Opinion

I'm a disabled parent on benefits. Who will speak for me this general election?

Chris is a worried mum from the north of England who is disabled and relying on benefits to survive. She fears no politicians will support her

mum with two children

Chris would like to see disabled people valued more for what they bring to society. Image: Unsplash

I’m one of countless folk who lives with mental and physical health conditions day to day. I have to claim benefits to survive.

The very idea of what it means to function in the modern world has been built around a person’s ability to work, although not everyone can do so. For some, working has detrimental effects on their health. 

I live with a rare health condition and before this condition struck me, I was in my dream job and hoped to progress within my role. I trained and studied long and hard to get it. I was gutted to have to leave and I now depend on benefits to live. It’s no holiday being unable to work due to disability and poor health.

Every day, I battle new sensations or symptoms. Every day, my mind and body work twice as hard to succeed at life. Every day, I fight fatigue, pain on a whole different level, joint stiffness, migraines and nausea to mention just a few symptoms.

I would much rather be in a position to be able to pay into a system which supports others who have fallen on hard times, or are unable to work due to poor health. In my opinion, it’s just what we subscribe to while living in this country. We contribute to a common good.

So, the question on many people’s lips, including mine, is what is being done by any of the seven main political parties to help people who simply cannot work?

I’ve scoured the manifestos looking for any glimmer of compassion for the long-term sick and disabled population from any of the main political parties, but found very little information on the matter. It’s not comforting news to many ears. 

Worryingly, some news channels are reporting the idea that the sick and disabled are so used to getting their pot of money, they are basically playing the system. I beg to differ. 

It’s no fun being unable to get about on foot in your own home or prone to bouts of ill health and pain or bed bound and immobilised altogether. It’s also incredibly difficult to correctly and confidently communicate the complexities of your needs and the effects on your life to the powers that be.

We are regularly being told by politicians, a job is good for mental health, but many already fit and healthy people struggle with stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed and worked as the strain of paying bills and demands of family life become a heavy burden for many during a cost of living crisis.

Added to this, in the workplace, there’s job insecurity, low wages, difficulties transitioning from benefits into the workplace and exploitation.

As I understand things, most political parties intend to continue to support the vulnerable in a similar way to how things are currently. Either that, or they seem to be assuming that most disabilities and sickness can miraculously be cured by being employed. 

I believe we need to switch the narrative around and encourage a new government to help people with a lack of ability to live more meaningful lives. I believe everybody has something to contribute to society and your worth isn’t simply measured by your productivity in the workplace.

I’d like to see disabled people valued more for what they add to society rather than what they take away from it but not by stripping them of their benefits and imposing conditionality or sanctions upon them.

We can still contribute to the economy without having to work. We enrich the fabric of society nurturing diversity and inclusivity. We are experts at problem solving, having to navigate challenges and difficulties on a regular basis.

Realistically, we may need lifelong care, and help to provide for our needs but through our experiences, we can show people what matters in life and what it means to be human. So, before politicians dismiss us as a drain on society, I hope they stop to think about all the ways life is better for our contribution.

But set up sanctions and conditionality in our paths in addition to getting through the day-to-day activities of life with existing debilitating symptoms and the functionality fails. Our family and friends can’t count on us to be well enough, our employers can’t count on us to turn up for work, so how can the government expect us to deliver on a promise made with a work coach at a Jobcentre?

Just don’t have an accident or fall ill, or develop a disease, because it could be you limping in my shoes next. That person struggling to get their wheelchair up the kerb or to open a door without one of those metal and blue buttons to press could well be you. 

With over 100 parents and carers taking part in Changing Realities, I’ve been calling for change. Hope can and must start here, but for that to happen it needs politicians to start listening to people like me.

Chris is a worried mum from the north of England. She takes part in Changing Realities, a coalition of parents and carers on a low-income working together for change.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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