Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Sharing my own experience of Personal Independence Payments

Long day at Norfolk County Hall yesterday for two long meetings in a ridiculously hot room. However, I was pleased to be able to contribute to the debate about Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and the experience I've had with them with my own family. As usual, here's the text from my speech;
PIP Debate – 22nd July 2019
Mr Chairman, I was pleased to see that this motion was to be put before us. The world of Personal Independence Payments is something very real for me and I wanted to share something with you.
My Dad left school at 15, he worked hard every day thereafter and became an engineer working for a firm based in Thetford. By the time he reached 55, my Dad had been with the same firm for 26 years. Working around 60 hours a week was the norm for my Dad and even when the factory was closed during the summer, he would often be the one going in to service the machines and clean the factory.
Dad’s life and the usual routine for our family was turned upside down when on the morning of the 13th August, some 12 days after I’d been elected a County Councillor, my Dad had a massive stroke aged just 55. He spent 3 weeks in hospital. As soon as we were able, we converted the downstairs living room at the family home so that my mum would be able to care for him at home. The restrictions on visiting hours and lack of attention Dad was afforded at the hospital was not helping Dad’s situation so we brought him home as soon as we could.
Despite Dad’s dedication to the firm where he worked, he was put onto statutory sick pay as soon as possible and the family income soon dropped significantly. In fact, his employer paid him the basic salary for just 3 weeks before changing over to SSP. Mum soon became Dad’s full time carer so her income quickly disappeared.

At no stage during his stay in hospital, or the aftercare, for what it was worth, did anyone inform our family about Personal Independence Payments or PIP. We soon realised that our parents would quickly run into financial difficult with no regular income so we lodged a claim on the 24th September that year – then on the 15th October we received a 36 page questionnaire for completion which we promptly completed and returned. At the end of November, we telephoned the PIP assessment team who said that our claim was being processed. During December, we telephoned again – it was still being processed. On the 5th January 2014, we wrote to the assessment team and it wasn’t until some weeks towards the end of January did we get invited for an initial assessment. Our mother was not eligible for carer’s allowance until Dad’s PIP assessment had been processed. During this time, my parents struggled to find the money to pay their bills, used up what little savings they had, and then relied on family members for support to see them through. It brought home to me how close we all might be to this predicament. The homeless charity Shelter predicts that nearly 40% of all families are just one month’s missed wages from being unable to cover their housing costs.
For the first few years of Dad’s PIP claims he was subjected to regular re-assessments. Dad’s assessment centre was in Norwich and we took it in turns to take him – on a number of occasions we arrived to be told that he couldn’t be assessed that day as there were no ground floor rooms available and because dad was wheelchair bound, we had to be sent away. A wasted journey.
On my first occasion when we managed to get inside, I found a building and a room, that could best be described as void of humanity. No pictures on the walls, no plants in the corner – a shell of a room with a table and a chair. Dad was subjected to personal questioning that made him uncomfortable, from someone that was not medically trained. My Dad was and remains a proud man. If it were not for family members prompting him to be honest, his assessment would not have given a true reflection of his abilities.
After time Dad got some of his independence back and eventually he was allocated a motability car which was adapted for his needs – it was short lived however – a reassessment amended Dad’s points allocation and he was 1 point short of being eligible and the car was taken away.
I wanted to share our experience as a family because we know it is not unique, in fact, I think its fairly normal. The way in which we treat disabled people in this country is a disgrace. We do not sufficiently support them, we do not afford them the respect and dignity that they deserve.
The really sad bit about all of this is that I think my Dad is the lucky one – he’s still got my Mum to support him and he’s got family members that have supported him and taken care of nearly all of his benefits related paperwork. What about all those that don’t have such support systems?
Whilst we might disagree about how much support should be offered and the financial values, I think most of us would agree that the process should be fair and it should be prompt. My experience is that’s its neither.
I support this motion, I wish it went further so that people like my dad, don’t feel so completely abandoned by society as it so often currently the case.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Issues Reported to Norfolk County Council - 22.05.19

Norfolk County Council
·      Hedgerow opposite 28 Almond Grove overgrown and blocking pathway – can it be cut-back? Elderly resident has tried best to trim the bush recently but it would be useful if Highways Rangers could investigate
·      Trees / bushes at rear of 57 Ash Close completely overgrown – residents have complained and asked if it can be cut back
·      Lamppost along Fir Road, opposite 153, wonky and needs straightening
·      Post along Elm Road, near to entrance to Pine close missing the sign – can post be removed or sign replaced?
·      Kerb at side of 52 Ulfkell Road remains damaged and in need of repair
·      Tree on corner of Castle Lane / Castle Street now overgrown and obscuring view – particularly as you approach Castle Street from Castle Lane and wish to turn right going towards Diss – visibility impacted looking left
·      Pot hole along Bury Road opposite new housing development near to new speed camera – pot hole likely to be caused by construction traffic accessing development area
·      Drains along Elm Road / Fir Road seem very clogged up and in need of clearing – can this be arranged?

Issues Reported to Flagship Housing 22.05.19

Flagship Housing
·      Garage block at Fir Road remains in a terrible condition with loose bricks and rubbish – area would be improved considerably if loose debris and fencing was removed
·      Garage block at Oak Close – offensive graffiti sprayed onto garage doors, numerous garages boarded up, needs cleaning and weed removal.
·      Flagship installed wooden barriers at top of Ash Close completely rotten at the base due to inadequate installation and lack of maintenance. Now fallen down completely and need replacing. Other wooden barrier at bottom of Ash Close (opposite 1 Ash Close) in need of wood care treatment