Letters to the House of Lords from mothers and other carers on the effects of welfare reform
Dear Members of the Lords,
A mother in Tameside, Greater Manchester, whose son, diagnosed with schizophrenia, tragically died of a methadone overdose in February 2011, has asked us to forward her statement to you.
Her son was pushed over the edge by a combination of circumstances, including receiving a letter calling him in for a benefits reassessment. A number of people have committed suicide on getting such letters or after being cut off and made to be jobseekers. The harsh benefit conditions and sanctions threatened by the Welfare Reform Bill will only add to such tragedies
The Bill would replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the stricter Personal Independence Payment. Maria Miller, the Minister for Disabled People, and some media, have attacked DLA by vilifying people with drink and drug problems compared to “genuine” disabled people. In this way, they justify abolishing DLA altogether, a cut of £2.17 billion which would deprive 700,000 disabled people who are expected to be denied the Personal Independence Payment.
The assertions and comparisons they make do not stand up to scrutiny – amounts are inflated by lumping different categories together. In any case, it is obvious that many people with addiction do need care and support; many have other underlying ill-health and disability – their addiction is only the latest complication. http://fullfact.org/factchecks/hardest_hit_disability_living_allowance_Maria_Miller_blind_care_
We urge you to oppose any cut to benefits for sick and disabled people. These are already killing us and must be stopped.
What a mother who lost her son thinks about the Welfare Reform Bill
During the past three years, so much happened that was truly awful for us.
My son had been granted Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for many years; he was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being sectioned in Cheadle Royal Hospital in 1982, resulting in a six-month stay there.
Subsequently for three years, he lived in a shared rehabilitation house run especially for young people with mental dis-ease with themselves.
He got on well there, so much so, that he was able to move to his own self-contained-flat. No longer with a schizophrenic label, he was able to get employment that he enjoyed, various kinds. He eventually lost his last job in a local factory and after experiencing a truly difficult time, no money and then being harassed by group of young lads coming into his flat and beating him up, he chose to go into Tameside psychiatric hospital.
Back with the mental health label, his next move was to another independent flat in a small seven-flat complex. He got on with everyone there for almost 15 years, though having to have three-weekly visits from a community psychiatric nurse and depo injections. He was quite happy until the neighbour in the upstairs flat kicked his door in. He came to live with us for a month.
The next period of independent living was again in a shared small housing group, with his own ground floor flat and support from a “not for profit” charitable organisation called Creative Support. This was where he came into contact with a truly destructive group of brothers. Once they had got him in their grasp there was no way they would let him go. Eventually he told me that he was addicted to heroin.
He told the police, and though they praised him for reporting, they did not stop these men from humiliating him, stealing his ID, date of birth, NI number, in fact everything in order to get enough details to impersonate him and to be able to change his collection post office point and of course cash his giro. The benefit agency allowed this to happen twice.
To get away from his tormentors, another move to another town, this time, a social housing high-rise flat, but with no easy access to familiar faces. This time I thought he would be OK, more room to show his pictures and memorabilia. This time, however, after so much hassle getting back his benefit, he became depressed and fearful when he heard that he would lose his DLA and Income Support. Creative Support was there as non-judgmental support, but if he was to lose that through the new round of welfare cuts, it would make him even more isolated: it would mean losing this essential home visit service. All these hoops for him to jump through made his life too fearful for him to contemplate.
One of his last phone calls to me was that he had received two letters: one warning him about too much noise (however this was his neighbour’s dog barking); the other that he needed to have a benefit assessment. On the telephone he asked me, begged me to go and see him. But all too late, he died between Friday 11th -17th February 2011 of an overdose of methadone. He had been on this for over a year -- there had been no other kind of rehabilitation therapy.
As his Mum, I miss him terribly. I believe that he took his own life through fear that he was not able to survive all the changes of managing his rent, reassessment for disability benefits, and without the support in the community, he felt despair.
At his inquest, from the toxicology report, other than his prescribed medication, there was no other drug in his body but an overdose of methadone. My daughter, his sister, said she thought that he didn’t want to cause us any more worry.
For people with schizophrenia life is already very hard, with discrimination and the pitfalls of feeling different, to overcome! The depo medication which may help to minimise the hallucinations also causes side-effects: dry mouth, loss of libido, and shaking limbs, even lock-jaw if the drug procyclidine is not taken daily. He once told me that heroin made him feel normal but he gave it up to gain a semblance of doing the right thing.
Such a sensitive, thoughtful man he was, he died through the government major changes to the welfare system proposing to send us all back to a Victorian Britain where the poor or sick are never deserving or entitled!
“The Social Fund was a lifeline to me.”
Dear Members of the Lords,
I have been suffering from schizophrenia & depression for the past 12 years. I have been in and out of psychiatric hospital. I am on anti-psychotic medication, I have a depo injection every two weeks, which makes me feel very drowsy and tired. I have to spend two days in bed recovering after the injection.
A month ago I had a serious psychotic relapse and ended up back in hospital. I am now living at home again but am very exhausted from the relapse. For four months I was hearing voices 24 hours a day, so I could not sleep or eat and survived by drinking milk. I lost 20 kilos in weight. Before my relapse, my routine was to go to a women’s centre twice a week to do voluntary work, e.g. reading and sorting papers, doing calls and practising typing but I am still too tired to go back to doing this. I wake up very late in the afternoons and am still tired and I need to find the energy to shop and cook every day. After these chores I do not have the energy to do anything else.
I have been hearing about the Welfare Reform Bill and what Atos is doing to disabled people and I am terrified that I will be called in for an interview with them and they will say I am fit to go to work. The thought of this interview is very distressing. I already know I can only cope with basic day-to-day tasks looking after myself. If my benefits are cut because I cannot go to work interviews, I will lose everything, even the roof over my head -- no one will listen to me, no one will care for me, I will be desperate to get out of the cold and will have to sleep wherever someone takes me in. My mental health problems will get worse. People have taken advantage of me in the past when I was very ill. I read that four people with mental health problems have already committed suicide under the pressure that I am feeling and I am very frightened of the psychological consequences this pressure could have on me.
I have been a single mum, but my daughter is not living with me at the moment. We were together for almost 5 years and during that time I applied for Social Fund money to get furniture for our home twice. When she was born I was allocated a small flat but I had to furnish it all on my own with a newborn baby, I was still bleeding from the birth. When we left the hospital we had to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag and it was the middle of winter. Social Services were about to take my baby away from me if the flat was not furnished properly. I applied for a Crisis Grant and managed to get a bed and bedding, table and chairs and they let her stay with me. If you abolish the Social Fund you will destroy the little support there is for mothers like me trying to keep our families together. The Social Fund was a lifeline for us.
After one of my breakdowns and a long stay in hospital, I had to apply for a Social Fund loan to buy clothes, shoes, a coat, bed and bedding which was all broken, lost or stolen while I was ill. The furniture was already second-hand so it did not last long.
Two years ago I left a violent and abusive situation behind me. Again I had to start in a new home and the Social Fund was essential for me to buy basic furniture, bedding and clothes. If this money had been abolished I would never have been able to rebuild my life. I would be sleeping rough in my own home or worse, and I would be very depressed. I never thought I would be able to leave the violent men who were controlling me, but with help from friends I managed to break away and ran away into hiding. I got support with reporting them to the police, and they were convicted. I moved to the other side of London to be safe and close to my daughter. I was able to keep stable for over a year but then broke down from the stress of what I had been through. I am better at the moment and trying to keep as well as I can.
I have heard that lots of families are having to move out of central London because the landlords are charging very high rents and the housing benefit allowance has been reduced so that it will not cover all the rent. I think this is terrible for children in particular who will lose all their friends and teachers and have to get used to strangers.
I am very worried that my housing association may raise the rent to get more money and at the same time my housing benefit will be capped. If I have to find rent money out of my daily living money I will not be able to buy clothes or travel on the buses to see people, or be able to volunteer.
North West London
How welfare reform affects older mothers and carers:
I am self-employed and get Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, full Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. Before that I was on JSA for a year, as I had been moved off Income Support when my daughter turned 12. I decided to try self-employment as it meant I could be more flexible to arrange work around my daughter's school hours and activities. Once she turned 13, under the JSA rules, I was no longer allowed to look for flexible work only within school hours. I know many mothers are self-employed for this reason. I also receive Over 50s' Working Tax Credit of £26 a week, which makes it more financially viable to be self-employed, even if my income stays low as is very likely.
As soon as I claimed WTC, I was no longer entitled to free school meals worth £10 a week. This had a big impact as my earnings only work out about £25 a week. If I try to work extra hours to make up for the lost £10, it makes my income look bigger, and affects my entitlement to Housing and Council Tax benefit. Someone with two or more children is even more badly affected. There should be universal entitlement to free school meals for all of us receiving any kind of benefit. Mothers especially count on that.
I'm shocked to learn that I will lose Over 50s WTC as it’s being cut in April 2012. This is a major blow and I doubt it will be financially worthwhile me staying self-employed. I’ve not heard much said about this cut. Will the new Universal Credit restore this vital extra money for older women? For a start to claim it, even we are single, we can work part-time for a minimum of 16 hours of week instead of 24 hours. This makes it possible to fit in the multiple and intense responsibilities, which many of us in this age group shoulder. As well as having to hold down a job, we need to be around and have energy for our teenage children, we are often and increasingly childminders for our grandchildren, we often have responsibilities for older parents (e.g. both of mine are unwell and need a lot support all the time, including to make sure they get the help the NHS and Social Services should be providing), and because of our longer experience we have often built up responsibilities in our communities, e.g. for neighbours and voluntary groups. Any extra money therefore is helpful because it means we can work less hours. It will be very hard to find and fit in extra hours of paid work each week to make up for the £26.
I have just turned 60. However, unfortunately I can only claim my pension (which will be very small) and pension credit in July 2013, when my daughter will be 15 years and still at school. Under the present system I would be able to get Child Tax Credit for her until she leaves full time education. But Child Tax Credit is being abolished and replaced by Universal Credit. I understand there is no benefit I will be able to claim as a pensioner for my daughter aside from Child Benefit. There is no Educational Maintenance Allowance for her to claim. What money will older mothers have for our children? Many mothers who had children in their 40's, as is increasingly common, will want to know.
The benefit system needs reforming – so that it recognises all kinds of caring and supports the reality of our lives, and not in order to make caring for our loved ones and ourselves impossible.
Kilburn, London Borough of Brent
15 December 2011
From a grandmother:
Dear Lord Freud,
I am horrified to hear that that the government is proposing legislation which will force mothers who are welfare to look for a ‘job’ when the youngest is five years of age.
I am a grandmother now but raised three children on welfare following marriage breakdown. It was not a lot of money but I had control of it and was able to survive and care for all my children. I did try going out to work but it was almost impossible to cope, first of all with having time with them. Keeping tabs on where they were every day of the week was a nightmare. When I lived on welfare they knew they could come home after school, bring their friends with them if they wanted. Much safer for everyone.
That children have to be out of their home from leaving for school in the morning until I get home later in the evening is nothing less than child abuse -- adults are exhausted after doing such hours. How are children supposed to develop with any feelings of confidence and security if they are constantly shunted around from pillar to post, treated as if they are an encumbrance, rather than being valued by the society.
Mothers must have the right to care for our own children and in the way we feel is best for them. We are on call 24 hours a day, children cannot raise themselves. They are vulnerable and need care. How are mothers supposed to cope with common childhood illnesses as well as more serious illness, find decent food and cook it so our children can be healthy and all the million and one other problems involved with raising a human being. How much energy is there left for love after being forced into going out to work?
This proposal sounds more like Stalin’s Russia and I sincerely hope, in the name of humanity, that you think again about what kind of a society you are trying to develop.
10 November 2011
From a new mum/primary school teacher on maternity leave:
Dear Member of the House of Lords
I am writing to you to express my deep concern regarding the Welfare Reform Bill that is going through the House of Lords at the moment. If my partner were to lose his job, I would be forced to become a job seeker when my now six-month-old son turns five. I would have to go to job-related interviews from when he is one. This is disgraceful and this Bill should not get through.
If this Bill is passed, I would be considered fit to work in any job. I have had chronic lower back pain since I was eighteen, which has been worsened by an emergency caesarean section. So, therefore if I refused “three reasonable job offers”, I would lose my benefits. There are many people with disabilities who would not qualify as disabled. They would be forced into jobs which would affect their health greatly.
Going to work interviews from when my son is one would take me away from the important work of caring for him. I would have to bring him with me as I am choosing to continue breastfeeding.
Commuting up to ninety minutes a day would mean I would have to leave my son in childcare and school from 7.30am to 6.30pm every day. My partner would also not be there to look after our son. I am a primary school teacher in London and I see the effects of long-term childcare on children. Some only see their parents for an hour each day or only at weekends! They cannot practise reading and writing as they and their parents are too tired. Children are tired in school from long days. Their parents find it difficult to make healthy lunches because they are working so much. I see mothers who do double days, doing waged work and caring for children and husbands. Children have to do the work of looking after younger siblings because their parents are forced to work. Why is the government punishing mothers instead of helping them? The work of looking after children should be considered as a job.
It is already difficult for me and my partner to raise our son here in London on my partner’s wage alone whilst I am on maternity leave. Rent, council tax and the price of food is very high. The benefits cap means we are not entitled to the support that we need for our son. If my partner lost his job, I would be forced back to work when my son is still very young, leaving him without his mother for most of the day. Welfare is a right not a luxury!
This bill is against people with disabilities, against mothers and families, against caring and you should not pass it.
10 November 2011
"I want to raise my daughter myself"
Dear Member of the House of Lords,
Re: Welfare Reform Bill Amendments
I have been reading with horror about the suggested amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill. I am particularly concerned about the fact that you are planning to force mothers to become job seekers once our youngest child reaches the age of five; you said this to be true for both single mums and those whose partners have lost their jobs and cannot afford to live on one wage. Also, you want us to be available for work-focussed interviews and sessions from when the child is one. Do tell me, with childcare costs being by far the highest in Europe, who will be looking after my child while I am attending seminars? There is no way I am going to leave my daughter with just anybody.
The suggested amendments are absolutely shocking and completely ignorant of the well being of our children and ourselves as mothers and fathers.
My first child is now fifteen months old and I’ve been looking after her full-time at home. It’s been hard work, sleepless nights and I’m often exhausted. But it’s also been a wonderful and life-changing experience seeing her grow in front of my eyes.
Now with the cuts, my partner is likely to lose his job with the play service and we wouldn’t be able to manage on his wage as a teaching assistant. So I’d have to go back to teaching full-time. Childcare would cost almost £200 a week, more than half my income and we’ve just been notified of a 7.1% increase in our rent. So we’d struggle to get by and I’d hardly see my daughter, which would be devastating for both of us. I want to keep breast-feeding her at least until she is two but this would be hard to sustain with the hours of work involved. I have a colleague who commutes to work in a Camden school from outside London. She leaves home every day at 5.30am and gets home at 7 or 7.30 by which time her 3-year old is in bed. So she only sees her at weekends and is paying £12,000 a year to someone else to look after her. This is no life for a mum or child. I want to be able to raise my daughter myself, not farm her out and never see her.
British children are the unhappiest compared to 20 other nations. Life quality in Britain is the worst out of 10 countries. Each of these reports state what children really want: time with their parents. There’s something very wrong with a society, which puts so little value on children’s lives.
The contribution parents make by making sure that a child can play in a clean home, eat healthy nutritious homemade foods, is active outside, feels appreciated, supported and safe, speak: bringing up a child that is to become a caring, content member of this society, goes far beyond the contribution that can be made by parents who are forced to spend most of their waking hours in waged work instead of being socially and economically supported to fulfill their roles as mothers and fathers.
London Borough of Camden
"Forced separation harms children"
Dear Members of the House of Lords,
I’m writing to urgently oppose the Welfare Reform Bill.
As a mother, I’m urging you to stop this Bill, stop the cuts to mothers and children, stop the forced separation of mothers and children for economic or any other reason, and please value the work of mothering and recognise it for the indispensable caring work it is.
Mandating the forced separation of mothers and children, whether for paid work or any other reason, is just anathema to me. I can only do what I do because, being self-employed part-time (16+ hours a week), I can be as flexible as necessary with my time. This is just not possible in employment. Forced employment, full-time or part-time, is just cruel and vicious nonsense. How can it be right to leave a child, screaming and crying, desperate for you not to leave him at nursery at 8am, hungry because you’ve not even had time to have breakfast together, and then not see him again until 6pm or later, by which time he will simply fall asleep on the way home, hungry again as he’s too exhausted to stay awake to eat dinner together, five days a week? For what? Under so called ‘Work for your benefit’ schemes, payments of £1.63 an hour are already being implemented. How can this make sense when childcare providers cost so much more? Surely it’s cheaper to pay women to look after our own children? Isn’t that why we had children, to care for them?
What’s more, is that the availability of ‘wrap around’ (before and after school) childcare for five year olds just isn’t there. What little there was has been slashed by the cuts. This makes the mandation of employment for mothers even more farcical. Are we supposed to give five year olds keys to the house and tell them to go home and cook their own dinner? Five year olds! Please! Nor seven year olds either!
What impact will the proposed Welfare Reform have on our children, and us as mothers? Children are incredibly stressed by forced separation from their mothers – they can’t learn properly, become ill, and their development is severely stunted. Even five year olds are being prescribed anti-depressants now. According to an investigation by Channel 4 News (9 November 2011): “The number of children - some as young as five - being prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs has doubled in the past 10 years” and more than “15,000 children and young people under the age of 18 were prescribed this medication last year”. This trend can only get worse as a result of the Welfare Reform Bill. Mothers of course suffer too, again leading to depression and even suicide. This madness has to stop. Please, stop it now.
10 November 2011
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