So, what happens if one day you start to see things that aren’t there? It’s subtle at first, maybe it’s a cat in the garden, or a figure in the lane, someone in your garden? You don’t question it because it’s possible, it’s plausible. You don’t go to the doctors, you store it away and continue. It’s not until a few months later when your hand is on fire (although later you realise that it’s not) that you begin to question your reality.
What if, eventually, even after medication has been taken and lots of talking that when you go to work you’re followed by cats and unknown people or even a malevolent force that talks to you all day so that you can’t hear what people are saying to you? The stress leads to breakdowns and panic attacks so you stop going out, stop going to work, it’s at this point you’d hope support from the state might give you some relief whilst you hopefully recover.
The process to getting Employment Support Allowance isn’t pleasant. I speak from experience. The forms ask questions regarding your ability to walk for certain distances, or your ability to feed yourself. It’s meant that many people suffering from psychosis have been refused ESA and placed in the fit for work bracket when they are clearly not able to consistently attend. As a couple, my partner and I were lucky enough to have another choice, returning to study and with the support of the local college my partner is now two years in to a three year course, and it’s taken considerable understanding on their part for it to succeed. After three attempts at different medication my partner is at last able to leave the house on his own, not every day I might add, but he’s rarely followed by anything anymore.
Having said all of that, we’re both of the opinion that having a “normal” job might not be something that he could consistently do. Some days are worse than others, much like someone suffering from severe asthma, epilepsy, migraines or chronic fatigue, there’s an inconsistency that most businesses would not be able to sustain. If you couple this with the pressure of working in an environment where what you suffer from has such a big stigma that’s you’d probably never reveal your illness then finding another way to earn seems like a good answer. My partner’s is lucky that he is an artist which leads itself to being self-employed, but I’m sure that other people that have suffered similar issues to my partner have various skills that could be used.
One of the biggest fears my partner has is that he won’t be able to earn money at all, it’s not something he wants, but we both realise that if he enters the actual job market then it will bring pressures and probably be untenable at points. The idea of starting his own business and being able to work when he is well but not taking on more than he can chew seems to be a good option for both his self-esteem and for society too. We’ve very lucky to be able to consider this option, we have lots of support, I’ll be able to support us through the initial set up of the business. If I couldn’t then I would think we’d have to return to attempting to get ESA. But so far I have seen no support from the state for what he wants to achieve. Or I should say, we haven’t been directed to any support, even when we’ve requested this information. It’s possible that we’re not asking the right people? I would suspect that many people do not even consider this option as it would mean a loss of benefit support. Maybe there is support if you’re receiving disability payments? You’re either in the system or out of it, I’m wondering if there is a third way.
What if a supported self-employment option could be implemented? Maybe a mentor or administrate over-seer for an amount of time? If wages are now reported in real time monthly maybe a top up if you don’t manage to earn in one month due to illness? I know, I know, there are self-employed people that don’t earn consistently either, there is working tax credit in those circumstances and in general mentally robust people can weather this stresses better. Maybe co-operatives could be established where you could work on projects (using the skills you have, not just manual labour that the local council has a list of, unless of course you want to do that work). So, the individual would essentially be self-employed, the central co-op would be the administrative overseer of money received, invoices produced, tax returns, taking some of the pressure away from those recovering who are currently inconsistent or may never be consistent. The local centres could monitor those people and top up their wage if necessary without constant intrusive exams. They could also help people with PR or procure work. All of the support given at the moment is for returning to work as an employee, none of the support addresses the problem of ongoing inconsistency with certain illnesses.
There does appear to be some support from outside resources but a cursory glance seems to suggest they are aimed at physical disability and a registered one at that. The best resource I can find so far is http://www.fredericksfoundation.org/about-us.
With all the talk about helping people out of dependency on benefits there seems to be huge gaps in policy especially surrounding mental illnesses. What are your views? Do you have experiences in this area? Feel free to contact me with your own experiences or knowledge. Have any of you experienced a return to work that was fully supported with an inconsistent condition? Would you start a business if you could team it up with extra support for your condition?
Much love and luck,