After having seen hundreds of clients regarding their benefits, one cannot help but notice the different attitudes with which these have come for help.
There are those who are really sickly, breathless, unable to walk, depressed, etc who only ask for some help to get better. Some are so ill I would suspect they would never be able to work.
There are also those who are very sprite, very vocal, very well-dressed and very adamant that they have decided that they are not well enough to work for the rest of their lives. So someone else must pay for their livelihood and several children.
[It also puzzles me that women who claim to be so ill they could not work are not too ill to have children with men who are not their husbands.]
Yesterday my first client was from a country where he has no rights to benefits if he is not self-supporting. He is homeless and has been sleeping in a park and the temperature has been sub-zero for days. He had been a hardworking person until he lost his job. Somehow managed to get onto Jobseekers Allowance (JSA, which he is not actually entitled to), found a job, informed JobCentrePlus (JCP) as one should, but lost his job again.
When he tried to apply for JSA he was told that the rules had changed. They had not changed. Someone at JCP made a mistake. Now this man thinks he is eligible for JSA because he had been on JSA. My manager has to step in and even then did not manage to sort him out. (Manager has special numbers to call.)
Then Z, single mother with two teenage children and a five-year-old. She had been moved from Incapacity Benefit to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance), and in the process her income has dropped drastically. She has also to apply for Child Tax Credit (CTC) to make up the shortfall. She receives Housing Benefit (which pays her rent) and Council Tax Benefit (which pays her Council Tax).
She had seen another staff member whom she insisted on calling the 'manager', implying that I was not good enough for her. [Did she think that because I am Chinese and not white like the other staff I was inferior? Was I facing discrimination?] She wanted me to call the tax office to harass them to expedite her Child Tax Credit application. Her situation was dire. She had received her ESA payment but it went straight via direct debit to pay her gas and electricity.
I said, why are you paying so much for gas and electricity? She explained that there is a lot of damp in her house/flat. When I checked with my manager later, she suggested that Z stopped paying her gas and electricity for a while if she did not have money to feed her children. Z said she was afraid that she would build up debts.
She had been previously advised to apply for a 'Crisis Loan' but client said it is only for £100 and it will not be enough. Enough for what? I thought. If she does not have money for food or shoes for her son, as she claimed, then she must apply for the loan. In her notes we also read that she was referred to a food bank, but she refused to go, saying that it was too far.
No, she wanted me to call and harass the Tax Office. I said they have asked her to submit some evidence and it was best that she did it as soon as possible rather than having me call them, taking up time they could use to process her case. Then she went on about how the previous manager who saw her knows all about her case and wanted to see this person.
When we see clients running from pillar to post trying to plug gaps in their finances on a regular basis we normally say, let's stop for a moment and think how we can try to resolve ALL these inter-related issues. One of these would be the damp in her house. That means she might need to move to another property.
I asked if she was fit to work and she said she was clearly not fit to work as the doctor says she is not fit to work. I looked at her medical certificate and it says "Back pain", no other details.
So I said, if money is always so tight, it may be worth her looking to doing some work in the future when her health has improved.
"O no. I came here today for help. I didn't come here today to be told that I have to look for work."
You know, by this time at the interview, I was not surprised at this comment. She had been very reluctant to divulge details about her medical condition, and kept saying the previous manager (who is not a manager) knows all about it. She refused to leave my office and so another manager (a real one) had to step in. (Two 'fails' in a day. That is a record for me.)
The manager told her to call the number I had given her to see if she could get an emergency CTC, which was what I told her. The manager promised to follow up the next day (something that I cannot do), and she finally left.
The truth is sooner or later her case will be up for review with a WCA (Work Capability Assessment) and she would almost certainly be deemed suitable for work being young, fit and quite healthy, and she will be back again, asking for help to appeal her case. She refused to contemplate working when she could work up to 16 hours a week and still keep most of her benefits.
Back pain is relative. I put my back out some years ago. The pain was excruciating. As soon as I could I started on Pilates classes to strengthen my back, and learned how not to strain my back muscles by using my abdominal muscles instead. For my own good health and peace of mind. For crying out loud I might live till 90 this side of eternity.
My knees have been bad for most of my life. I blamed it on the basketball I used to play and the cross-country I loved doing. They are so bad these days that if I did ANY running the knees swell up and the GP said it's the body telling me I must stop running on hard ground. So now, a bit like Mo Farrah, I can only run under water! Never did I think that I should sit back and do nothing.
But this client, probably 20 years younger than I, has no intention of getting better because she knows that her benefits will be reduced. What sort of warped thinking is this???