It’s a subject most of us are very private about and don’t discuss, but when you’re ill and can no longer work money becomes the focus of your life. I worked out what it costs a single person in basic living costs for a month in the UK, and these were my figures:
- Rent for a small, 2 bed flat/apartment: £500 ($841) – this assumes you live outside London, because in London £500 a month wouldn’t rent you a garden shed!
- Council tax for a band B property (with 25% discount for being single): £95 ($151)
- Fuel (gas/electric/oil), remembering that you use much more when at home all day than you did when at work all day!: £120 ($201)
- Water rates for a band B property: £26 ($43)
- TV licence (everyone in the UK must have one): £12 ($20)
- Telephone (mobile or landline +broadband internet package) which is vital when you are housebound: £30 ($50)
- Food: £240 ($403)
- Petrol (this will be cheaper if you live in a city with public transport whereas I live in a rural area): £80 ($134)
TOTAL COST PER MONTH: £1,103 ($1855)
Of course, this really is basic living. It doesn’t include clothes, any savings whatsoever, a pension (as you’re no longer working you don’t have a work-related one and who the hell can live off £110/$185 a week state pension in retirement?!), any insurances (eg. car or mobility scooter insurance), putting money away for car or home repairs or the 101 other things which are vital to life such as paying for a broken laptop or having your hair cut, let alone fripperies like Christmas or holidays (which I haven’t been able to afford since 1998).
The average monthly welfare payment for the long-term sick in the UK is £432 ($726), so by my calculations this leaves most single people £671 ($1128) in the red before they’ve even started.
If you’re severely disabled (and following the recent benefit changes this basically means unable to walk 20 metres, are severely mentally impaired or unable to feed yourself) you can also claim Disability benefits which amount to between £300 and £600 per month depending on your degree of disability. This is to help pay for care in the home and increased transport costs (eg. wheelchairs, adapted cars). If you’re disabled enough to qualify for disability benefits, however, you actually need the money to pay for care and an adapted car, so none of it goes towards your daily living costs and basically doesn’t count!
If you are in rented accommodation and on a low income you can get help towards paying your rent. If you own your own home, ie. have a mortgage, you may be able to get help with the interest payment (not the capital payment) although the government only pay a set interest rate which may differ from the interest rate you’re paying to your lender.
If you are on a low income and have less than £16,000 ($26912) in capital you might also qualify for help with council tax and water rates, and there are the ever popular charity food banks to stop you from starving to death, yayyy! Those on a low income with less than £16,000 ($26912) in capital also used to be able to claim other benefits such as Income Support, but with the new changes to welfare things are now very much up in the air as many benefits are being combined into a single Universal Credit payment which is capped at £350 ($588) per week.
Those on a very low income also qualify for free eye and dental care, free prescriptions, and your national insurance stamp is paid by the government which means you still get a state pension when you retire and medical care free at the point of need (the NHS is NOT free per se, a common misconception which bugs the hell out of me – all working people contribute an insurance straight out of their wages to pay for it, the more you earn the more you pay).
There are also a variety of freebies and grants available for all sorts of purposes – for some useful links see the Disability Grants website (info courtesy of Jodi).
The situation for many chronically ill people in the UK who are unable to work due to poor health is dire – the notion that sick people are all lazy scroungers who are pretending to be ill to claim benefits makes me furious. The hoops you have to go through to claim sickness benefits is ridiculous and the amount you’re given when you succeed is pitiful.
My own personal situation is private, as I’m sure is yours, but suffice to say I’m lucky that I’m not totally dependent on welfare benefits. When I was 22 my best friend was diagnosed with a brain tumour and it suddenly hit me that I could get sick at any time too (little did I know how prophetic that thought was going to turn out to be!). As I was single and had a mortgage I decided to take out a private health/income insurance (called a PHI) which would replace some of my wage income if I were ever off work due to ill-health. It was the best thing I’ve ever done because when I did get sick I would have lost my house without it.
The other thing to bear in mind is that if you have a work-based pension this will pay out if you are ever ill-health retired from your job. Proving your illness is permanent, and you will never work again, can be tricky but if successful you will be entitled to a monthly pension based on your years of service.
When I first became ill I really struggled financially. My solution was to take in a lodger under the government’s Rent-a-room scheme, which means you can earn up to £4,250 ($7148) per year tax-free. It made a HUGE difference to my income and can be done by any owner-occupier with a spare bedroom. I did this for 10 years before finally paying enough of my mortgage off that I didn’t need the rental income to make ends meet and could finally live on my own. It wasn’t easy, and to be honest I hated every second of sharing my home with a succession of strangers when I was really poorly, but it wasn’t like I had any other option.
None of my single chronically ill friends are well-off and all of us have to watch the pennies. I’m luckier than most, in that I’m not totally dependent on welfare as my only source of income and have sacrificed for many years to reduce my mortgage so that it’s now easier to pay, and for that I am thankful every day. Others aren’t quite so lucky and I don’t know how they manage – the stress and worry must be enormous and they have my utmost respect and admiration.