People living outside the UK think that we Brits have a “free” health, care and welfare system. It is not true. We don’t pay at the point of contact, but every working person has money stopped out of their wages by the Government each month in the form of taxes and insurance to pay for our services – the more money you earn the more you pay but even those on minimum wage contribute. Not only that, but the person who employs you contributes too – so the Government gets the money twice.
Our state pension, and welfare benefits for people who are ill, disabled or unemployed, are paid for through National Insurance contributions. It’s a complex system, but most people on lower incomes pay 12% of their earnings while people on higher incomes pay 14% (we are taxed separately on top of that, between 20%-40%, so we effectively pay between 32% and 54% of our wages each and every month to the Government). In addition, our employer pays 13.8% for each employee (and is also taxed separately on top of that!). We pay into this Government insurance policy our entire working lives in order to receive a measly pension when we retire at the age of 67 and so that we qualify for welfare benefits should we be made redundant or become too ill to work. However, the Government makes it nigh on impossible to claim welfare benefits. They take our money, then when we qualify to draw on our insurance through illness or redundancy they refuse to give it back to us. If this happened with a private firm we could sue them for breach of contract and we’d win, but because it’s the Government they are beyond the law – it makes me furious.
The reason the Government says it makes claiming welfare benefits so difficult is to discourage cheats, ie those claiming who aren’t genuinely ill or unemployed, however the Government’s own statistics show that only 0.7% of welfare spending accounts for fraud. What they’re really doing with our money is spending it on less important stuff, like £50million to rennovate the Oprah House or billions on a new railway that no-one wants – we’d prefer they improved the one we already have.
You have to know your way around the system in order to get anything, which is fine is you have access to the internet and are intelligent enough to work out how the system works, but not everyone is that lucky.
Both my parents are nearly 80 and now disabled through severe illness. They need help with all aspects of daily living, however our care system in the UK only offers help with meals, bathing and dressing – nothing else. They will cook you a meal but won’t shop for the ingredients. They will help you bathe but then dress you in dirty clothes because they don’t help with laundry. They won’t change or make your bed. They won’t clean your home. They won’t help confused people do paperwork or take medication. They won’t take you to hospital appointments. They won’t help when things go wrong in your home. The Government expects vulnerable, elderly, sometimes confused older people to employ someone to do all this stuff for them – quite how they’re supposed to cope with an employee’s tax and national insurance contributions, and manage when that person is ill or on holiday I’m not sure. There are Home Care agencies who will do all the paperwork and provide staff for you, but they charge an arm and a leg for the care you receive so you can then afford less care than you actually need.
In order to help with the cost of employing help, disabled elderly people are entitled to a welfare benefit called Attendance Allowance. Most elderly people don’t know about Attendance Allowance – it’s not like the Government advertises the fact that it’s available. I only know about it because I’ve been ill for decades and the issue of welfare benefits comes up constantly on forums. My Dad is now so disabled he can’t dress himself and can barely walk to the loo and back, so at Christmas I downloaded the 46 page AA form off the Government’s website and filled it in for him. I knew what I was doing because I’d applied for my Mum 7 years ago when she became very unwell with chronic heart and lung disease. I’m pleased to say that my Dad passed the test and is now able to receive AA.
My parents give me £30 a week out of their allowance. I live 14 miles away from them and it helps pay for my petrol as I’m constantly tooing and frooing to their house, not to mention all the 60 mile round trips to the local hospital and the 180 mile round trips to the specialist hospital which costs me a small fortune. It also helps for all the little, and not so little, things I buy for them and all the stuff I print off for them as these days everything from their Electric Bill to their TV licence is done online and they don’t have a computer. My Dad barely drives now and the benefit helps pay for taxis to get them around town (there is no bus service near where they live). They employ a cleaner and it pays her wages. They can’t get out to shop, so I order stuff online for them and it helps to pay masses of delivery charges. It paid for my Mum’s wheelchair and helped towards the cost of their stairlift. By necessity they eat a lot of ready meals, which are much more expensive than buying fresh ingredients and cooking yourself. And the 1001 other things you don’t realize that disabled people need simply in order to function.
If they didn’t have me, though, neither of them would have even known the benefit existed let alone had the mental capacity to apply for it and successfully fill out the very long and complex form. Despite all their dealings with Occupational Therapists, Physios, our GP and Consultants not one of them has ever mentioned AA to my parents or told them how to apply.
The Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was shown over the New Year on TV and if you haven’t watched it I urge you to do so, whether you live in the UK or not. It follows the story of a man who worked for 30 years as a joiner, then had a heart attack and was unable to work. He was turned down for sickness benefits and ended up destitute. After months and months he was eventually granted an appeal, backed up by his heart Consultant and GP who both agreed he was too unwell to work but without spoiling the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it does not have a Disney happy ending. I was so angry after I watched the film I was beside myself. I live in the 5th richest country in the world and more than half a million people used food banks in 2017 because they were so poor either they, or their children, were starving. Starving because the Government won’t pay us back our own money when we need it. And we are all allowing this to happen. It’s my fault, and it’s your fault. Why are we not protesting in the streets in our millions? Where the fuck is our Opposition Leader, Jeremey-useless-Corbin? Where are all our MP’s, regardless of party?! I’m so ashamed of my country.
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. Mahatma Gandhi