So, as most of you will know, if you have been following #LeftyInABusinessSchool from the start, that around New Year I badly fractured my ankle and will be off for around twelve weeks. It was having all this free time recovering that I decided to start this political blog which has been read widely.
On Monday I received a letter from my employer stating I was not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to being a ‘low earner’. Now that in itself is a debate for another day when I no longer work for the company. However, being a casual worker and not being entitled to benefits like this is pretty common across part-time service work for people working less then sixteen hours per week. I’ll leave you to decide whether you feel if that is right or wrong.
So, I have been given my ‘fit note’ back, which states I cannot work until at least the start of March. I will be given another fit note from the doctor which will take me up until April due to the extensive recovery time needed and the type of physical part-time work that I do. I had to ring the 0800 number provided to start the process of claiming my SSP. At least the number was free as I’m sure just a few months ago that was not the case; thank you to the kind Conservative Government in Westminster for that one.
After getting through to a call agent, after waiting around ten minutes, who was from the Belfast office. She was very helpful but due to my local job centre being R*********, which I was assuming was correct as I’ve never used the facility, I was to claim through Universal Credit (UC). I was shocked as I never expected to hear that I would be going through this system to claim SSP which I am entitled to. I had to call another number which was for UC new claims. I got through to the call centre in Leeds, after waiting around fifteen to twenty minutes, and they asked the same questions and he then gave me the instructions on how to start my claim. It was done in a very quick and not very detailed manner and I was left feeling a little hopeless if I’m honest. He kept framing his dialogue around getting into work and finding work and it was at that point I made it very clear I was in part-time work and was not looking for other work.
I asked if there was no way of claiming on the phone to get advice as I went along as I had never claimed anything before in my life. He said no and that I would have to attend appointments for a medical to see if I was fit to work, although I had a fit note from my doctor, and this was an imperative part of the process. I explained I had a fractured ankle and have three flights of stairs up to my flat, and would unlikely be able to attend an appointment at the local job centre. He informed me that I could get a home visit but that could delay the process. I became frustrated at this point and asked why this was in place for ‘one time claimants’ and I felt this process was not very accessible for vulnerable people. He simply responded with ‘that this is policy and I cannot discuss that with you and if you are unhappy you can contact your MP/MSP’.
I certainly will contact my parliamentary representatives! It was at that point I vowed to go through this system from beginning to end with a critical eye. I will blog this process and anonymise the people I meet and speak to. I will comply with the rules and regulations and see how long the process will take from beginning to end. I will then request a meeting with both my regional Scottish Conservative MSPs, Adam Tomkins and Annie Wells, and provide them with this evidence and how they must influence the UK Government to do something about this clearly inadequate inhumane system. I will then send the blog and all the evidence collected to all my MSPs, including my regional representatives, and to my MP.
The need to claim some sort of benefit can be a time that challenges an individual’s dignity. I don’t have that feeling but understand people who do. I see this as an opportunity to highlight injustices and attempt to suggest change for the benefit of ordinary people. The stigma attached to benefit claimants in this country is disgusting; from programmes like Benefit Street to The Sun highlighting claimants indulging in luxuries. The safety net of welfare should be there to help anyone who needs it or is entitled to it. I have simply fractured an ankle but what if it was something more serious with a longer recovery time? What if I never had a circle of friends, family and a supportive partner?
I hope you find this journey interesting and I really hope some good comes from it. It could happen to anyone of us who may not have finically support available to them from friends or family and that is what is unfair about a system like this. No one in a civilised society deserves to be treated with anything but the upmost respect for their Government; lets see if that is what happens to me. During the EU Referendum we heard countless times ‘we are the fifth largest economy in the world’ well perhaps we should treat our citizens, particularly those who are vulnerable, in a way that reflects our ‘status’ in the world.