We can’t stress too strongly that the damage of Westminster’s attack on the benefit system goes much further than its immediate impacts, and that was sadly evident at this weeks’ stall. If our last two weeks’ stalls were relatively quiet, this one made up for them.
Almost the first person we met had been bumped off ESA, and the subsequent stresses were making his condition worse. This was not helped by the jobcentre having lost a crucial letter so he was waiting for a week’s back payment. We spend a lot of time advising people how to proceed through the minefield of Mandatory Reconsideration, JSA application, doctor’s notes and appeals (see the back of our Know Your Rights Leaflet), but – what is almost as important – we also listen to people and take them seriously, in sharp contrast to how they can be treated inside the buroo.
A woman described the worries and stress, as well as financial difficulties, of losing her sickness benefit after twenty years; and yet another person passed ‘fit for work’– who we advised to see Welfare Rights for debt advice as well as for help with an appeal – told us that the stress of it all was destroying his marriage.
Another woman was receiving ESA, but was suffering major fears over pressure from the jobcentre to look for work that she felt quite unable to cope with. We were able to tell her, to her great relief, that the jobcentre cannot make anyone on ESA apply for a job; but the stress of her situation was causing her to stammer noticeably when she spoke to people outwith her friends and family, although this was not a problem she had had before.
And then there was the young woman with two boys with special needs, and health problems of her own. As a result of bad decisions at medical reassessments, her household income had just dropped by £300 a week. She had taken out a mortgage previously when she had been in work, and now she was at risk of losing her home. Worse, her social worker had observed that her children looked underfed. Meanwhile, she was attempting to help her teenage friend who had grown up in care, but whose aftercare support seemed to leave a lot to be desired. The friend was pregnant and had been left with nothing to live on as a result of an eight- week sanction. Her treatment under this system will already be affecting the next generation. These two women were getting help from a dedicated volunteer, but the so-called welfare system was letting them down so badly in so many ways that we suggested that they take their cases to their MP or MSP.
All these knock on effects will have major financial as well as human costs, as they put extra stresses on health and social services. It can sound callous to put it that way, but the point needs to be made because it undermines the argument that governments can’t afford to put more money into benefits. In fact, even before looking at the ethical case, they can’t afford not to invest in decent social security.
As the picture shows, we also provide an occasional dog-sitting service. Thanks to Gary, Tony, Norma, Chris, Duncan and Jonathan for help with recent stalls – and especially Dave, SUWN stalwart, who is currently in hospital after succumbing to a heart attack, but who we expect to welcome back at his post as soon as he is well again.
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Yesterday I gave a talk about our SUWN book as part of Edinburgh Book Fringe. Here is the window of the Lighthouse Bookshop (formerly Word Power) ready for the event. – Sarah