The hidden impact of draconian welfare on the disabled – an example

I tend to keep deeply personal stuff off the internet where possible, but having just received some news and with an election on the horizon, I think this needs to be made public.

My partner and I have been looking into moving in together. Currently she lives in a one-bedroom flat, and I rent a room in a house-share. We live fifteen minutes apart, separated by a short walk, and a rather big hill.

We’ve been together for nearly four years now, and following a rather rough relapse in August last year, we decided to spend some time looking into how we could make living together work without affecting either of our independence as individuals.

I work part-time for a local charity while I’m building up my new theatre company. I also take whatever acting or modelling work I can get, and take on the odd freelance job. My gross annual income is less than £10k.

My partner is disabled and left her job two years ago as, despite her best efforts, she was no longer able to work. Her health since leaving work has improved considerably, as her has quality of life. However, she still only has a limited amount of energy each day, and at any time she can find herself spending the day in bed if something changes in her condition.

She has personal carers who look after her for a couple of hours a day, helping her with basic tasks. I spend a lot of the week staying over at her flat, in part because she is unable to stay at mine due to the presence of stairs into the house.

Extra stress is placed on both of us, because I effectively live day-to-day out of my backpack. None of my chosen lifestyle is available at my partner’s flat – there simply isn’t room for my guitar, my books, my CDs, my games console etc. So when I want to relax, I have two choices – turn on the laptop and play a computer game (after a full day staring at a screen), or watch TV – something that I rarely do when I’m on my own. As a result, I spend a lot of time at her flat working.

She also feels the pressure because she’s aware that I spend all of my time at her flat, and feels guilty as a result. I’d like to stay at home more often, but it’s not unheard of for me to be making my way up the hill with my backpack at midnight, because she’s not feeling great and needs someone to keep an eye on her.

Today we finally made the phone call to the council, to find out how our finances would be affected if we moved in together. We expected to lose some income between us, but what we were told shocked us, and has meant we have had to stop thinking about moving in together.

If we move in together, my partner will lose all her benefits apart from DLA (which is currently spent entirely on disability support needs – specialist tools, accessories, adaptations of normal household fittings, transport, and crisis needs etc.), because my income of £10k is deemed by this government to be enough for a couple to live on.

In Brighton.

Just think about that for a minute.

To say we are in shock is an understatement. If we were to move in together, we would both lose our independence. And that would be if it was possible in the first place. I’m struggling to live off £10k on my own at the moment, there’s simply no way it would be possible to look after two of us. Even in council housing, c.£450pcm would have to go on rent and council tax (thanks to the new Brighton & Hove City Council changes that mean that disabled people living with partners now have to pay full council tax), before the bills have even been considered.

So we have no choice but to carry on living apart.

For me to make up the shortfall in what we would lose between us, I would need to be earning a minimum of £25k. As someone who has never chased money, and has no dreams of financial wealth, this simply isn’t going to happen. We have no huge outgoings, we don’t smoke, drink, or go out much. I have my fifteen year old car, which allows us to get out and about- if we relied on buses we wouldn’t be able to go to a lot of places, plus it’s more expensive than driving in Brighton.

Of course, I could give up everything I’ve ever worked for, got back into full time work (assuming I can find a job) and be miserable to pay the bills, but that would only add further pressure to our relationship.

We have no choice but to live separately, and there is no hope on the horizon. Even with the potential of a change of government, Labour have said that they will continue with Tory cuts to the welfare system, meaning further pressure will be put on those already most marginalised by society.

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