I thought it was going to be a challenge to turn out a decent column this week. Not that I’m stuck for topics, rather I wanted to avoid the fallback of total self-indulgence (although who am I kidding, blogging is terribly masturbatory). We got the keys to our new house last Friday you see and I’m very much in love with a number of things but most of all, the space! Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that because it’s surely boring to anyone but our family and they’re all coming for lunch on Sunday anyway.    
Fortunately I just got a link through from Sky News Politics which got me angry enough that I found energy for a bit of a rant which one friend* is sweet enough to call ‘social commentary.’ Anyway, this is the link. Maybe I lack empathy but this horrified me. I was stunned at the figures that have been on benefits for over ten years. That’s not welfare, its fostering dependence!   

A fellow blogger recently wrote a blog on PND? I wish I had the time! which brilliantly captures how those of us that just need to get on with things don’t have the luxury of giving up. Like Elizabeth, I have sympathy for those genuinely suffering but often depression seems like a way of opting out. It’s not as though the rest of us go through life without trials and tribulations.   

I’ve long hated those modern equivalents of chain letters, you know, the put this in your Facebook status or you like raping baby rabbits things. I saw one this week that said “Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. Put this as your status if you know someone who has or has had depression. Will you do it, and leave it on your status for at least an hour? Most people won't, and 1 in 3 of us will suffer it at some point in our lives. Show your support.” Urgh!   

It’s just bollocks isn’t it? Not that depression can’t be a genuinely debilitating condition (I hesitate to call it a genuine illness ‘cos you know, you can’t cure yourself of cancer) but it’s all too easily latched onto. I was wrongly diagnosed with depression a number of years back (it was in fact a normal after effect of severe glandular fever) and part of the problem seems to be that we can’t accept that life sometimes is hard. My GP (I should have made a complaint but hey, I was in a low place) took one look at a stressed out student and put me on antidepressants. I eventually got out of the cycle against my doctor’s wishes and pulled my life together but I don’t think victim is too strong a word to describe the way the system operates.   

When the fiancé was having a tough time recently I said I’d support him with one exception. I said I didn’t believe he had depression and was gone if he took that excuse. Hard line? Yes, I’ve never claimed to be anything but a bitch but his GP said he was depressed and his GP was wrong. The fiancé, like many people had got stuck in a career rut and was struggling to find his sense of self. When he realised he had my support for pursuing his dreams, he started making changes and would not fit anyone’s criteria of being depressed today. Thank heavens he had me to hold his hand in saying no to them messing with his brain chemistry. 

I don’t blame the doctors. Despite my one personal hiccup I think the NHS is amazing and think the majority its staff do the best job they can. But a typical appointment tends to feel like an exercise in ticking boxes. The GP I’ve seen in the last twelve months has been lovely but his time has clearly been in short supply and it has been a case of specific problem solving: you had a car accident, you hurt where, your symptoms are what, lets take a look, ok this will ease pain, this will help you sleep, I’m signing you off work for two weeks, returning to light duties.  

I have no issue with the care I received. Two weeks was about right, I slept for a few days and the painkillers worked. But it’s a system that could let you slip through the cracks. I wanted to return to work and I had a working partner willing to support my recovery back to work. He never put a time limit on it but the fiancé’s support was clearly linked to actual physical recovery with a clear end point in sight.   

Had I been single, had I not had a job I was eager to return to, had I a different mother on the end of the phone then my recovery could have been very different. Once I’d got a bit better the expectation (from the fiancé, from my mother, from my boss and mostly from myself) was that I’d take my drugs, put in a day’s work then collapse in a hot bath before repeating. Sure it was hard, I hurt a lot but what was the alternative? Like Elizabeth argued, it was too self-indulgent not to and I didn’t have the time.    

Yes, I favour cutting benefits but largely because they clearly don’t work. Sure, I had the luxury of sick pay so technically I received money to recover but significantly for a moderately serious injury I was only off work for two weeks. There is a need for financial support but people need a system that focuses on getting them off that support. I got on with things because I had goals (such as getting the mortgage that bought the house I’m writing this from) which I have my family to thank for. I don’t have all the answers but a starting point surely has to be creating incentives for people to fix their lives rather than incentives not to!   

* I even met him once... at a Tweetdrinks. AND he bought me a diet coke which if that isn’t real friendship then I don’t know what is.
4/22/2011 01:36:51 am

Oooh you tagged me! I was slated for that post - apparently some people disagree that it's indulgent. There are times when it isn't - but that doesn't alter the fact that there are times when it is - and times when you NEED to indulge in it a little.

Reply
Kathryn
4/22/2011 02:48:13 am

You're one of my favourite bloggers because you say it how you see it.

After giving birth it'd be remarkable if the hormones and the sleep deprivation (and the rest) didn't leave mothers reeling. The problem as I see it is that what is arguably a normal reaction to a situation is so quickly labelled something major.

There is surely a distinction between those mothers adjusting to the massive changes to their life and are exhausted and feeling a bit low and those suffering from PND. There's a middle ground that I'd expect loads of women find themselves in of low level temporary depression directly tied to the situation of caring for a newborn. To a certain extent there is a choice about whether you let yourself sink but I think it's far more about feeling able to say you're struggling a bit than any innate weakness.

I think that's the problem with depression, it can be stopped in its tracks but only by having a support network. So you need to know the signs because once you're slipping, it's harder to ask for help. By saying you've found some things tough recently but you won't give in is actually at the root of your ability to keep the threat of PND at bay.

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Alex
4/24/2011 05:05:57 pm

Hi Kathryn,

I wholeheartedly agree with many of your points, despite myself I cannot help but feel a sense of outrage about the current state of play

I work hard, I have a good job in a good industry and earn above the national average salary, up until last month I had a nice little house with three bedrooms and a little garden, we were happy there but ultimately we had to take the tough decision to admit we just couldn't afford the rent, The four of us have now moved into a 2 bed flat. We leave behind our neighbours all still living in mirror image property.

On one side we had a retired couple, living off a state pension after a life of unskilled labour, on the other side a lady signed off on incapacity benefit for the last 15 years for a back injury that appears to flare up once a year around the time of her benefit review and does seem to stop he living a normal life the rest of the time. Also worth mentioning are the couple opposite two years on Jobseekers having turned down or declined to even interview for several jobs that they consider 'below them'. Also worth mentioning is our landlord, who doesn't need a job because he owns 6 houses and lives off the rent I pay him.

It appears to me that the only people who can afford to live in that road are people who don't have jobs. I have to admit that makes me wonder what I have been getting out of bed for the last decade for?

To top it all off as we moved into our new flat I overheard our new neighbour talking to a friend, lots of teeth kissing and eye rolling but the gist of the conversation was - She is an unemployed teenage single Mother with a 4 year old daughter, the council have given her the flat while they find her a suitable council house, she is disgusted by this because it is against her human rights to be stuck in such a tiny dingy flat and if they don't find her somewhere proper with a garden soon she is going to have them prosecuted.

I'm sure I don't need to describe how that made me feel as I tried to clear some space in the identical flat, that still takes a significant proportion of my salary, so that I could squeeze both boys cots into the box room.

So why am I going to try and defend the benefits system?

Simple, it's because I have to believe that even if it leaves the door open to scroungers, fakers and ungrateful parasites, there HAS to be a system that can retain some type of normality for the hard working person like you or I that develops a painful and disfiguring cancer that leaves them suddenly unable to work or indeed the man that loses everyone he ever loved in a tragic accident and genuinely cannot get out of bed in the morning to face the world and will never be able to pull himself together. Frankly if we have to risk 10 scroungers cashing in for every 1 person like the above that gets help then I still think it is a price worth paying.

Until I see a system that can genuinely target the needy and weed out the bad apples then I think we need to give them all the benefit (excuse the pun) of the doubt because some of the people included in the headline statistic really do need the help and deserve so much more than the piddly £90 a week they currently get.

In the meantime I have to comfort myself by developing a sympathy for the people left living in my dream road, for although they have what I want right now, they are also trapped by their circumstance, every day that goes by with them still on benefits it gets just a little bit less likely that they are every going to be able to hope for more than they currently have. At least I can take comfort in the fact I am working towards something more, one day I might even not need to work because I am living off the rent from the 6 houses I own

Reply
Alex
4/24/2011 05:13:32 pm

*edited for readability*

Hi Kathryn,

I wholeheartedly agree with many of your points, despite myself I cannot help but feel a sense of outrage about the current state of play

I work hard, I have a good job in a good industry and earn above the national average salary, up until last month I had a nice little house with three bedrooms and a small garden, we were happy there, but ultimately we had to take the tough decision to admit we just couldn't afford the rent. The four of us have now moved into a two bed flat.

We have left behind our neighbours, all still living in properties identical to the one we left.

On one side we had a retired couple, living off a state pension after a life of unskilled labour, on the other side a lady signed off on incapacity benefit for the last 15 years with a back injury that appears to flare up once a year around the time of her benefit review and doesn’t seem to stop he living a normal life the rest of the time.
Don’t forget the couple living opposite; two years on Jobseekers having turned down or declined to even interview for several jobs that they consider 'below them'.

Also worth mentioning is our landlord, who doesn't need a job because he owns 6 houses and lives off the rent I pay him.

It appears to me that the only people who can afford to live in that road are people who don't have jobs. I have to admit that makes me wonder what I have been getting out of bed for the last decade for?

To top it all off, as we moved into our new flat I overheard our new neighbour talking to a friend, lots of teeth kissing and eye rolling but the gist of the conversation was - She is an unemployed teenage single Mother with a 4 year old daughter, the council have given her the flat while they find her a suitable council house, she is disgusted by this because it is against her human rights to be stuck in such a tiny dingy flat and if they don't find her somewhere proper with a garden soon she is going to have them prosecuted.

I'm sure I don't need to describe how that made me feel as I tried to clear some space in our identical flat, that still takes a significant proportion of my salary, so that I could squeeze both boys cots into the box room.

So why am I going to try and defend the benefits system?

Simple, it's because I have to believe that even if it leaves the door open to scroungers, fakers and ungrateful parasites, there HAS to be a system that can retain some type of normality for the hard working person like you or I that develops a painful and disfiguring cancer that leaves them suddenly unable to work or indeed the man that loses everyone he ever loved in a tragic accident and genuinely cannot get out of bed in the morning to face the world and will never be able to pull himself together. These things happen to good, honest hardworking, people. They suddenly find themselves unable to provide unable to cope and every thing they have worked for is wiped out by a simple case of bad luck.

Frankly if we have to risk 10 scroungers cashing in for every 1 person like the above that gets help then I still think it is a price worth paying.

Until I see a system that can genuinely target the needy and weed out the bad apples then I think we need to give them all the benefit (excuse the pun) of the doubt because some of the people included in the headline statistic really do need the help and deserve so much more than the piddly £90 a week they currently get.

In the meantime I have to comfort myself by forcing a sympathy for the people left living in my dream road, for although they have what I want right now, they are also trapped by their circumstance, every day that goes by with them still on benefits it gets just a little bit less likely that they are every going to be able to hope for more than they currently have. At least I can take comfort in the fact I am working towards something more, one day I might even not need to work because I am living off the rent from the 6 houses I own

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