Struggling on the ESA
Posted Friday 27 January 2012
Kirsty has always worked, but when she was forced to leave her stressful job owing to mental health problems, she was shocked to find herself slipping below the poverty line.
I had a Saturday job from the age of 13, worked my way through my A-levels in retail, and then through my degree as an auxiliary nurse.
I love working and the opportunities for growth and making new friends that come with it and, despite my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the difficulties that come with that, I’ve always maintained steady employment.
Unfortunately, in November last year I ended up having a manic episode, triggered by working long shifts and night shifts on a stressful hospital ward. I was told that I needed to leave my current job and find one with regular hours and much less stress if I wanted to stay out of hospital in the long term. I worked as a casual worker so wasn’t entitled to sick-pay and therefore had to claim benefits upon my discharge to the crisis team a month later.
Tears came when I was informed that, since I was under 25, claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) entitled me to a paltry £53 a week to live off until I had been assessed (which takes at least three months). I was also having to use a credit card to pay my rent whilst housing benefit ask for everything but blood before paying out.
I was reduced to having to make decisions such as whether to pay my energy bill or have food for two weeks. I’ve become trapped in a catch-22 situation – the stress of having no money is impeding my recovery and return to work, but this stress can only be resolved by returning to work and earning.
Now almost £1,000 overdrawn and having spent £1,000 on my credit card to cover rent (I still haven’t had a decision from housing benefit, and I doubt they’ll refund the interest accrued on my credit card or the bank charges), I’m at the point where even though I’m not really well enough to return to work, I have to.
My point, and my reason for writing this blog, is this: whilst there may be individuals who try to abuse the system, the great majority of us who need to seek the State’s support are genuinely in need. The lack of financial support offered to those with mental health issues has meant that I’ve had to endure existence below the poverty line since leaving hospital, and this has definitely hindered my recovery and return to work – not quite the “living a life of luxury on benefits” nonsense that the media would have you believe.
Indeed, even I never really knew how low benefits were for individuals who cannot work until that paltry amount was staring me in the face. If the Government is so committed to supporting people back into work, then it should start by providing a liveable sum of money to claimants of ESA. Poverty is not conducive to good mental health, and so the stingy sum currently offered serves only to hinder individuals’ recovery and return to work.
Kirsty is a graduate who loves reading and making travel plans. She lives with her boyfriend and two cats.
Help us fight for fairer benefits – email or Tweet your MP with our easy-to-use form before Wednesday 01 February. Ask them to vote for a two-year limit on ESA instead of the 12 months that the Government is pushing for.
Commenting is now closed.