"Cheap Ice Cream and Pasta"


Mark B, a member of the Welfare Change Lived Experience Group, shares his experience of claiming benefits.

I guess I should begin with the notion that I am schizophrenic. Paranoid Schizophrenia was my diagnosis in 2001.

Since then. I have done my best to find a job, keep it and develop a career. However, given the side effects of my illness, a career never materialized, but I can assure you that I did my very best.

From 2012 to 2015, I was lucky to finally work as a support worker in a large single homeless hostel. In 2015, I was relieved of my duties.

Since then until around 2019, I relied on ESA and the lowest possible rate of DLA. When my DLA wound up, as it did for most people, I was left with barely anything to live on. To say lived on is a crap expression, moreover to try to survive on. With that miniscule money, I had to pay bills, rubbish food, council tax and tobacco. There was nothing leftover. And an enduring sense of dread of what I could afford to eat (mostly cheap ice cream and pasta).

As a result, I found myself obese and very unhealthy.

As soon as my DLA ran out, I applied for PIP and with the help of my local Advice and Guidance Centre, we were able to fill out the initial application for PIP. We put it together, made a copy and they sent it to the right address.

Not too long after, I was given the dreaded physical and achieved maybe one or two points. Mostly because of the bacon sandwich I ate earlier and the resultant ketchup stain on my jumper.

That was all the medical evidence I had to give them. A ketchup stain on my jumper! I had no idea how to access my records from my GP practice unless I forked out £80 and waited at least two months.

Bearing in mind that the closing dates for PIP are literally a matter of weeks, that was not a viable option. Also, I was broke as a church mouse.

Because of a lack of medical evidence, I had to go through the whole system. The initial form, then the assessment, the rejection, the rejected appeals and finally almost a year later the tribunal. And by that time, there was still no medical evidence.

They had to adjourn the tribunal to get the medical records for another month before I could go back to a retrial.

Finally, the DWP and the tribunal did receive my evidence after countless weeks living on cheap ice cream and pasta, entire social isolation and struggled like crazy just to eat.

Finally, after all that drama, the stress from the appeals, the stress from the tribunals, terrible health from poor diet and freezing living conditions, I have a bit more money in my pocket and have a slightly better quality of life thanks to the DWP finally having access to my records.

Expert Link have been funded by the Lloyds Foundation to facilitate the Welfare Change Lived Experience Group. If you want to change your practices to improve access to benefits for people experiencing multiple disadvantages, please get in touch and find out how the Welfare Change Lived Experience Group can help you!