As a result of welfare reforms by the British government, thousands of people living with HIV in the UK are facing the very real prospect of not being able to afford basic amenities like regular meals.
The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) released a new report this week detailing how last year it saw a 63% rise in the number of people needing emergency help from its HIV assistance program, all because the claimants’ welfare benefits had either been cut or stopped entirely under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition’s welfare reforms.
The trust’s HIV & Poverty report is based on an analysis of nearly 2,000 applications that were made in 2012 to its Hardship Fund, which allots £250 as an emergency grant. The data sets also include figures recorded throughout 2013. Together, they paint a grim picture.
According to the report, the majority of awarded grants were used to cover the basic cost of living, for example paying for food (47% of requests) and clothing (10%). Furthermore, the report also manages a sideways glance at the way the government’s welfare reforms, attacked by critics as being overly hostile to those in poverty, are dogging those living with HIV. Almost 86% of applications were made by people whose benefits were “under review” or had been stopped altogether. †The number of people who needed and received more than one grant per year also rose over 2012 and 2013 by 42%.
Since coming into power, the coalition government has systematically changed sickness benefits in ways that, HIV charities have warned, have disproportionately affected people living with HIV. For instance, changes to what is known as employment support allowance criteria have in many cases led to those living with HIV to be cut from sickness benefits entirely despite the fact that the severity of their HIV symptoms have not improved.
On average, the amount of money an applicant was receiving every week was just £49 (about $82). To put that in perspective, the minimum wage is £6.31 for over 21s. It doesn’t take much math to work out that without assistance, those living with HIV could have to survive a week on as little as a day’s pay at minimum wage, something that is unsustainable for any protracted length of time.
Paul Ward, Acting Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, is quoted as saying: “In an age when highly effective treatments mean people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, it is nothing short of a disgrace that HIV and poverty should still so often go hand in hand. Last year, one in every 40 people diagnosed with HIV applied to our Hardship Fund. †… †The numbers in this report should act as a warning sign at all levels of government that people with HIV are not receiving the level of support needed to meet the most basic of costs. It is vital that people with HIV are fairly assessed and that financial support is sufficient to allow them to eat, clothe themselves and stay warm, and ultimately regain long-term financial security.”
Meanwhile, David Asbo of the British HIV Association and a recognized clinician, has revealed he has proscribed supplements for people living with HIV because, otherwise, their HIV treatment will be less effective. He is quoted as saying:
“Sometimes I have to prescribe food supplements to help them. If this is one of the unintended consequences of benefit changes, I think it’s very important that it’s looked at. About 70 to 80 per cent of all treatments for HIV have to be taken with a meal. Thatís critical to the success of these treatments, and they have to be taken regularly and on time. Taking [medication] with food optimises the absorption and has an impact on effectiveness. There’s one treatment that has to be taken with a 400-calorie meal; there is evidence that, if you take it on an empty stomach, that compromises the treatment.”
To tackle this issue, the Terrence Higgins Trust is recommending a number of solutions. Chief among them is that the government must reconsider its welfare assessment criteria to ensure fair and impartial evaluations (free from targets to cut the number of claimants) and takes into account the need to cover basic living costs.
Furthermore, the Trust calls on the British government to work with local authorities to ensure that they are also properly assessing and meeting the needs of their residents. †The Trust is also calling for an inquiry into the welfare reforms and how the situation for people living with HIV has been allowed to get so serious.
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