I am self employed and therefore not able to claim statutory sick pay whilst I'm not working despite unfailingly paying national insurance contributions. I am also, if truth be told, not very good at financial planning. My bi-annual tax payment always seems to catch me out even though I know it’s coming. Therefore it’s not surprising that when having to take at least two months of work and as a consequence, having no money coming in, I hadn’t really been able to have anything in reserve to help cover the loss of income. Private insurance policies are ridiculously expensive and I'm convinced would always find a reason why any particular illness is not covered when it's actually needed. I am however very fortunate as I have the support of friends and family who have helped at this time, making sure essential bills have been paid whilst I attempt to make a claim through the complicated and convoluted benefits system for some assistance. Trying to do this has been a journey that has been both eye opening as well as extremely stressful. How people manage to keep going when they don’t have the network of friends and family that I do, I honestly don’t know.
We live in an area where the latest, ill thought out, change to the benefit safety net is being rolled out. Universal Credit, it appears is being trialled with what seems to be an attitude (and I may be being a bit harsh and cynical here) of “it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work well, as it’s only the undeserving poor who will suffer.” A claim needs to be made as soon as circumstances dictate as apparently any payments will not be backdated to the start of my sick note. Actually it is no longer called a sick note as in the climate where style will always triumph over substance, it is now described as a fit note, the emphasis no longer about someone being too unwell to work but rather a demand of when will you be fit again and no longer scrounging of the state. I could be wrong about this as I have received a myriad of conflicting information, but as I write this it is six weeks since my surgery and I have yet to hear whether or not I am to get any financial assistance from the department of work and pensions. The first eight days of being unable to work was spent in hospital so it was not possible to begin my claim then. It wasn’t until I had been home for a few days that I felt I could try to begin the ordeal. After forty five minutes listening to a loop of Vivaldi and disingenuous assurances that I would be answered at some stage or if I wanted, could phone back later, I was beginning to flag and just wanted to go back to bed. Then a real human voice is heard, hurrah now we can start. Apparently I have telephoned the incorrect number and am given the one that I need to try again. By this stage my head is spinning as I’m still effected by a post anaesthetic fog and decide I will try again tomorrow. Next morning it’s spring again being played over and over, but only a forty minute wait on this occasion. This time I’m told that it is new the style employment support allowance which I should claim and they can’t do this over the phone but will send me the forms to fill in. I am on a merry go round of misinformation and incompetence having to answer absurd questions such as “what am I doing in order to find work,” when clearly I have a job but am just temporarily incapacitated by my health. I think my answer was “getting better!” After constant pushing from pillar to post, I am eventually given the next available appointment at the nearest job centre. This is for a date nearly two weeks away so I do hope they do backdate the claim. To my great surprise, the staff at the job centre were actually very friendly and nice, unfortunately they also didn’t seem to know how the new system works, but after much discussion between colleagues and supervisors, things were sorted and I now have an online universal credit account. Still more questions to answer, documents to provide and crucially at this point, no actual money from them, but I am ever hopeful. Time will tell!