Living alone, you have to do everything yourself. And I mean everything. From making a cup of tea to mending a broken boiler, from shopping to decorating, from fixing flat tyres to putting the bins out…….it’s down to you.
I’m often asked why I don’t have help in the home and this is the answer: I can’t afford it.
In the UK, if you are unable to work due to illness you are entitled to claim welfare benefits provided you have paid enough National Insurance stamp (or tax to you and me) when you were working.
Our sickness benefit is called Employment & Support Allowance and for a single person amounts to £106 ($161) per week. Considering my grocery bill at Tesco is £60 ($91) per week and my gas/electric bill takes up £30 ($45) a week, it doesn’t go far. It doesn’t cover mortgage, insurances, clothing, telephone, TV licence, water rates…………nor bugger all else. It’s basically a token sum which no human being could possibly live off.
It’s also increasing difficult to get. Despite being ill since 1994 and having strong medical support from both my GP and consultants, my last application was turned down and I was told I was “capable of some work”. It took an 8 month fight, including the support of my local MP, to get the decision overturned.
If you are also disabled by your illness, you can claim a further benefit called a Personal Independence Payment. This comes in 2 parts: a mobility component to pay for help with getting around and a care component to pay for help in the home.
For me the mobility component comes to £220 ($334) per month which sounds like a lot, but I need an automatic car which on average costs over £12,000 ($19,500) to buy. I don’t have any savings, so I either need to use the Motability Scheme or have a car loan (which in monetary values equates to the same thing). A five year £12,000 loan has monthly repayments of £237 ($360), so goodbye mobility component of my benefit with nothing left over to insure or maintain my car, or put the £80 ($121) of petrol in a month which I need just to drive to town and back to see my parents, let alone go further afield eg. to the hospital for my physio.
The mobility component of PIP is also supposed to be used to buy mobility vehicles. If you need a wheelchair these are provided free by the State. If, however, like me you need an electric mobility scooter you have to buy your own, which costs anything from £500 for a small scooter to tootle round the shops with, to £5000 for a road worthy vehicle (which I need, as there are no pavements where I live so I have to have a Class 3 road vehicle just to ride up my village). As you know, my parents had to buy my recent 3rd hand road scooter as I simply didn’t have the cash.
The care allowance is £54 ($82) a week, which you are supposed to use to pay for care in the home.
Social Services offer home care services, but ONLY for meal preparation and bathing. They will not get your shopping, clean your home, do your laundry, change your bedsheets or anything else. It’s almost impossible to qualify for Social Services home care unless you are a bedridden cabbage, and even when I was a bedridden cabbage my care was a mere 30 minutes a day. WTF are you supposed to do with that?!
So you end up employing a private care agency to get the care you actually need. They charge £16.50 an hour, so out of £54 you can only afford 3 hours care per week. That’s not even half an hour a day, and many of my main meals take an hour to prepare and cook.
Disability benefits are also increasingly hard to come by. My first application, despite being in hospital for respite care at the time as I was too ill to continue living alone, was turned down. It took 14 months, and having to employ a welfare rights solicitor, to get the decision overturned (and the solicitor took all the back-pay in fees). Over the next 8 years every single renewal application (which happened every 2 years) was also turned down and had to go to Tribunal before the decision was overturned.
Claiming benefits is not for the faint of heart and affording care in the home is, for many, a longed-for but distant dream. My health suffers immeasurably due to the fact that I have to push myself to do physical tasks I know I’m not really capable of, but I simply can’t sleep in a dirty bed and like everyone else I have to eat. If I can’t afford to employ help it’s down to me, sick or not, in pain or not, exhausted or not………… there is no other option but to crack on and care for myself.