A personal story of the impact of the Bedroom Tax following bereavement

The social work services department in Glasgow had made their decision. My mother was no longer allowed to be cared for at home. Against my will, they would stick her in an NHS continuing care unit and wait for her to die.

I remember the response I received from the housing association. “Of course you’re now liable for the spare room subsidy, you’ll need to inform the council immediately, or do you want us to do it?”

I wasn’t expecting sympathy or a shoulder to cry on, but I wasn’t expecting that reaction either….

I’ll do it, I said, stifling my tears. I had no intention of doing it, as my immediate thoughts were to get away from the home in which I saw my mother inch closer and closer to the end of her life after a 29 year battle with dementia…..

But sure enough, my next Housing benefit payment had a £14 per week reduction….

I am luckier than many others in my shoes. I have the support of a friend who is financially well off. This was very fortunate, because as soon as mummy died, all her income stopped. No more Pensions. No more attendance allowance. After 8 weeks, no more carer’s allowance or Income Support. It was sign on, find work-or starve. No bereavement benefit either, for reasons best known to the DWP.

As I am disabled I am entitled to claim Personal Independence Payment, but It took 5 more months to get it. I was spared the nightmares associated with claiming-luck was on my side! 8 months post bereavement, I found employment. I moved in with friends, who fed and kept me for a few weeks.

I was slow to report my sad loss to the DWP, they eventually sent me a bill for £308 in overpayment, after I had found employment, thankfully, but very kindly chose not to impose a £50 penalty fine, because, let’s face it, I was bereaved at the time and not thinking straight…? It took me 6 weeks before I told the pension folks about mum’s death, not for financial reasons,  but purely because I had difficulty accepting it… ? I paid them back after I started work, of course.

My dear friend was like a guardian angel to me. But had she not been in my life, there is no doubt I would no longer be alive. Had my friend not been around to help, I would have been told to sign on for ESA on my own, in the flat I shared with my mother. I would probably have failed the work capability assessment and been found fit for work. In my state of grieving, being left alone with no friends or work to help me though it, I would perhaps have had a breakdown.

I almost certainly would have lost the will to live, and would have felt worthless, unworthy of life, as my sole purpose in life for the last 9 years was being my mother’s carer, and that purpose had come to an end. I would have ended my life at some point, after trying and failing to find employment, as I would not have been in a fit emotional state to find work, in addition to the scarcity of work in Glasgow by comparison to London.

Last October, as I drank a glass of water in a VIP area after the premiere of I, Daniel Blake with the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition, we discussed the film and I explained that I had somehow escaped that fate that Daniel Blake suffered, but I was an activist with DPAC and Win Visible to fight on behalf of the thousands who are not.

I am still slightly dependant on my friends to help, although I am now working at a job I adore, teaching singing and running choirs, albeit only part time. In my spare time I am a political activist as well as doing plenty of volunteering, and I get regular paid singing engagements, and I’m in rehearsals for a musical.

Things are virtually the same now as before, but I know now that the fact that I am not fully financially independent is not as a result of my failure to succeed in life, but is a culmination of what so-called austerity has done to the economic climate and the entertainment profession, as well as what 7 years of the UK under the Tories has done to housing, to disabled people like myself, to people in need of social care, and to people with lower incomes in general.

Vote Labour, everyone, I implore you. Or there will be no one left to speak for you when the time comes….

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