a reply to: Silure
I’ll give you an example of someone I know who was in poverty. He’s 20 and receiving Universal Credit. There’s no parental support available,
both parents are dead. He was in a homeless unit. Rent was covered by Housing Benefit.
He was entitled to £251 pcm for himself plus a contribution towards his rent. The £251 was docked by £42 pcm because he received two UC advances.
There was a further deduction of £78 pcm because Housing Benefit didn’t fully cover the homeless unit charges.
That left him with £131 pcm to feed and clothe himself, equiv to £30 each week. From that he’d also to pay his fares to attend the Job Centre, to
attend job interviews, to attend back to work sessions and to pay for his mobile phone, not a luxury but absolutely vital to log into his UC account
and to carry out his searches for work.
Last month, he didn’t have the money to pay for the bus fare to attend a job centre interview. His job centre is 9 miles from where the homeless
unit is, the more local Job Centre having closed down last year.
He did the right thing. He phoned them to let them know. They said that was OK and that they’d put a new appointment onto his account. But they
didn’t. Instead they marked him as fail to attend and closed his claim. He didn’t know about this for 9 days. You see, not only didn’t he have
his bus fare, he didn’t have the money to top up his phone to log into his account either.
That cost him 9 days personal money, an absolute killer. That’s bad enough. But it also lost him 9 days Housing Benefit for his rent for the
homeless unit. So he was then £460 in arrears with his rent for them too, with no way whatsoever to pay it. They were on his case to get it paid.
Me, family friend from way back, I happened to meet him when I was out walking the mutt. We’d played kick about when he was a kid, a neighbours boy,
he was at school with my nephew. I lost touch with him when he started secondary school, typical teenager.
He’s average height I guess, 5’8” maybe, 5’9”. He’d always been round faced, not a fat boy, just acceptably upholstered. And there he was
sitting on a park bench, now seven stone nothing, a rake of a boy, so drawn and haunted in his eyes.
I knew there was something wrong just by looking at him. But it was more than that. I’m just an old fud, right, I know my place in this world. But
here he was this youngster talking away, overly friendly, overly chatty with a smile on his face. But it was his eyes, man, just his eyes, slightly
teary, so much pain in them yet he was making out like all was good. I knew something was terribly wrong.
He asked where I was going, I said back home to drop the dog back, then to Tesco. He asked if he could come with me, no problems says I.
He was chatty as we walked. Talking about Rangers, Celtic, football in general. We got to Tesco and I went to the ATM and lifted £100 to give him. I
knew he must have money worries just looking at him, although he himself at that point hadn’t mentioned any of the financial problems above. I gave
him the cash, he looked astonished, making out as if he didn’t need it, that he couldn’t take it.
As you enter Tesco, there’s a sandwich bar at the front door. He asked if it was Ok if he could buy something, your money Son, I said. He picked up
a huge, family sized tub of pasta salad, paid for it and asked if I minded if he had a little bit of it there n then. So we went back outside and I
swear to God, the boy demolished that whole tub within 5 minutes. It could’ve fed an army, too.
We went back into the supermarket, i bought my bits n bobs, he bought a couple of tins of soup, tea bags and some milk. He didn’t need much, he
said. He asked if he could walk me home. His mood noticeably improved as we walked along. He must’ve wanted to return to the supermarket as soon as
he could, without me so that he could buy food without anyone knowing how desperate his plight was, but no he walked me home.
Brave face on him. But he was anxious. Physically and mentally deteriorating. And alone. Yet so dignified in the way he carried himself, thoughtful,
polite, trying so hard to be cheerful but failing to quite hold it together.
He disclosed all his issues to me, well, to the missus really. Bit tearful, big hugs. He’d tried for a food bank but you need referred to get one.
And the woman at the council who dealt with that had been off.
We logged into his UC account, I read his online payment statement, disgusted at how little he was left with, with so much being deducted. We followed
the online instructions and submitted a “mandatory reconsideration”, asking that they look at the missed appointment and explaining why he
hadn’t attended. I thought it would take a week or two for them to look at it. I worded it so well. It couldn’t fail. We asked for the advance
repayments to be deferred for 3 months.
It was during cuppa tea number 2 or 3 that his phone pinged with a text, asking him to log into his UC account. They’d made a decision, only 14
minutes after we’d submitted it. A straight refusal to pay him the 9 missing days. His reasons for not attending weren’t good enough, that plus he
was late in applying for the reconsideration.
No mention that they misinformed him whatever. And they hadn’t even considered the deferral request (still haven’t, btw).
Now, I don’t quite know where I’m going with this, if only to say this is the reality of claiming Universal Credit and benefits in general.
You’re just a number. No one actually cares. Nobody gives one flying fook. It’s because of situations like this that the use of food banks has
exploded because there is literally nothing else available. There’s so little help for guys like him. It’s an absolute tragedy.
Help that should be there, money advice, housing advice, specialist advice for younger people ... it’s just not there. And if it is, there’s long
waiting times to get an appointment to be seen, so long that people just give up.
I want a better future for boys like him. It doesn’t have to be like this. There must be a better way to do these things, it’s not joined up at
all, he’s just one of the many who have fallen foul of “the system”.
His situation now ? The intervention of his MSP got him his own flat. The council had “lost” his housing application form, you see. Housing
Benefit has paid the missing 9 days rent money on the grounds that he had zero income. An appeal has been submitted to DWP but the wait for that is
over a year before it will be heard. Friends have rallied round and provided him with the things he needs for his flat, mainly second hand but it’s
all his, no more debt. And he’s starting university in September. We’re in regular contact with him, the missus has basically adopted him and
he’s a regular at Sunday dinner. He’s putting weight on again, back to playing football and a lot happier. A good outcome but it could’ve been
so, so different.
That’s the reality, matey, that’s the reality.