Did you know? Society’s attitudes and the benefits system are vilifying, de- humanising and not helping the most vulnerable people. Getting permanently “signed off” work with a sick note can seem great at the time when you are struggling with the onset of a major health problem and all its consequences.  But it can shorten your life expectancy by several years.  Other long-term health conditions, especially mental illnesses, are more likely too. At the start, the security of benefits can seem like a lifeline when ever earning an income again seems impossible.  But the growing trend of public vilification of those on benefits can bring other awful consequences.  The “Who Benefits?” report contains worrying data about how the general public’s attitude to benefit recipients has been increasingly negative over recent decades.  And those attitudes themselves can have devastating impact on already fragile lives.  The report used responses from people claiming a range of working age benefits (including disabled people): The highest proportion (36%) of respondents said that the reason they had/were receiving benefits was directly due to disability and a further 9% due to caring for a disabled person. Respondents reported encountering verbal abuse (15%) and physical abuse (4%) simply because they were receiving benefits – and their children can also suffer abuse for the same reason. 38% of respondents said their confidence and self-esteem was affected and 31% said that their mental health was affected by negative public attitudes towards benefit claimants. (Yet, these are the vital factors that can influence someone’s likelihood of ever getting back to work.  So the public attitudes, driven at least partly by media and political influences, directly contribute to higher unemployment and benefits dependency.) Respondents also reported less favourable treatment from key players because they were on benefits: 18% by employers, 18% by banks/financial services, 16% by landlords. (So a disabled job applicant may face double prejudice: due to their health and their benefits history). Respondents also reported feeling excluded by their friends (18%), communities (17%) and families (11%). (Even if these percentages reflect claimants feeling excluded from multiple relationships, they still represent a substantial proportion who feel isolated and may lack the networks that can improve their life and work chances.) Many people want to get off benefits but the negative attitudes that are being generated make this increasingly difficult. And The Guardian report indicates that the key employment interventions of the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and Work Programme may further reduce job prospects and increase suicidal tendencies, suffering and sanctions amongst disabled benefit claimants. Bouquets of the week. To all those who rang me last Saturday and received rather short shrift: I was dripping with apricot glaze and other stickiness in the midst of decorating over a baker’s dozen Christmas cakes.  I’m really grateful for their patience and understanding! Yours stickily, Penny Melville-Brown penny@laylands.co.uk
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