Old and female and better off dead…?


3:00 pm - January 25th 2011

by Kate Belgrave    


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This is another post about people I’ve talked to as I travel round the UK talking to those dealing with public sector cuts:

There are times when I wonder if being an old woman without money will be as funny as all that. It seems likely that I’ll find out first-hand in the near-ish future. Right now, I get to watch.

I’m in a room in Gateshead with about 15 older women at a Personal Growth – Take Individual Steps session (known as PG Tips here at the Tyneside women’s health centre).

These women are getting on in years, though. Two or three of them are about 40. The rest are in their 50s and 60s. Faces are lined, bodies are soft, and hair is thinning and grey.

I’m sitting with them, because I wanted to talk to Newcastle women who were likely to be affected by the coalition government’s cuts. I’ve done well on that front, if I can put it that way.

A lot of the women in this room collect incapacity benefit – a means of drawing income which the Murdoch stable would have us believe is leapfrogging politics, pimping and web paedophilia to top the list of pestilent ways to source a buck.

Not that these women will be sourcing income through incapacity for long. Their days of drawing incapacity (and perhaps any) benefit are numbered. Incapacity is being phased out, along with any notion of genuine need. Everyone who collects incapacity is being assessed for fitness for work.

They’re being moved to the smaller job seekers’ allowance, or to the employment support allowance if they’re deemed to need support to work. Some will be found ineligible for support altogether.

Nobody I’ve spoken to likes their chances. I’ve even met rightwingers who are worried about assessment. Only ten days ago, I interviewed a physically disabled woman called Mel Richards. She and her cousin Helen Darville (an Australian lawyer and Tory supporter) felt that the coalition (which they generally supported) was wilfully failing to recognise people they referred to as “deserving poor.”

Richards insisted that her good work record and national insurance contributions entitled her to support when illness struck (and was technically correct – incapacity benefit recipients must generally have paid national insurance).

Richards had run a campaign called “I’m Right – but cuts are wrong.” “I still believe there is such a thing as entitlement. I paid, so I was entitled. The government is not acknowledging that.”

Most of the women in this Gateshead room worked, and paid tax and national insurance, for years – 30 years at the HMRC in one case, 20 and more years at BHS in another – before age and ill-health queered the pitch, as they do. Some say they were eased, or bullied, out of jobs and/or better places in the work hierarchy and that their problems with depression set in around then.

Depression sets in for me just talking about it. I’ve been in the workplace long enough to know how women are rated once they’ve past the age of sexual attractiveness and use. Miriam O’Reilly is, alas, not the only one. She’s one of the better looking.

I wonder, too, about the likelihood of employers giving these already-discarded older women a chance.

Let’s take Diana Shearer, who is 51. Her last job was in IT. She was there for about 14 years. She is incontinent and suffers from severe depression: the two problems aren’t unrelated. She is furious about the pressure she’s under as she waits for reassessment.

“Every time there’s something comes through the post, I’m wondering is it going to be that letter? It’s every day for me [at the moment]. How dare these people stop my benefit? Who going to decide?”

Chris Swales is probably in her 50s, but her seamed face and thick glasses make her look elderly. She worked for 30 years the public sector before she was retired for ill health. “I got a letter and a medical assessment [when I was retired] so I rang Incapacity (the DWP) and told them that I had been ill-health retired. I still had to go for a medical (she had her assessment last week, although she struggles to recall it – the other women in the room have to remind her when I ask). I’m just concerned that I’ll get a letter saying that I’m not entitled to it.”

It seems highly unlikely that employers will pick these two from Newcastle’s large crop of jobless. Newcastle council is due to jettison 2000 people. There will be long queues for jobs, and old, shaky women will be at the back of them. I’ve worked all my life, but have never made the kind of money you need for complete security today. I look at these women and see me.


*NB Names have been changed – they were concerned that publicity might affect their benefit assessments. I’ll upload the audio from these interviews to my site when I get back to London next week.

Complete version is at The Daily (Maybe). This one has been seriously edited.

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Feminism ,Fight the cuts

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Reader comments


Brilliant as always, Kate.

Someone has recently in another comment column exposed David Cameron’s lie’s. Read the following, as David Cameron says on camera that the Disabled, Frail and Vulnerable would have nothing to fear under his leadership.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UvqmZlaApy

David Cameron is truely a Despicable Specimen of the Human Race without no shame what so ever. Truely Evil.

Been uber edited. Gah. Better off looking at the original, methinks:

http://jimjay.blogspot.com/2011/01/kate-belgrave-women-and-cuts.html

Cheers, Ellie!

Well there you have it – these are the people we can l no longer afford – better off dead? Do you want that thought to percolate into this lousy Government’s thinking? I bet they are already thinking it – “We are living too long – we can’t sustain the pensions with rising population levels etc – Woe woe and thrice woe”. Isn’t it high time someone in power remembered that there are many old folk who are now needing benefits and modest help to live a life they have a right to – surely a right – if nothing else – earned through the privations and hardships they endured keeping Hitler from the door. We owe them. We can’t afford to remember that though can we? – Our most urgent concerns and priorities must be to the bankers and fat cats who must go untaxed at all costs. We are all in this together – but some of us are better off dead!

@Milligrubs – indeed I have thought about that in my darker hours… govt thinking “How about we just let the proles loose on each other. Job’ll do itself.”

There are also not a few older blokes out there, on the sick and unlikely to get another job. It’s a grim existence, male or female.

Kate Belgrave @ 6 –

Not such a far fetched idea – the police cuts would reinforce it – although I would advise this deaf and demented Government to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein first. They might be given pause for thought when they realise how the monster they unleash turns on it’s unleashers before self destructing.

Frankly, the two examples given are not very convincing:

“She is incontinent and suffers from severe depression”
(Very sad, but her condition as described hardly means she cannot work.)

“She worked for 30 years (in) the public sector before she was retired for ill health”
(Not much detail given on her case, but was she retired on health grounds from the public sector without any pension?)

As far as we can tell, these are not stroke or cancer victims, or people with horrific injuries. Which is not to say that these women do not need some help, but it does make me wonder why both were on IB.

10. Just Visiting

> Her last job was in IT. She was there for about 14 years. She is incontinent and suffers from severe depression…

IT is no longer the growing career it once was: and of course there are rainbow of different roles that ger described as ‘IT’ – some more indemand than others.

But it is still a role that often allows you to work from home – which would suit someone in difficulty with their incontinence.

With time on your hands, you can use it find the forums and websites where IT works being talked about or sub-contracted, or make contact with local companies and offer remote IT services: perhaps offering a ‘free month’ to get started.

Would take some initiative of course – and like I said, not as easy in IT as say 10 years ago.

@ just visiting and paul ilc

I can only assume that neither of you has any direct experience of depression, severe or otherwise. It is a medical condition with observable physical effects including insomnia, fatigue, stomach pains, nausea, trembling and palpitations. Of course, there are mental and psychological effects as well – memory loss, inability to concentrate, constant panic, anxiety, overwhelming feelings of hopeless and despair and, in severe cases, suicidal thoughts. Perhaps you could spend some time considering how easy it would be to hold down a job in those circumstances (whether employed or working in the pretty cut-throat world of IT consulting), throw in the physical distress and inconvenience of incontinence (surely the definition of adding insult to injury) and then either stop making quite such facile remarks or get a job as one of Cameron’s benefits assessors. I think you’re exactly what he’s after.

I think Paul’s comment illustrates exactly why people with mental illnesses are particularly concerned about not being believed. There’s still a dreadful lack of understanding about illnesses like severe depression.

People with this illness are often barely able to dress or present themselves. They lie in bed for days. If they don’t have a home, they lie in the streets. Suicide is a risk. The illness is such that threats don’t work – thus the appearance of people with severe mental illnesses on the streets at the various points in history where facilities for people with these issues are closed down. There seems to be some feeling here that a good slap round the face is all people with mental health problems need to get them back on the straight and narrow. Historically, that has never been the case.

justvisiting – the woman who was the IT worker was retraining to try and do exactly as you suggest. She had started to respond to an injected medication that helped with the incontinence and was on medication for the depression. She had another problem in that the travel allowance she was receiving to get to her college was being cut. So many of the people I’ve spoken have been trying to do something to improve their situations. You see scroungers. I see people who are struggling to catch a break in extremely difficult times.

Alex @ 11: “I can only assume that neither of you has any direct experience of depression” Your rather arrogant assumption is wrong in my case and it is irrelevant. My point was that this unfortunate woman’s conditions are both treatable. ‘Parking’ her on IB is hardly compassionate, and certanly no solution for her or for society. Targetted interventions in a case like this might be expensive in the short-term, but the results would almost certainly be better all round than leaving her on IB.

Kate @ 12: “There seems to be some feeling here that a good slap round the face is all people with mental health problems need to get them back on the straight and narrow. ” Most certainly not on my part! But most depression is treatable – with treatments ranging from CBT and SSRI. And incontinence can be managed or even cured.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Ellie Mae O'Hagan

    The consistently brilliant @hangbitch RT @libcon: Old and female and better off dead…? http://bit.ly/efHLpR

  2. Pamela Heywood

    Old and female and better off dead…?: http://twurl.nl/ewy8p3

  3. Broken OfBritain

    RT @chaostocosmos: Old and female and better off dead…?: http://twurl.nl/ewy8p3

  4. Ma

    RT @chaostocosmos: Old and female and better off dead…?: http://twurl.nl/ewy8p3

  5. Kate B

    RT @MissEllieMae: …brilliant @hangbitch RT @libcon: Old & female & better off dead http://bit.ly/efHLpR Thanks, but been heinously edited

  6. Lynda Taylor

    RT @hangbitch: RT @MissEllieMae: …brilliant @hangbitch RT @libcon: Old & female & better off dead http://bit.ly/efHLpR Thanks, but bee …

  7. kirst

    Old and female and better off dead…? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/YdxPFW8 via @libcon

  8. Linda Wainwright

    RT @chaostocosmos: Old and female and better off dead…?: http://twurl.nl/ewy8p3

  9. Peter J Barnes

    RT @MissEllieMae: The consistently brilliant @hangbitch RT @libcon: Old and female and better off dead…? http://bit.ly/efHLpR

  10. czol

    RT @libcon: Old and female and better off dead…? http://bit.ly/efHLpR

  11. Rachel Hubbard

    Old and female and better off dead…? | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/h9nZs

  12. Kate B

    Here are older women with severe depression who were already desperate about incapacity benefit in Jan: http://bit.ly/ie8mtb Awful

  13. Alison Charlton

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  14. DPAC

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  15. Mary Hallam

    Here are older women with severe depression who were already desperate about incapacity benefit in Jan: http://bit.ly/ie8mtb Awful

  16. Anti-Cuts Alliance

    Here are older women with severe depression who were already desperate about incapacity benefit in Jan: http://bit.ly/ie8mtb Awful

  17. Claire Godwin

    RT @chuzzlit: Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop…

  18. Broken OfBritain

    Here are older women with severe depression who were already desperate about incapacity benefit in Jan: http://bit.ly/ie8mtb Awful

  19. VirtualResistance

    Here are older women with severe depression who were already desperate about incapacity benefit in Jan: http://bit.ly/ie8mtb Awful

  20. Jill Hayward

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  21. kirst

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  22. VirtualResistance

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  23. Riven

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  24. Gladys Shuttleworth

    Here are older women with severe depression who were already desperate about incapacity benefit in Jan: http://bit.ly/ie8mtb Awful

  25. Peaceful Crocheter

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  26. DarkestAngel

    Old and female and better off dead…? Great piece by @hangbitch for @libcon http://t.co/iCg2rsx <Wasn't NI supposed to stop this humiliation.

  27. Loathing in London – Hangbitch

    […] She says she searched for properties on the council Locata database and was advised that her best hope was to move out of London. Moving out of London will solve her borough’s problem, but it’ll hardly solve hers. At her age: “I’m not going to get another job,” in or out of London. She needs to hang onto the one she has. She isn’t sure how long her family will be able to make up the rent for her. After that: “I don’t know what they expect me to do.” Shrug. She worked part-time all those years so that she could supervise her kids. The return on that? – no money, no home and no job prospects. I don’t know what they expect her to do, either. Die quietly, perhaps, like a good woman. That is our reward when we’re through. […]





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