Thursday, October 29, 2009

All Change

So, obviously the gods didn't feel like I had enough on my plate with the DLA/CAB stuff and the Social Services stuff and so on, because on Friday, I lost my main job. Sort of.

To start at the beginning... when I started that job, two years ago, the company was a small one and the job mostly consisted of sitting on a perch-stool at a workbench, selecting and scanning CDs, packaging them up with the right address/postage/customs stuff on them, and putting them on a shelf depending on which part of the world they were being sent to. The CDs I needed were mostly within reach of the workbench, but four or five times a day, an order would come up containing a CD that was on a shelf on the other side of the room. Excitement! Sometimes there would be some sort of special request or larger order to sort out, but mostly, that was it, until the end of the day when my colleague would put the packages we'd done into mail sacks, weigh them, and I'd put the information into the Royal Mail website ready for the postie to come and collect it all.

However, the company has grown, and with it, so have the demands of the dispatcher job. It's steadily increased over time. Now there are CDs in stock filling floor-to-ceiling shelves in two rooms, orders often weigh in excess of two kilos, and the loft space has been adapted to hold the supplies of flatpacked cardboard boxes that we now have to keep stocked. What has not increased is my ability to walk around or lift heavy things or climb ladders. If I was interviewing for the dispatcher job today, I would be having to apologise to the interviewers for having wasted their time as several aspects of the job are now beyond my capabilities.

On Friday afternoon, about halfway through my shift, I was called out of the packing room and into the boss's office. I was then asked to look for another job as the changed dispatch role was no longer suitable for me.

I was promised a fantastic reference but told that there were no roles available within the company that might be more suitable for me, and that it wasn't fair to the other dispatchers if I was doing all the less physically demanding parts of the job. I was thanked for all my hard work.

Head spinning with shock, I offered that I could learn to do just about anything, or I could ask an Access to Work Occupational Therapist to come in and see if any further adjustments could be made... but their minds were made up. Hard work, much appreciated, excellent worker, no complaints, glowing reference, not being given notice as such, but role no longer appropriate, please seek alternative employment soonest.

As an employer of a PA, I'm quite certain that for a conversation like that an employee is supposed to be advised in writing at least 48 hours beforehand and told they're allowed a representative with them. However it will surprise no one that instead of imperiously standing up and berating them for this laxity of procedure, I whimpered that I understood and asked if I could be excused to go and sit by myself for a few minutes to get my head around things.

But there's only so long you can spend sniffling in the Ladies loo and of course I can't independently leave the building - I need to wait for my taxi to turn up. So I went and packaged CDs for another hour and a half. What else could I do?


I could get signed off sick, as it is my poor health that means I cannot manage the changed job role. However, this means I would also have to stop doing my second job as well, and would screw up my lower-than-average sick-day record which would have an impact on my future employability. Also, just the thought of trying to deal with ESA makes me feel sick.

I could find another job, suitable for my abilities, with hours that suit me, that pays more than benefits rate and is prepared to take on a disabled person. In a recession, in a town where this week the paper reported there are six Jobseekers (ie healthy people on JSA) for every vacancy listed at the Jobcentre. Hahahahaha.

I could keep working until such time as they do actually outright fire me. However it is an understatement to say that since the "discussion" I have now lost the sense of loyalty and motivation that was making me put myself in more and more pain and swallow more and more drugs to try and keep up with my job.

So I took the initiative and on Tuesday, I resigned.

Dignity and self-respect more or less intact, a certain amount of annual leave to use up during my notice period, they don't have to try and accommodate me any more, and I don't have the unpleasantness of trying to work at a place I know wants me gone.

Once I finish my notice and have my P45, then I'll also technically resign my second job and set up as a self-employed person. I'll continue doing the second job, but instead of submitting a timesheet and having my employer do the PAYE thing, I'll invoice my employer for the hours worked and pay my own tax and NI. My earnings will be very low, but Steve has agreed to support me while I look for another "main" job so that I don't half-kill myself doing Christmas temping.

If anyone who reads this does the self-employed thing and can recommend a person or organisation that can do a bit of hand-holding when I do my first tax return, that would be appreciated.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


As per the plan I detailed last time, today my PA and I set off for the local Citizen's Advice Bureau, to see about getting help with the DLA forms.

The CAB is at the end of a long terrace of gorgeous Regency houses that have been converted into offices. In other words, steps all over the place, mostly without so much as a handrail. But charity sector and public sector buildings tend to do much better on access than private sector businesses, and as such there is an outdoor lift at the side of the CAB's building. Hurrah! At exactly 10am, which is when they open, we rolled up to the lift-gate, read the instructions, and twisted the red gate-release button. Nothing. Pressed and twisted the red button. Nothing. Pressed the lift-call button to make sure the lift was properly down (often they won't open unless they're right at ground level). Nothing.

Feeling incredibly fortunate to have a PA, I sent her to the top of the stairs to see if it worked at the top (or to put it another way, "is this thing on?"). Yes, the lift call button at the top worked, the lift rose majestically, and the gate at the top opened. Now that the lift was up, my call-button at the bottom worked to make it come down again... but would the red gate-release button release the gate? Would it hell.

Okay, never mind. I asked my PA to go inside and see if she could find a staff member who would come out and either (a) say "ah yes, we know that button is broken and this is how we deal with it," or alternatively, (b) take my details and arrange an appointment at a different building without me having to physically go into the CAB.


What we got was a staff member who assumed my PA was on about a child in a pushchair and who looked horrified when she saw me sitting there. I sat in the cold, damp alley and shivered while she went through all the button-pressing sequences we had, to no avail, and went back inside to ask for help.

So then there were three different staff members milling about outside. Volunteer One was standing at the top of the stairs, ineffectually musing about how they'd had the lift repaired only a couple of weeks ago and wasn't it awful, you would think an outdoor lift would work outdoors, the whole thing was a big waste of money. Volunteer Two, after a few minutes, decided to give up on the lift, apologised to me, and asked if I'd mind awfully if she took my details outside and then she'd arrange for a referral to a specialist advisor who would phone me to make an appointment. I'd have been happy enough with that, but then the third staff member, who'd been raising and lowering and prodding and rattling the lift, made a triumphant sound and opened the bottom gate. And they all looked at me, expectantly, and my PA and I looked at each other, in horror.

See, stranded at the bottom of the stairs with a non-functional lift is not too much of a problem. You are effectively locked out of the building, but you can cut your losses and get from where you are to just about anywhere else - including your car and your house. Stranded at the top is a different matter entirely. You are effectively locked in and can't go anywhere.

Did we trust this lift to not only get us safely to the top, but also to deliver us back to the bottom and let us out again?

Well, no, not really, but three volunteers, none of whom were dressed for being outdoors in October, were standing around waiting for us to embark - one with a very pleased grin at his success in opening the gate - and I wasn't up to an argument. We rolled on and did our best not to wince as the gate clanged shut behind us.

Now, to be fair, once we were inside the building everything went marvellously well. Since I'd already explained my situation and had a certain amount of advice from Volunteer Two, I didn't have to queue behind all the people who'd walked in while I was sitting at the bottom of the lift, she just carried on sorting out the referral as she would have done if I was still outdoors. It was arranged that an outreach worker specialising in disability would call me in the afternoon to arrange an appointment at a rather more accessible premises that also happens to be nearer to my end of town. Pleased with this, we left.

Or tried to. Because, unsurprisingly, the bottom gate refused to open, and this time, we were on the wrong side of it.

Now, I'm going to take a moment to describe this lift. An effort - a very creditable effort - has been made to make it fit in with the surrounding architecture. Or to put it another way, the safety barrier all around the lift is five-foot-tall black iron spiky railings, to match the ones adorning the other houses. However, it is difficult to feel the proper appreciation for such attractive and thoughtful design when you are trapped inside it and staring out through bars getting gently drizzled on, while a couple more volunteers, neither of whom were present at the original effort to open the bottom gate, poke and prod and make useful observations such as the fact the top gate opens.

This in turn made us late (not to mention cold, bedraggled and miserable) for the Social Services meeting, but at least we had a good excuse.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Following on from my previous post, I was not successful in contacting the Citizen's Advice Bureau this evening as per the advice on the front page of the DLA form.

We're not talking about getting the form filled out for me, or anything. We're talking about getting through to a receptionist of some sort to try and make an appointment to get some "proper" advice at a later date. Or possibly to ask if there's a different local organisation I could approach for help.

I got home from work and started playing the redial game right up until 7pm when the line closes. All I got was a 'busy' tone.

They're closed all tomorrow, so I'll try again on Wednesday - might get my PA to take me to their office in town, although I can't play their "sit in reception until someone's available" game as I have one of those previously mentioned Social Services meetings to attend halfway through the day.

Like I said before, it's not the fault of the volunteer-staffed, underfunded CAB. But I think it's bloody cheeky of the DWP to advise me that for help with their bureaucracy, I need to access a service that is so flooded with demand that I can't even get through to speak to a receptionist on the phone.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And then the rain came down

Things have suddenly become Busy here in the land of Mary. Let's see, where were we up to...

The Second Job has started and is going well. Access to Work agreed that I should have an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, which I bought and they should be refunding at the end of this month. I also explained about how I would be mostly working at home but would occasionally need transport to go to what you might call Company Headquarters, in order to be shown how to do things, or given materials to work with, or to speak to my manager in person. So instead of being approved for "up to 10 journeys a week" (eg five trips To and five trips From work) like I am for my main job, I've been approved for "up to 104 journeys a year", which on average is a To and a From each week, but acknowledges that my working pattern is very, very flexible.

I had a second attempt at the chocolate cornflake cakes, this time using proper dark cooking chocolate. It worked much better than my Galaxy/cocoa powder/water combination. I'd show you a picture, but we ate most of them at knitting night. It probably would have been all of them but we felt we should save one or two for Steve. I would like to thank the ladies for sincerely congratulating me on my achievement without any sniggering.

I got my Direct Payments Monitoring Return completed and sent off. The stamped printout of the transactions for the period covered by the missing statement never did arrive - no idea whether that's the fault of the bank, or the fault of the Royal Mail, although I know which I think is more likely - so instead I made copies of the wage slip and BACS slip for that month and added a post-it note explaining that the statement was lost in the post, but this is what went in and out of the account and look, it tallies up with the end balance on the previous statement and the start balance on the next one. I'm sure they'll contact me if that isn't good enough.

So yeah, all in all I was feeling pretty proud of myself for keeping on top of it all and having everything ticking over.

And then the rain came down.

In among the self-perpetuating drizzle of increased pain levels because of the damp and cold, and grottiness because of increased painkiller side-effects, and getting frustrated and stressed because the grottiness makes it hard to think and the pain makes it hard for me to move so I can't DO things, and extra pain because the stress makes me tense, round and round and round, are a couple of real thunderclouds.

Firstly, my PA told me of a couple of issues that may affect her ability to work for me. I respect her confidentiality as I expect her to respect mine, so all I'll say on that front is: she's a great PA, I'm happy employing her, she's happy working for me, and it isn't anything that either of us have "done wrong", it's just one of those things. But what I can say is that, as an employer, I'm having to increase the gradient of my learning curve to perilously steep levels in order to keep up with what our respective rights and responsibilities are in this situation. I'm also having to spend a few extra hours on the phone and having meetings during the daytime, which interferes with my ability to save enough spoons for work.

Secondly, it's DLA time again. The form is a new one - shaved down to 40 pages of personal and depressing questions rather than the 50+ it was previously - but from what I can see, this has mostly been achieved by trimming down the spaces given for the non-tick-box questions. For instance, the question about help needed to take part in "hobbies, interests, social or religious activities" used to be close on three pages. Now, they provide two 5cmx16cm boxes, one for activities at home, one for activities when you go out. Which I guess is more than adequate if you don't need much help, but if you don't need much help, why would you be applying for DLA?

So Monday evening will be spent trying to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau by telephone (the local CAB is only manned four days a week, for five hours at a time, most of which I am at work). I'm hoping my combination of disability and having a job will be enough for them to allow me to make an appointment. Obviously I'll have to take time off work for such an appointment, but it would still be much better for me than the usual process where you go to the office and sit in the waiting room for however many hours it takes until someone becomes available, and if they don't become available, you come back the next day. It's not the fault of the CAB, who are staffed by volunteers and chronically underfunded for the amount of support they are meant to provide. But it does make it that little bit more inaccessible for those who need it, and it's another thing that shouldn't be soaking up my limited annual leave allowance.

Every time, this makes me angry. Services and support tend to assume a disabled person has an infinite amount of spare time, energy, money, learning capacity, and administrative ability at their fingertips. Get off benefit! Go to work! Squeeze all this crud in on top! How?