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Yesterday consisted of Macbeth rehearsals in French, the trying on of cat suit costumes, and an audition for Romeo and Juliet. All the while, I was on and off the phone to various people in preparation for a tour next year, whilst also emailing the temping agencies about my available dates so not to be out of work for Christmas, and walking everywhere instead of getting the tube (cat suit, 32 year old woman – enough said) – a typical 13 hour day, in fact.
I may complain, as we all do from time to time, but I love my work and cannot imagine not being able to work. I’ve only had three days off work in 16 years (four if you count the time 16 year old me thought WHSmith had half-terms like I did and so went bowling instead. Oops).
But what happens when you are self-employed and you get sick or become disabled? Who can help when you don’t have an employer paying you sick pay?
This is my step by step guide:
- Health insurance. Make sure you have your own health insurance, if possible. It will mean that you can get treatment quicker and hopefully get back to work quicker, as a result. Most actors are with Equity. They will pay a nominal amount of money for each day of work you have to miss (if you are still trying to work) and, if you are permanently disabled, you can apply for the total disablement fund through your insurance with them. Also, all self-employed trades will have the option for private or trade union insurance.
- Apply for ESA and PIP. To apply, your condition must be something that will affect you for longer than a few months and you will need a sick note from your doctor to prove this. In fact, get as much evidence as you can from any health practitioners you see.
- Contact charities. Do not be afraid to contact charities, as they can help with the cost of physio, and they can offer advice and support on benefits.
- Make a diary. Note down how your condition affects you. The people assessing you for benefits will probably not have medical training themselves, so a diary can help make things clearer in layman’s terms.
- Write to your local MP and to the Department of Work and Pensions. Get some parliamentary power behind you.
- Ask friends and family to help. Whether that’s with forms and phone calls if you are too ill, or financially whilst you are applying for benefits.
- Keep copies of everything you send and receive. Always send applications by recorded delivery/signed for. Do not allow there to be any loopholes that may stop your application being successful.
- Don’t give up and don’t give in. Do not let the demonisation of people on benefits, or the culture of disbelief, get to you. ‘Benefits’ has become somewhat of a dirty word, particularly over the last six years. When I went on Jobseeker’s Allowance for three weeks a few years back, I was searched like a criminal by guards at the Job Centre. I felt horrible and ashamed that I was going on it at all until my dad pointed out that I had spent 13 years paying tax which allowed others to go on benefits, and that was the whole point of paying in to the system. As a tax payer fortunate enough to not be on benefits anymore, helping others less fortunate than myself through no fault of their own is exactly where I want my taxes to go.
Ill health can sadly affect anyone at any time. Here is one couple’s story about coping when disability struck, and how benefits is helping them.
I am Looking forward to seeing I, Daniel Blake at the weekend which explores the benefits system through the eyes of a carpenter who has a heart attack and is told by his doctor not to return to work.
Nadia works as an actress. She also teaches acting and storytelling to adults at City Academy and is an associate for National Youth Theatre, directing young people and leading inclusivity training.