Monday, October 20, 2008


So, this is my first proper holiday from work - a full week rather than the odd day. I'm in Lowestoft, staying with Pip and The Boy. Steve can't take time off work at the moment, and Pip no longer has a car, so the biggest problem has been sorting out the logistics of getting me about, not just to and from Lowestoft but also around places while I'm here.

The first plan was to hire a car for Pip, so that he and Steve could both drive towards each other and hand me over at the halfway point. This way neither of them would be spending the whole day driving. But Steve found that the company he wanted to use wouldn't allow Pip to pick up a car that he wasn't paying for, and furthermore, this payment would have to be by a credit card on which he was named.

Unsurprisingly, as a single parent Pip doesn't have the means to pay for a week's hire of a car. The only possible solution that company had was that Steve should drive me all the way to Lowestoft, hire the car himself, have Pip named as an additional insured driver, and then drive all the way back, causing a marvellous amount of additional expense and inconvenience for Steve's weekend. By this point I think Steve was about at the end of his rope so he agreed to collect the car in person on Saturday, at "about lunchtime, depending on traffic" as he would be driving all the way from Warwickshire.

As such, on Saturday morning we got up at a weekday kind of time and got to Pip's at about 1.30. We brought my stuff in from Steve's car and phoned the car hire place to check things...

... and the call rolled to a diverted number. The person who picked up - apparently nothing to do with the car hire place - told us that the car hire place had closed at 12noon. Just like they had done every Saturday for the last fifteen years. For some reason, this hadn't seemed like a relevant point to raise for the person who agreed we could pick up a car at lunchtime.

We started hunting for alternatives, but it seems that every car hire place that isn't based at an airport closes at lunch on Saturday and does not reopen until Monday morning.

Alternative plan: since the Boy spends Saturdays with his mother, we spent Saturday afternoon relaxing. We all went for a coffee with friends, and then Steve drove back home. Pip and I intend to try and hire a car between the two of us on Monday morning.

It has been really nice to be able to just relax and chatter with Pip.

Day Two

This morning we went out to get a booster seat for the Boy to use in the car, and then to the park where we fed the ducks. This was more complicated than it might sound at first, when you consider it was me in a wheelchair and the Boy on his new bike. Pip definitely got a good workout.

This afternoon we've been rediscovering Sonic the Hedgehog. I lose to a four-year-old. It's mildly distressing, but testament to intuitive gaming controls. Still, I'm managing a good line in getting him past a section when he gets "stuck" which is nice.

Mostly though, I've been taking the opportunity to rest, which was the whole point of the holiday. The Boy had difficulty believing that all I was doing upstairs was having naps, he felt sure there must be something more interesting going on.

Day Three

Okay... I've recovered from getting here and had a good night's sleep. I've made plans to get fed at my mum's and also to get together with several friends, which should be good. The Boy has got used to me being here again and everything is going smoothly.

Plus, Pip and I successfully managed to hire a car. First thing this morning I called Lowestoft Car Hire and arranged to pick up a car from them at about 10am. They were perfectly happy for me to pay and Pip to drive, in fact they seemed quite surprised I was asking whether that was okay. We were really impressed by their customer service. The taxi to take us to their unit arrived here at 9.45, we got there, we were offered several choices, we chose one, did the paperwork, paid, got "shown around" the car, and were driving away by 10.10. That's a LOT more like it.

On with the holiday!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Remploy and MPs

Finally, a response regarding the Remploy problems. My MP referred the matter to Anne McGuire, the erstwhile Minister for Disabled People. The response consists of a letter from Anne McGuire to my MP regarding the matter (dated approximately two weeks before she was replaced by Jonathan Shaw), and a covering letter from my MP, as it went via his office.

As you'll see from that article, whilst in office Ms McGuire was all about welfare-to-work. And my MP is James Plaskitt, the Benefit Fraud Minister. Surely if anyone should be up in arms about a company like Remploy skewing the stats for disabled people entering employment, it's these two.

Oh dear. While I like having faith in humanity, and believe that people as individuals are generally good, fair, and basically nice, I really must stop being so naive as to extend this to politicians.

According to my MP, "It appears that there has been a genuine and unfortunate error in the handling of your case, for which Remploy and the Government offer their sincere apologies."

Not fifty quid, then. Nor any thanks for my honesty in not taking the money and running, or for alerting them to the problems. And I wonder, Mr Plaskitt, if you uncovered a Benefit Fraudster on the claimant side rather than the government side, would you let them off with "apologies"?

No. Even if a benefit claimant made a "genuine and unfortunate error", they'd be hounded through the courts and at the very least, be required to pay back the funds which they had received on the basis of the erroneous information.

The letter from Ms McGuire was a little more illuminating. Sort of. I'm not going to reproduce any of it here as it's full of management gibberish and unashamed weasel-speak, but ten years as a fan of Dilbert has enabled me to boil it down and so I present the basic content in English.

1. Contacting me: Oops.

2. Only sending the signature pages: Oops.

3. Wrong dates: Oops.

4. Telephone call: Oops.

It seems Remploy contacted a whole list of clients to try and get them onto the Workstep programme. The list contained the details of 16 people, myself included, who should not have been on the list. No one noticed until I spoke up. The other 15 are being 'reviewed'.

For each point there's a lot of meaningless flannel about "ongoing continuous improvement programme" and references to undefined "additional measures" which will be put in place. Oops is about the size of it, though.

As for the '£50 for returning some forms' business: apparently £50 is considered a perfectly reasonable "incentive" for people to return information. Neither Remploy, nor the DWP, nor the wider government see anything dodgy about that at all. My apologies to Wat Tyler and Dr Crippen.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

DLA Appeal

Appeal was today. It went well.

It was a bit daunting, but the panel made an effort to put me at my ease, asked sensible questions, and paid attention to my answers. I was able to answer all of the questions that were put to me, clearly and consistently. I also introduced the panel to Spoon Theory.

I got awarded High Rate Mobility and Low Rate Care, which is about right. We had thought I might get Middle Rate Care, but frankly I'm not going to argue about it. The award is backdated to February 2008 (which was when I applied) and is for two years from that date, until February 2010.

Absolutely knackered now.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Wibble

My Disability Living Allowance (DLA) appeal is next week.

In an organisational sense, I'm well prepared for it. Steve has managed to get a day off work in order to take me to and from the building where the appeal is being held. A person from the local Welfare Rights Advice Service is going to be there to represent me. The evidence I submitted is pretty substantial. I've reserved an accessible parking space at the venue, I've even decided roughly what I'm going to wear.

In a more personal sense, I'm not doing so badly either. I mean, I know my claim is genuine. I know that everything I have said on my forms is accurate. The absolute worst possible case scenario is that they turn me down and I have to continue living on exactly the same amount of money I am living on at the moment. Okay, it's not ideal, as it means I'm dependent on Steve's goodwill to continue to make up the shortfall between my wages and "survival" due to my disability-related expenses (which is what DLA is meant to cover and is why it is not means-tested), but at least I'm not currently likely to end up in a situation where I can't afford to eat because of benefit difficulties. This DLA appeal is not the end of the world.

But then there's the wibble. You know. The bit in each and every one of us that nags away at confidence, that says your date will be put off by that horrendous spot on your nose, or that reminds you in the night of that stupid thing you said at the interview...

The wibble, for me, is bypassing everything I academically know and understand about models of disability, everything I believe about how I am a useful member of society, doing a job, paying tax, helping and supporting my friends and loved ones and generally being just fine as a person. To prepare for the appeal I have to spend a lot of time concentrating on all the things I can't do, and this feeds the wibble.

The Wibble says to me,
"You're useless, you can't even walk around the block or work full-time or manage this or that or the other on your own.

If you win, well done! You've proved that you're useless! What a thing to prove! Wow, I bet you're proud.

But if you lose, you're still useless, in fact you're so useless, you've failed to prove you're useless! And you're going to have to carry on struggling without financial support to cover the additional expenses caused by your inability to do things..."

Yeah, I know, emo crap, call the waaaahmbulance, etc. I'm just stressed out to hell and can't wait for this to just be over, one way or the other.