Melanie Knights is 40 years old and lives in Newcastle. She is married with three children and has a spaniel dog called Oscar. She lost her job as a midwife in 2014 due to prolonged absence from work, primarily caused by arthritis.
She said: “I got up one day and the pain was so unbearable I literally couldn’t move. I had scans, x-rays and various tests before they eventually diagnosed degenerative disc disease.
“I’ve had a hip replacement since and have also been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a disorder of the connective tissue affecting the movement of my joints.
“I have a 2.8cm leg length difference which makes it hard to walk and I get intense back pain. My joints move around which makes me unstable on my feet and sometimes I’m embarrassed to go out. I thought things like this only happened to older people.”
Arthritis Research UK figures show that around 8.75 million people in the UK have sought treatment for osteoarthritis while musculoskeletal conditions account for 42% of all reported cases of work-related ill health.
Knights said: “I worked for the NHS as a midwife until 2013 but since losing my job last year I’ve lost my independence, my social life, my financial stability and life is unrecognisable from what it was a few years ago.
“I have inflammatory arthritis as well as osteoarthritis and its feels like I’ve had a million hospital appointments. There has been a significant impact on my family too and the support from my husband Jason and the family has been very important. He is now the main breadwinner and I need a wheelchair to walk distances and often use crutches.
“The Seven Families project will help with day to day life and the counselling and rehabilitation may prove to be just as important as the money.”
As part of the Seven Families project Melanie will receive £1,500 a month along with advice to help improve her home life, aid rehabilitation and hopefully support a return to work.
Peter Le Beau MBE and spokesman for the Seven Families campaign said: “The campaign provides a tax-free income for one year.
“Each family will have access to financial advice from a range of volunteering financial advisers to help with basic finances and budgeting and they will also have the opportunity to benefit from independent living, rehabilitation and counselling services.”
The campaign is led by Disability Rights UK, one of a range of services and projects run by the charity. These include the Disability Rights Handbook, now in its 40th year, which provides expert guidance on benefits and services for disabled people.
Jason Jaspal from Disability Rights UK said: “We campaign constantly for much faster and more effective support when somebody’s life changes through an accident or health condition.
“We hear from people daily who have to wait months for assessments (for employment and support allowance), while receiving ineffective or no support to resume work.
“This project will help us learn how different it can be when people do have resources, information and access to support on their own terms.
“We plan to draw on this learning to campaign for changes in social security and independent living support, which is in line with our aim to strengthen the voice of disabled people.”
Liz Sayce, CEO of Disability Rights UK, added: “We also want to test the difference it can make to get fast, effective support when you unexpectedly become disabled or develop a serious health condition, so you can get your life on track.
“Our campaign is for improved social security and independent living rights, for everyone – not the 2-tier system we have at present.”