed so inadequate and trivial. They don’t capture the real position of either group or the difficulty and importance of the relationship between them.

I don’t normally spend much time publicly speaking about language in the disability context as I think people generally give it far too much attention to the detriment of attitudes and action. I have preferences about using neutral language and know about debates and history around words like “handicap”, “invalid” e.t.c. I’m interested in why people choose to describe themselves as either “disabled” or “with disabilities”. These are important issues but I think they should largely be confined to internal discussions among disabled people. When we give too much public space to them we allow people to feel like they’re achieving something by reworking leaflets while keeping their attitudes and procedures firmly entrenched.

I finally had my fill of the “correct language” meal when a fellow visually impaired person told me I mustn’t call him, or myself, “visually impaired” because it was offensive. Apparently to say someone is “visually impaired” is to mean they are ugly and the correct term is “sight impaired”.

Actually I suspect saying “visually impaired” might have several meanings, including that the view of someone is blocked, depending on the context. It’s probably all wound up with the subject and the object of the sentence. But I’m no linguist. And anyway – offended? Really? All I can say is if you’ve made it to your thirties as a disabled person and you choose to use your remaining shreds of energy thinking about how such a mundane phrase offends you and preaching at other disabled people to mend their ways, you must be leading a rather limited life and perhaps your concern would be better redirected to that issue.

So it was unusual for me to give so much thought to whether I was using the “right” words when I was discussing co-production. That’s partly because I really wanted the work. But more than that, the co-production endeavour encapsulates so much of what it means to be disabled and to seek fundamental change.

Co-production is the process whereby citizens and decision makers work together, sharing power and knowledge to produce policies and practises. Citizens are involved in designing the policies which affect them and everybody becomes an agent for change instead of purely a service provider or a service user. That’s the idea anyway. You can read more about it on the Social Care Institute for Excellence website.

This has been the whole point of the disability movement – to assert our rights to freedom over our own lives; to build practises which work for us instead of on us and do things with us not to us. If co-production is a culmination of fifty years’ campaigning it’s a radical departure whose participants seem to deserve fuller descriptions than “disabled people” and “professionals” with all the assumptions tied up in those words. Disabled people can be professionals, whether by work role, experience or behaviour. Equally the contributions of professionals who want to be changemakers are much more precious than the sum of their qualifications or job descriptions.

But I mustn’t dwell on this. Words are symbols of our thoughts, envelopes for our emotions, ammunition for our chosen weapons. They’re nothing without our directorship. Is co-production the answer it’s supposed to be? Is it a new direction? Or a new label for the old structures?

Like many others I’ve worked to get more choice and control for disabled people. I’ve also had “choice” and “control” thrown back at me as justifications for cutting my support hours. More than once I’ve been informed that keeping my support at the same level would reduce my choice and control and prevent me from living independently.

That was the professional assessment. And that’s one example of why, on the occasions when co-production does live up to its name, it can be an important vehicle for change. If the people who have the power to cut care and those who live the consequences of those cuts can produce work together which they both find satisfying, that’s got to be some kind of progress.

The co-production I’ve been part of was a bumpy ride and it was always going to be. I’ll try my best to ensure that whatever I’m involved in next lives up to its name. If that’s too ambitious, I at least hope to prevent co-production chasing choice and control down the hill of misappropriation.

I’d be really interested to hear about other people’s experiences of working in co-production.