The Conservatives may like to lecture on the value of work, but since Sarah Jones – paraplegic, with chronic rheumatoid arthritis – took on a part-time job she has found herself under investigation for benefit fraud, and is struggling to feed her children.
Jones is not her real name. She tells me she feels as if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is “hounding” her, and she’s afraid speaking out will only make her more vulnerable.
Worry and shame are constants for people in her situation. She sits in lingering nerve pain, but when we talk the first thing she wants to stress is that “being on welfare isn’t a life I chose”. Six years ago she was a comfortable, healthy mother of two doing a job she loved as a teaching assistant. Then, at only 40, she broke her back. Overnight, she was paralysed from the waist down. Now she lives by stretching her out-of-work sickness benefit – employment and support allowance (ESA) – to cover bills, rent, and clothes for the boys.
As part of my Hardworking Britain series, I exposed the reality behind the government’s ‘permitted work’ agenda. Read the full column here.