Bessie has been hit by a succession of cruel blows by the DWP. She even ended up pawning her inherited jewellery just to eat and stay warm
When a UN inquiry ruled last week that Britain’s austerity policies amount to a “systematic violation” of disabled people’s rights, it was talking about people like Bessie.
Bessie, 51, has agoraphobia, Asperger’s and complex mental health problems, and for the last three-and-a-half years she’s lived the reality of Conservative cuts. First came the bedroom tax, taking with it £12 a week. Then she was told her lifetime disability benefit would be scrapped. And now, as the latest cruel blow, Bessie – who’s received out-of-work sickness benefits since 2012 – has been declared “fit for work”. “You get over one thing and then another hits,” she says quietly. “It’s horrendous.”
I first spoke to Bessie in 2013, six months after the bedroom tax was brought in. It had been years since she had been well enough to earn a wage – before that, she worked in her late dad’s shop and then lived off some savings – and scraping by on benefits was always hard. The evidence of that was all around her then and still is today. There’s no oven or microwave in Bessie’s kitchen. No freezer either; she got rid of that to save money. When her washing machine broke, she couldn’t afford to replace it – not even with a second-hand one.
But it was the bedroom tax that meant, for the first time in her life, Bessie was pushed into debt. With her savings gone and struggling to pay the bills, by October 2013 she had six months of rent arrears, as well as for water, gas, and electricity.