I rarely write about politics, although I have taken part in other media regarding the utter disregard the national political narrative seems to have for disabled people, despite the fact there are 13.9 million of us in the UK.
Since the global recession, the optics have been cleverly shifted away from the very source of the problem – the finance sector – to the most vulnerable of its victims – us. And when that ‘us’ have no voice, it’s a recipe for right-wing thinking.
Slashing disability benefits was a good place to start and allowed the media free reign to wage war on us, and how. We were cast as the ones draining the economy, not the foolhardy bankers. It’s a staggering leap, but the press and public latched on to it with a vengeance.
Living in a marginal seat, I’m going to share my experience of my previous MP, Labour’s Anna McMorrin and her Conservative predecessor.
Long story short, Anna McMorrin displayed a deep compassion not often seen in today’s politics.
A few years ago, I noticed that the parents of a local school took every disabled space in the main car park, behind the shops where I live, twice, three times a day. I asked a few of them why they did this as there were plenty of other non-disabled spaces. Their replies were illuminating:
‘Disabled people don’t go out this early’
‘It’s only for five minutes, what’s your problem?’
‘They’re all scammers anyway’
When I met my Conservative MP canvassing for votes outside those shops one day, I approached him and asked him if he would help with this matter. He told me it wasn’t his problem and I should speak to the school involved. When I said I already had and was told, ‘it’s not my problem, speak to your MP’, he couldn’t get rid of me fast enough and in an extremely dismissive manner.
Fast-forward to October 2017, five years after I was awarded a lifetime Disability Living Allowance(DLA) due to my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Until MS is curable, it makes sense; it’s a progressive, degenerative illness.
I received my ‘invitation’ to reapply for the new Personal Independence Payment as DLA would be stopped. I went into a tailspin – for five years I had tried to remain positive, focus on the positive and, well, be as positive as I could be living with MS. Now I was invited to write endless answers about how much MS had negatively impacted my life and would continue to do so.
It was a desolate, soul-destroying experience, picking apart my life in minute, excruciatingly personal detail. I went in to a deep depression and had to ask for further time to complete the paperwork. However, I was blessed to have wonderful support in Stuart and Marie Nixon who held my hand and kept me sane throughout the whole experience.
I submitted the paperwork on Christmas Eve 2017. On 13th February 2018, I had a face-to-face assessment at home by a Capita representative. I could write endless blogs about this car-crash, but suffice to say, she somehow observed that I was absolutely fine (without any Quality of Life measures or fatigue measures undertaken, amongst many other complaints) without taking her eyes off her computer. In fact, she appeared stressed, hurried and short-tempered and told me she had had a long day and I was the last on her list.
Of course, the next month, my benefit was reduced drastically. I send a mandatory reconsideration letter. This was turned down. I sent an appeal for a tribunal, and was informed at the end of June 2018 that it would be held at ‘some point in the future’.
And then fate intervened; someone who reads my blog met my MP, as-then Labour’s Anna McMorrin, and told her of my case. This person (still anonymous to this day), emailed me, urging me to contact Anna as she could help me. I didn’t hold out much hope, but was running out of options, so I called her office and spoke to a lovely case-worker, Lauren. I sent documents over and waited for the rebuttal.
It never happened. Instead, Anna and her team fast-tracked my appeal, moving it from a normal PIP tribunal to a District Tribunal Judge. By this time, I was in hospital for a hernia operation, as if MS wasn’t enough. After two nights under observation, I came home to a letter – in my absence, I was awarded PIP.
To add some context to how much this means to me – the loss of DLA meant I was perilously close to homelessness. In preparation, I had already contacted shelters and advice-lines as to what my next steps could be and the outlook was bleak. I have no partner to fall back on and due to MS, I work part-time so all living expenses were my responsibility, with the added stress of factoring in time off for MS problems. I spent endless hours working out the figures and they simply didn’t add up. It was a tipping point.
In short, Anna McMorrin has kept me in the house I have made home for me and my son for the last 15 years. I am not in a shelter, awaiting rehousing. I have breathing space, so I can pursue my dreams of further study. I feel safe.
My body might continue to conspire against me and it does so on a daily basis. But to know that I still have my own personal space, and to keep hold of the only home my son has ever consciously known, means the world.
I believe we have a Conservative candidate parachuted in from London. He may well have grown up in Cardiff. I grew up in Glasgow, left as a teenager, but would never claim to understand the intrinsic social problems there now. I do not want this person to represent me.
Anna McMorrin restored my faith in politics and for that reason, I will support her all the way, as she did for me.