But are you disabled *enough*?

Every few weeks or so, I get asked why I’m on the “Jobseeker” benefit instead of the Supported Living Payment. I reply that my application for the SLP was denied. But that’s not quite the full story.

I’m currently in the process of reapplying for the Jobseeker Benefit, which you have to do every 52 weeks. (This is in addition to providing a new medical certificate every three months).

Part of the reapplication is proving your circumstances have not changed. The form (which is online now, and it never used to be, so that’s a step forward) asks you to submit other forms (like proof of any income, verified by your employer), and to supply verification of costs (ie proof of my medical expenses).

Once you have done all of that, you’re required to have either a phone call or a meeting with WINZ, to discuss the following:

My phone call was scheduled for tomorrow, and I while I had completed the form, I didn’t have the other documents yet and I was feeling pretty stressed.

And then they called me out of the blue yesterday.

The person, let’s call her Amanda, asked if I’d be ok to do the interview now. I said sure, because I knew waiting longer was just going to make me more anxious.

She immediately launched in with “Please tell me what measures you’ve been taking to prepare and look for work.”

While I was expecting the question, it’s still such a blow. It just feels like an accusation. I already feel guilty that I don’t work fulltime, and this sort of question amplifies that. Also, I have just last week submitted to them a reapplication for Temporary Additional Support, which I have to do every three months. On my last two reapplications I outlined the medical treatments I am undertaking, and pointed out that I work as much as I can. They know I do, because I declare my paltry income every week.

Anyway, she asks me what measures I have been taking, and I’m really tired, and I think to myself “Can you not read my file” and so I just say bluntly “Well I had chemotherapy.”

“Oh,” she says. There is a pause. “How did that go?”

How did it-? I-? Ok, so maybe she was being kind but it sure didn’t feel like that, so I go:

“It didn’t work.”

“Oh,” she says again. “Um… so what next?”

I explain that I have tried every treatment possible, and my rheumatologist has informed me there’s no more medical options for me right now. My capacity for work is diminishing, not increasing.

So she goes “Well that means you’re not suitable for the Jobseeker Benefit” (and I think no shit), and then “… why are you not on the Supported Living Payment?”

I tell her that I applied for it and was denied. She asks when. I’m not sure, but I say I think it was over a year ago, and she says I need to apply again.

Getting the Supported Living Payment is difficult. You have to prove you won’t be fit to work within the next two years. I got denied last time because I didn’t have enough proof, if I remember correctly. My case manager said I could appeal that decision, but I’d have to see a doctor chosen by WINZ to assess me. A) I didn’t see that assessment going in my favour, and B) It’s ludicrous that a doctor I’ve never seen before could provide a more accurate report of my health than my GP and specialist, who I’ve been seeing for five years.

But there’s another reason I didn’t appeal, and haven’t applied again.

I don’t want to accept that I’m not going back to work within two years.

Two years is a long time. The thought of admitting that it’s unlikely my health is going to improve in that length of time is, to put it bluntly, fucking terrifying.

As I wrote about yesterday, I pride myself on being positive. I think I should pat myself on the back for doing that, because being positive takes a lot of energy, and to keep it up in the face of constant pain and fatigue and the prospect of not improving, is really really hard. But most of the time, I do it.

So applying for the SLP felt like failure. It felt like me going “yeah, I’m not getting better.” And I just don’t buy that narrative, because if I do, I will become more depressed than I already am.

Finally, there’s another insidious reason I haven’t done it.

I don’t feel like I deserve it.

Isn’t the SLP for people with real illnesses and disabilities? I ask myself, ignoring all the evidence about my circumstances.

Anyway, after advising me to apply, Amanda seems keen to wrap things up. I keep saying “hold on” because I have a bunch of questions, starting with enquiring about the other forms and evidence the online form told me I needed to supply.

“No, you don’t need to do that,” she says, brushing it off quickly. Which frustrates the hell out of me, because if I don’t need to do it, then why create the stress of it by demanding it on the form? Also, let’s be honest, I want to cover myself here. What if they turn around in a few weeks and ask for proof? I say that I prefer to supply it anyway, and she says I can just drop it off at the centre.

“Should I put your name on it?” I ask.

“Nope, don’t even need to do that, just drop it in,” she says. We all know how WINZ can be with paperwork, so this doesn’t provide me with any confidence whatsoever.

I then ask her if she’s my case manager now, since my last one has left.

“No, you don’t have one,” she replies, and I think “oh fuck.” Because not having a designated case manager means no consistency of care and what one person says is inevitably not what another will tell me.

“But we are making some changes,” she says vaguely, “and maybe wait and see.”

That’s interesting. Changes at WINZ. Will we get told what they are? Will it make any difference?

Who knows.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to collect all the evidence I need to prove I’m sick, and I’m going to try applying for the SLP.

When I struggle with that, I have to remind myself it doesn’t mean I’m signing a contract and swearing I won’t, by some miracle, be well enough to work within the next two years. That miracle might happen and I’m sure WINZ would be just as pleased to remove me as I would be to tell them I don’t need it anymore.

Wish me luck, I guess.