Monday, 9 January 2017

Taking the 'PIP' (part 2 - My New Life on the Rubbish Heap)

In the past two months I have had my income slashed by 2/3. Let that sink in. I have been assessed by the DWP as being unable to return to paid work due to the impact of my condition. But the same department have decided that I am not sufficiently incapable that I require any additional help with my living costs. So, I am adjusting to having £80 a month to live off after I have paid my housing and essential costs. I do not drink alcohol, I don't smoke. I have disposed of the vehicle which was helping me to volunteer and visit important friends once or twice a week. I am no longer able to afford the cost of swimming which was part of a plan agreed with my support worker to help me keep well. The council funding which would have supported projects open to people on limited incomes has been slashed. Opportunities to develop social skills and help me overcome my depression and anxiety symptoms have now closed down.

I am tired of fighting this system. I am sick of hearing myself pretend that I am doing okay with it. I am sick of not being able to be positive about the prospect of maintaining my recovery because the system keeps kicking me down. All made worse by the speech making and promises about mental health. My response to Mrs May right at the moment on how to achieve a major step forward in helping those of us with mental health issues is: please provide an adequately qualified assessment of mental health conditions using those who have experience of the complexities inherent to decide how my condition affects me on a day to day basis.

You may detect from the tone of my opening paragraphs that I have failed (again) in my paper appeal against the wholesale loss of all disability related benefits which has stripped out two thirds of my income. I am now facing the prospect of having to present my case within a courtroom to a panel which will include a member of the judiciary.

The following is the basis on which my appeal failed (bearing in mind that I have been unable to cope with reading any correspondence from the DWP since last June, anything that I know has been filtered by my support worker, so I did not have the full impact of the decision):

1. Prior to the assessment, I had suffered a number of vomiting bouts related to anxiety and stress caused by the PIP process. I decided to take additional meds to ameliorate these symptoms so I would not be sanctioned for missing the appointment. This was cited as evidence that I was managing my symptoms. Despite obviously overdosing on a range of medication this was not recognised by the 'health professional' or the faceless and nameless assessor at the DWP. This betrays a significant lack of medical knowledge related to the medication of complex co-morbidities related to BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder, aka Emotionally Sensitive PD).

2. Because I am intellectually capable of being able to read, interpret and use bus timetables, it was assessed that I do not struggle to use public transport. This is despite me explaining my experience of high levels of anxiety and inability to cope with large groups of people and sudden changes to timetables caused by road traffic incident, road works, etc.

3. The 'health professional' assessed that I was only affected by fluctuating moods on approximately 2-3 times a month. This directly contradicts the information I provided during the asssessment, or, indeed any rudimentary understanding of the major symptoms of ESPD. At the outset of the assessment interview I asked the assessor about his understanding of mood disorders in general and Personality Disorders in particular, he stated he had no experience of mental health, and none at all of PD. Given the complexity of diagnosis and the need for specialist intervention in order to accurately assess the groups of symptoms evident in ESPD, the PIP assessment is at best a blunt tool and at worst an actively vindictive weapon which effectively exacerbates the worst of my symptoms.

My overall observation of this assessment is that even for physical conditions it is rudimentary in the extreme. There is no scope for assessing those of us considered 'high-functioning', ie there is no method for assessing the emotional and mental impact of my mental health condition. It can only assess my intellectual capability which entirely misses the point of how mental health conditions affect people's ability to function on a day to day basis.

Overall my feelings at the moment are frustration and impotence. I know the progress I was making in trying to rebuild a life which allows me to manage the worst of my symptoms has been stopped in its tracks. Following the indifference and active anti-pathy towards the more vulnerable in society evident in our political leadership and rhetoric, I fear that I must become accustomed to my place on the rubbish heap of society. Simply because it seems that, at heart we, as voters will always put our own self interest ahead of everything else.