Janice lives in a council house with her husband and 17-year-old daughter. At the start of the study, Janice received disability living allowance (DLA) and employment support allowance (ESA) as she has multiple physical conditions. Her partner receives carer’s allowance to look after her, which means that he cannot claim other benefits, such as jobseekers allowance, for himself.
When we first met Janice her ESA had been removed following a work capability assessment. Janice entered the appeals process which took several months, durign which time she was on an extrememly low income and experienced stress and increased ill-health. Her ESA was reinstated on appeal. Of this time, Janice says: ‘I was at my doctor and I said “I'm having a nervous breakdown here. I can't cope”’. At the end of this first meeting, Janice explained that she would soon have to be assessed for ESA and DLA again. She was extremely worried about losing these benefits for a second time.
Janice explained that she goes without food often and doesn't tell her partner or daughter.
At our second meeting one year later, Janice’s ESA and DLA had been stopped for the second time after another work capability assessment five months earlier. Her worries and concerns had been accurate. Once again Janice embarked on an appeals process to have these benefits, which she needs for her disability-related costs, reinstated. Furthermore, as she had been on the higher rate of DLA, her partner had been receiving Carer's Allowance for her. This also stopped at this time. This meant that both Janice and her partner had their benefits stopped at the same time. After four months Janice’s ESA was reinstated at a higher level than before and her DLA was reinstated at a lower level than before. Because Janice's DLA was reinstated at a lower level than before, her partner’s carers allowance was not reinstated. Despite DLA having officially been reinstated, at the time of interview Janice was still waiting to receive her DLA.
Janice explained that during the appeals period she and her partner were given £60 per week between them to live on. Between the November and February she lost two stones in weight and was quite ill with one of her health conditions. Janice and her partner’s finances were 'desperate' during this time and Janice was advised to access a foodbank: ‘I always say said I would never use a food bank, never. But, when I went to the housing, it was to get my discretionary bedroom tax done, and she did a thing they do, how much money you’ve got, a benefit check for money, and she said “but you've more money going out than you’ve got coming in”. So she gave me vouchers to go to the food bank. But, it was on a Tuesday she gave me the vouchers and I don't get my giro until the Friday, and because it was at the other end of Glasgow, I still couldn't use them. So I still had no food for three days until I could get the bus fare to go’.
Janice has mixed feelings about using a foodbank, expressing both gratitude and shame: 'I was grateful for it ... but I was so ashamed, I'll tell you.’ Although the staff at the foodbank were very good, Janice says: 'it wasn't a nice experience'. On top of the hunger and the worsening physical condition, Janice is also now struggling with stress, anxiety and depression. She explains: ‘I’ve been so ill, and the stress, which doesn't help, it makes it worse. And I'm on antidepressants as well again because I couldn't cope... I just couldn't cope'.
At out third meeting Janice is expecting to have to go through the same process for the third time as her ESA and DLA are due to be reviewed again within the following month. She is extremely stressed which, she explains, exacerbates her illness. She is dreading the impending review and is feeling sick with worry. She says: ‘You know it's there. It's going to come. You try not to think about it but... I’m always ill anyway, but then I'm worse with the worry… I’m sitting here trying not to think about next month or the end of this month and it starting all over again. I’ve got to go through all of that again’.
Services that Janice has accessed that she might not have otherwise are increased GP visits, hospital visits, housing visits, voluntary organisational support, foodbanks.