Being on the front line of welfare reforms, we are constantly made aware that the founding aims of the welfare state are being turned on their head. People pay taxes and National Insurance contributions towards a system that once protected them, but now turns on them when they need it most, and then reduces them even further rather than raising them up. Denis Curran, the inspirational founder of Loaves and Fishes, damningly observed that the most insidious aspect of the Tory welfare reforms was not sanctions, hellish as they are, but the way that the DWP were getting inside the heads and messing with the minds of the very people they had a duty to care for. We see evidence of this at almost every stall, and recent experiences strongly suggest that the problem will worsen as UC takes further root.
We are coming across too many people who blame themselves for the problems that commonly ensue when a person goes onto UC. Some folk beat themselves up because they don’t know how to use a computer; others describes themselves as ‘stupid’ when forgetting about an appointment, and accept responsibility for getting themselves sanctioned. But, should we be surprised? When folk who have next to nothing are relentlessly berated to stand on their own two feet and to take responsibility, when they are often at their wits end, it is little wonder that some give in to fear and loathing.
Ingrid, in her late twenties, perhaps early thirties, started to break down when recounting how her husband had died two years ago. She was completely bereft, and embarrassed that she has had to move back in with her mother, who is also on UC, but has no bed to sleep on. We advised her to approach Shelter or CAB and to ask to apply for a crisis grant through the Scottish Welfare Fund. At the same time as we were dealing with Ingrid, Robert introduced himself to us. Robert had been turned down for a Welfare Fund crisis grant and was without any money, gas or electric as he awaited a decision on his UC claim. We could, at least, arrange a food parcel for him, courtesy of Taught by Muhamad. Truth to tell, I did not get the full details of Robert’s case, as the stall was busy and we were juggling two or three cases at the time. I do, however, remember the look on his face, as it is one we are seeing a lot of: a mixture of puzzlement, resignation, fear and loathing – the look of someone on the verge of giving up.
Our message to people in this situation is simple – remember that you are not on your own. We will provide support and info on the help folk can access to improve their position, but the most important service we can provide is instilling confidence in folk to represent themselves, so that they can break out of the isolation that often follows in the wake of unemployment and disability.
Duncan, Katie, Jonathan and Tony were on this week’s stall.