Excursion

I went out for my first post-lockdown coffee yesterday. We went to the coffee shop, a friend and I, in a nearby village. I had not seen the friend since pre-lockdown.

Outdoors. Apart from having 10 or 15 people within 10 or 15 yards of me (nobody too close, not even my buddy), I figured that the risk was no greater than having friends come sit in the garden. It was even better for me, because I didn’t have to go into the shop to order – my friend did so. Although I suppose if he picked something up in there, he’d likely have breathed it in my general direction afterwards. We didn’t wear masks – we are only mandated to wear them here when we go into a shop.

So we followed the UK’s rules. I’m not too sure, how closely the UK’s rules match the science, so I wanted to be happy for myself. Before I agreed to meet him, I satisfied myself about the state of the virus locally. In the last available figures, week ending mid-July-ish, there were 11 deaths in our region. The week before that, there were 7. The week before that, 17. All in the same ballpark. Our region is the south west of the UK – probably 10-20,000 square miles? a big number. If you imagine dividing the UK into about 8, that’s us. And me and my space is, what, a square yard?

My friend… Well, my friend is an old cycling buddy. Up until corona, he was a director for a well-known, UK charity. In charge of all new development, nationally. At the very start of this, he figured that for the next few years, new development would be a thing of the past, so figured he was living on borrowed time. He’s roughly retirement age anyhow.

But they kept him on through lockdown, even though he was at home, and they only made him redundant last week.

We had a weird conversation, about my own mobility. As we both love cycling, he suggested an electric bike, or trike. I said that they were good ideas (I’ve thought about this a lot) but that the holy grail would be a new car, an automatic (uncommon in the UK). And with anything, I would not be prepared to spend any cash until I was bringing money in.

– will the state not buy you a car?

– You’re joking, aren’t you?

I told him that instead of receiving the thousands (GBP, USD, EUR, any currency you care to choose) to pay for a car, immediately after the stroke I was awarded GBP 10 per week because I could hardly walk. When the state assessed me a couple years ago, they decided I must be walking better by now, so reduced that portion to zero. I still get additional benefit because I can’t use my hand, but we’re in the same ballpark.

My friend knows somebody, apparently, up in Yorkshire, a long way from here, who has terminal cancer, and needs to travel around 20 miles (presumably a few times a week) for treatment. They are probably pretty rural, they probably have no public transport – outside of London, it is not good in the UK. Anyway, he says that the state awarded them a car.

I mean, if this is true, there are probably discrepancies between this other case and mine. I never really got any treatment once I left hospital, so there is no ongoing relationship between me and the health service.

But I thought it was interesting that even my friend, who as a charity bigwig will have seen hardship cases, believes that when something happens, the state will come to the rescue.

Anyway, I took a few photos yesterday, it was a lovely day.

Nice People

Story on TV this morning. An altercation in a car park. A dad parks in a Disabled space with his son. Dad is not disabled, but son is. Invisible disability, was it hypomobility? They display all the correct documentation to be in the space.

You don’t look disabled, wades in Mr BigMouth, to the father.

What the nice people did:

  • He tries to explain that they have used that particular space because of the son
  • He tries to explain that the son has a Blue Badge.
  • He tries to explain to the guy about the son’s disability
  • When the father gets home, he tweets about the incident.
  • It is subsequently picked up by media outlets, and the story broadcast, including on the Breakfast News. There are all sorts of spurious things brought into the debate – what is wrong with the child, that he also happens to be autistic (the public possibly (very possibly) has a vague understanding of autism, but not a clue about hypomobility) why that particular ailment warrants a Blue Badge, that there were other spaces in the car park, etc. etc.

What I’d have done:

  • F*** Off, you ignorant *******.

I’m sorry, but in such a situation I lose my normal, suave (????), mega-composed self. I’m not going to be nice here – people will afford me my rights with good grace, or I will simply take them anyway. Good grace is optional. By any means necessary. That somebody displays a Blue Badge is the only criterion required for them to use a Disabled space.

I had to jump through hoops (or rather, to show that I couldn’t jump through hoops 🙂) to qualify for my Disability Benefit. This boy will have had to do the same. Every recipient of the benefit has to do the same. We all have to prove that we get this benefit in order to qualify for a Blue Badge. If we then subsequently park the car in a Disabled Bay, then as long as we display the badge, it is nobody else’s business. I’ve done all the explaining I am required to do already.

I apologise for the rant. I expect that by posting on here I am already preaching to the converted, and I appreciate that things might not have happened exactly the way the Dad recounted. But this post might one day be found by search engines.

Blue Badge Renewal

I was quite surprised. My Blue Badge runs out at the end of the month, I queried whether I would get some kind of reminder, as the disability following the stroke is pretty-much permanent.

I got a reply from the Blue Badge people, who in my case are Wiltshire Council, containing a URL on the UK government’s web site, which I could use to re-apply. The thing which surprised me was that, if I hadn’t have been on the ball, I reckon things would very likely be left just to run out.

I know when I first applied for the Blue Badge – I was a couple of weeks out of hospital and, basically, didn’t have a clue what was going on. My wife applied for the badge on my behalf. I can quite easily imagine disabled people who, for one reason or another, don’t/can’t keep on top of these things, and don’t have anyone to keep on top of things for them. There are many ways in which I’m grateful because, despite what I’ve lost, I still have 99% of my brain power. (except it is 110%!)

But it kind-of surprises me that a process aimed specifically at disabled people is so not geared toward disabled people.

PIP

It has been so long, I’d just assumed my PIP had been sorted and would continue as before. But I got a letter yesterday from the DWP saying they would no longer grant the mobility part of the benefit. I still get the main chunk but the mobility part is about 20%.

I hear of lots of appeals against PIP decisions, and I read that there is something like a 70% success rate. So the moral is that the DWP often get things wrong.

I’ve been busy these last couple of days, but will need to look at this tomorrow and maybe Thursday. First things first, their scoring system is out there in the public domain, so I can quite easily run through their assessment questions and see, foremost, whether I have any grounds to appeal. I suppose, after that, (assuming I do have grounds to appeal) I’ll need to contact someone to help me through the process.

All grief I can do without.

Blue Badges

Therewas a news story a few days ago. It wasn’t mega-news but enough to make the BBC’s web site.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-46115444?fbclid=IwAR36mirBhNbmnu9hV-SqHsiN6w75TajYHBzFixEIRKTTuF1BVul1XmgC6rg

The story is basically a woman, who has a small son who’s disabled, got a rude note on her windscreen for using a blue-badge parking space. Apparently, she was displaying a perfectly-valid permit in the vehicle.

I’ve seen this from both sides. Often, people don’t appear to be disabled, and I think people must just assume because of that, that they aren’t disabled. Some of my stroke buddies, say, have problems with their eyes – of course we don’t see this when we see them. It highlights how looks can be deceptive.

On the other hand, we sometimes go to the supermarket at lunchtime, and I will see a white van parked in a disabled bay, the van has no badge on display and the driver invariably turns up 5 minutes later, sandwich in hand. So I do think abuse takes place.

For me, the badge is the key. I got mine by virtue of having PIP, so I already jumped through the necessary hoops to get that, although it was granted by the local authority not by the DWP. I think my permit lasts until 2019, although I still (today) receive PIP (I had an assessment a few months ago), so there’s no reason to think that the renewal won’t be straightforward. The badge lives in the glove box of the car, so, in theory, it is always with us.

DWP

I’ve already had a productive morning so far, I was up at just after 7am, got straight into the shower, then dressed. If you can call tee-shirt and boxer shorts “dressed” 😄.

I was on the phone to the DWP shortly after 8am, which is when their phone lines open. When I’ve contacted them in the past, I’ve had to wait in line for an hour or so, so I’ve asked the operators whether there is a “best” time to call. I’ve been told that the best time, compared with all other times, is pre-9am. It seems to be true, as my wait today was a mere 30 minutes!

My question? Well, my PIP benefit is due for renewal. I sent the forms back a month ago, but haven’t heard anything back from them. Also, my form would have arrived a day or two after their deadline, so I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a problem in that respect. They put my mind at rest. They received the form ok, it was a couple of days late, but had been passed on to my local assessment centre anyway. Because of backlogs at assessment centres, I can be waiting 8 weeks or longer for a response (which will probably be to invite me for an interview). But, as long as the form is received, the benefit continues in the meantime, so I’m not out of pocket.

I must admit, I have heard some terrible horror stories about the DWP, but, so far, I have found them perfectly reasonable. In both their rules and their customer service. I can criticise the length of time it takes them to answer the phone, but at least it is a freephone number. And, I have the time, of course. In the cold light of day, these benefits are the thing that saves me from eating away at my savings, so really, they have to be priority #1.

I’m conscious that I’ve been in a couple of work environments where my direct colleagues have said “so-and-so is a real bastard”, and I’ve originally thought “they seem ok to me”, only to come around to colleagues’ thinking over time. But I do try and see the best side. So I wonder if there’ll be a moment like that with the DWP? Maybe I get “gold” treatment because I’ve aleays paid NI throughout my working life? Maybe I get a response which seems reasonable, just because I try to be very reasonable with them myself? My daughter, for example, has such a negative opinion of everything that I can easily imagine her rubbing people up the wrong way. I try not to – I might think it, but fortunately there is a disconnect between my brain and my mouth.

The reason my form was late, by the way, is because I’m unable to write and need to sort out a scribe to help me out. So, I’m reliant on another person, and can’t really expect their priorities to fit in with mine. I must mention this at the assessment, to see if they can help.

Benefits

I thought I’d cover the subject of the benefits I receive from being disabled. A few of these, I have just stumbled across – so maybe they’re not obvious or maybe I’m just not tuned in to the system.

Dealing with the state benefits first, these are in the form of cash which goes into my bank account every couple of weeks. These are PIP (Personal Independence Payment) and ESA (Employment and Support Allowance). The PIP occurs because of the stroke. The ESA (which is finite in length) occurs because I closed my company, which made me unemployed. Both were difficult to apply for, in the sense that the application form was very long for both. They advertise it as very easy to apply, you can do so by phone, but in reality the phone call is just a precursor to them sending a lengthy form out. All of this falls under the umbrella of the DWP, although when you speak to them, you get the impression that it is two different departments. If you do want to speak to them, be prepared for about an hour’s wait on the phone – as far as I can tell this is pretty regardless of day or time of day.

I’m not sure about ESA, but PIP is granted on a points-based system, which is documented on the web, and which is worth understanding before applying.

I had no trouble at all in terms of being granted these benefits, no assessments whatever, although there seem to be a good few horror stories out there.

As regards local council benefits, the very first thing I applied for was a blue Disabled Parking badge, which we are allowed to use when I’m out in the car with my wife. This was immediately after I left hospital, a time which is very blurred in my mind – I know it was from the council but I have no recollection of the application process, it is likely that my wife filled the form out, and I just signed it. My impression, though, is that getting this first benefit was important in the council’s eyes, since other council benefits have been straightforward once they know that I have a blue badge.

A second useful benefit, from the council, was a disabled bus pass. This is a little smartcard which, I think, is identical to a pensioner’s pass. It is supposedly valid throughout the UK on local services (basically, valid on things like the No 1 bus, but not on things like National Express), although I’ve only used mine locally so far.

Probably also worth mentioning that I don’t get any help with my Council Tax. Again, this is sorted through the local council, although this is means-tested. Our local council has a “what if” calculator, and the question that trumps all others is “Have you got more than £10k in savings?” If you answer “yes” to this question, then no help is available (they stress that this is not their call, but parliament’s). On the “what if” calculator, I toyed around with this and tried a scenario where I didn’t have any savings, and I would have got my Council Tax paid completely.

One last thing – not a benefit as such, more of a convenience now that mobility is limited – is a Postal Vote. Council again. Just means that if I ever need to go into hospital, for example, I can still vote. I was in for a few days at the Brexit referendum and got very miffed, firstly that I couldn’t vote as intended, and secondly that jobsworth doctors didn’t want me to leave the ward, even for a half-hour.