ESA, ATOS and Full Time Education : I'm not keeping quiet anymore.

I need to vent. It's been a long time coming. I know I am not the only one in this situation but the problem is people don't talk about money. It's embarrassing as hell. But I am just the right amount of furious now that I need to speak up and show what the new benefit system is doing to people.

Before ESA and ATOS came along, everything was ticking along just fine. I have absolutely no ****ing idea why this sorry excuse for a Prime Minister and his Deputy felt the need to change it. How do they know what it's like to live like this?! Cameron was educated at Eton and Oxford, and Clegg is a Cambridge graduate. It's pretty obvious they know nothing of debt or student poverty - thanks for the £9k a year tuition fees too guys, sterling work that. Education isn't a privilege, it's a god damn right and I do not enjoy being saddled with £45k of undergraduate debt once we calculate in all the other student loans. 

This brings me to my next point, why are students forced to struggle like this? Even 'normal' students have a really tough time, but when you're not capable of boosting the pittance you get from your loans and grants and do have illness to contend with, it's magnified to an unbearable level. 

The bottom line is: people are being forced into situations they're not meant to be in. It's as simple as that. Our degrees are the most important things in our lives right now. Not only are we basically starving or surviving on absolutely disgusting cheap food but we're exhausted from working job(s) to support ourselves.

Let's get the facts out there:

- I'm a full time student and my loan and grants have already been exhausted.
- I've been able to work since 2006 due to mental illness and am still claiming Disability Living Allowance. My National Insurance contributions were covered by Incapacity Benefit.
- I was diagnosed with M.E/CFS a few years ago.
- In February this year ATOS placed me in the "support group"
- The DWP will not award me anything except National Insurance credits because my 'contributions' are too low. This makes no sense to me as my credits have been covered and I'm not even eligible for work. Those who have NEVER worked get ESA so what the hell is this shit?!
- I am in debt (credit card) to the tune of £4700 and unable to escape the increasing interest rates and subsequent increase in debt due to my employment status. 
- I worked for the first time in 8 years on Friday 13th June. I was due to work today (Sunday 15th) but my M.E/CFS symptoms are so bad that I am now unable to leave my bed. 

It doesn't take a genius to work out that I am trapped in an impossible situation. I thought I could fight against the symptoms and power on through, but it's..... impossible. Everything right now is impossible. I have been backed into a corner and have absolutely no choice but to compromise my physical and mental health to cover my ever expanding bills, and I'm already losing. 

I have been deemed unfit to work but given absolutely no help. 

I really don't understand how we're supposed to survive? We try and go back into work but the fallout is catastrophic. Sure, the government get their figures that say that supposedly 'sick' claimants are back in the work force, when the truth of it is that we have been forced and will inevitably end up seriously unwell again or worse. We need the money or the bailiffs will come. We'll lose everything and be on the streets. This is the point where suicides happen.

We are constantly being told we're lazy and work-shy, and just need to get on with it and stop complaining because "there's always someone worse off" than you or your symptoms are "all in your head". While that may be true - someone being worse off I mean! - that doesn't take away the level of pain experienced sitting at a desk or being on your feet for 8+ hours a day with no rest breaks. Crowds, noise and interacting with people are very difficult to deal with and lead to sensory overload. Add extreme levels of stress into the mix....Who wins in this situation? I'll tell you right now, working minimum wage jobs is not enough to make it even slightly ok. 

ATOS and the government have a lot of blood on their hands.

My initial ESA claim form was submitted almost 12 MONTHS ago. I have had no outcome letter from them or ATOS from my medical in February. A phone call confirmed that I will not be getting any money from this and this makes my letter is "a low priority". Without a letter, I am unable to appeal. Clever, eh? I will be going to Citizens Advice for help in challenging their decision and also their policy on my decision letter. 

Do I have the time and energy for this? No. But I'm using that same frantic 'energy' I used to find a job and get through those painful hours on Friday to fight for what I believe to be right. I can't just sit/lay here and be bullied like this. It's putting the YEARS of recovery work I've done at risk and I'm not about to let that happen. My sobriety, my functionality, my degree mean absolutely everything to me. 

These past couple of months have been terrifying and it's only going to get worse if something doesn't change. 

Have you had problems with the ESA system and ATOS? What did you do? I'd be particularly interested in hearing from you if you're a student or if you're living with someone in full-time work. 

Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.


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