An exploited love

This life Georgina Wakefield saves the government money so why should the benefits system be such a battle?

Recently, I was involved in training a group of mental health nurses. As I am a mental health carer (of my 32-year-old son, Christian, who has schizophrenia) my input was from a carer’s perspective. At the end of the session one nurse asked how much carers’ allowance I claimed.

I told her I had never claimed any money as I worked part time. She said that was scandalous and if I cared for a foster a child I would be receiving about £360 a week. Carers’ allowance is the grand total of £46.95 a week.

I’ve never given carers’ allowance much thought. Christian is my son, I love him dearly and I see caring for him as my duty as his mother. But there comes a time when you realise that your love is being grossly exploited.

To estimate how much carers save the country by keeping those we care for out of in-patient care in hospital or rehabilitation would amount to as much as running another NHS. My son would have been in and out of hospital many times during the 17 years of his illness had it not been for the support of his family.

The Department for Work and Pensions has twice made huge mistakes regarding Christian’s benefits. The first time it had to pay back £5,867 and later more than £2,000 when officials mistakenly stopped all his benefits. I asked what would have happened had he not had carers to fight his corner. It took a huge effort on my part to retrieve the money. A lot of time was spent on hold on the phone listening to weird tunes or having abrupt people talking down to me who had no idea what my life consisted of let alone anything about schizophrenia.

When Christian began working six hours a week (which accounted for his permitted earnings) I went to the local jobcentre and filled in the relevant form. In error they did not inform income support and later I received a letter stating he had to pay back £918 due to “my failure to disclose”.

Last month I attended a tribunal to plead my case. Tired and stressed, I said: “It’s a miracle that mental health carers have the strength to fight another day.” We won the case which means, subject to approval by the DWP, Christian will not have to pay back the money. If the DWP contests the decision we will have to go to another tribunal and plead our case yet again. My determination was not even about the money; it was about the service users who do not have a family to help them deal with the complexities of our benefits system.

While I was waiting to go into the tribunal I thought about the faceless person who had failed to pass on the information to income support. They weren’t expected to attend, yet there I was, having done nothing wrong, answering a lawyer’s questions because of their incompetence.

Georgina Wakefield is a carer

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