Thamesmead resident Claudette Lawrence petitions government to improve assessment procedures for people with mental health issues

Claudette Lawrence has been campaigning for years to support people with mental health issues. The Thamesmead resident suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She was invited to No.10 Downing Street to advise ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was consulted by Ed Miliband during his time as Labour leader. She has started a petition that has around 70,000 signatures calling on the Government to improve their assessment procedures for benefits.

My name is Claudette. I am 49 and I am disabled. I have chronic health conditions and I have been ill most of my adult life.

Claudette Lawrence

When I tell people I am disabled, if they do not know me and have not met me, they assume I must be in a wheelchair.

Most of the conditions that I suffer from are invisible, which means they cannot be seen, and because of this I have faced a lot of prejudice and discrimination over the years.

When I tell people that I am disabled some look at me and say, ‘well what is wrong with you?’

My condition fluctuates. Some days I cannot get out of bed and spend a lot of time sleeping, some days I cannot wash or shower as it involves too much mental or physical energy.

Like today I am writing this article in bed. Sometimes my mood is really low and I feel really depressed and am unable to do anything.

My illness has robbed me of my career. I have had to give up three good jobs because I was not well enough to hold a job down.

I have been to university, studied law, and had some really rewarding careers such as managing a women’s refuge and working for Transport for London (TfL).

Some days I feel very upset about being ill, and think why me, but then I think there is always someone worse off.

People are misinformed when it comes to what a disability is or what being disabled is. As already explained, they assume that you must be in a wheelchair, in fact, only recently someone said that to me.

I explained that having a disability does not mean that you have to be in a wheelchair.

A disability, for the purpose of the Equality Act 2010, is “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”.

“Substantial and long-term” means more than trivial and long-term means 12 months or more.

Progressive means it gets worse over time, eg, someone may have chronic epilepsy and is unable to work because of how it affects them and another person may have the same condition but be able to work.

I think it is really important not to let your disability define you.

Another thing I find annoying is people assume you should not look after yourself so if you wear makeup you must be OK.

Try to look at the positives. Never give up.