Friday, 29 November 2013

Hard to imagine

Imagine if you can living a life running away from care homes and foster carers; of developing a drug addiction; not finishing school and ending up serving a short prison sentence. Imagine on your release your absolute determination not to go back. Imagine all this and only just turned 18. This means you are in charge of your own destiny now.

Then what might happen is that you end up in a hostel with a series of agencies dipping in and out offering 'support' . Support from amazing people wanting to do their best but with restrictions and huge workloads. Support that seems to diminish every week. 

Imagine you find your Income Support is stopped because you have dropped out of your college course. You couldn't attend though because you were in prison. No one from college has kept in touch and seems interested in finding out if you might want to go back. You don’t really know if there was any liaison with them when you were in prison. 

The computer generated letter (stopping your Income Support) doesn't know that you have no food; no deodorant; no soap powder. The letter does not see or care about your desperation not to go back to prison. Doesn't see you pacing up and down dealing with the reality that your only experience of getting money in the past is through robbing.
Then you have to be grateful. You are desperate to find work. So while the computer generates your Job Seekers Allowance application you have no option but to wait.

 A supporter gets you a food parcel. You are humiliated and grateful but the parcel contains food items that are alien to you. Then another supporter gets you a small grant. £20 a week. You have to be accompanied to the shops to spend this as receipts are becoming increasingly vital for charities to evidence their spending. You, having lived a chaotic life might not remember to get the receipt. You might be tempted to buy something frivolous like a small gift for your girlfriend's birthday. You understand this but you feel like a child.

You sign up enthusiastically to the Universal Job Match scheme, having been reminded by your supporter that it is voluntary. Lack of access to the internet is a real barrier but you think there are places you can do it from. You are realistic about your career options. No care work or retail jobs for you with your criminal record. The jobs you might do though seem to require internet access or ability to travel. You have neither. 

You struggle with the system and with building structure into your life but don't want to keep asking for help. You fail to fulfil all the job search requirements and your benefit gets suspended pending a decision to sanction you. Just like that. No call to a meeting to discuss how you are coping with this new world. No training on the system to make sure you understand it. You cannot appeal until a decision has been made to sanction you. You have no money. The computer generated letter does not care about this.

Once again you are reliant on others. An application for another food parcel and for another emergency grant. None of these come from our social security system that is supposed to support you and help you get on your own two feet. No. Support that comes from wonderful volunteers and local people's generosity. Are you happy being reliant on charity you ask yourself. It's confusing.

You sit anxiously while your supporter gets in touch with Head Office, because all you can think of is how hungry you are. Based on their advice you head back to the Job Centre to get a form to apply for a hardship grant. You are sent away and told you cannot just fill in a form but you need to see your adviser. You haven't got a named adviser, but didn't feel confident to tell them.  You walked away. 

Your supporter listens as you swear and pace. They make a further two calls to a central number on your behalf. They seem to understand what is happening and they offer to go back to the Job Centre with you. It seems your Job Centre deals with hardship paperwork differently. It is so confusing.

It embarrasses you that you need a supporter with you. You watch on as they are treated differently to you. For a moment you think they too will be sent away, but they seem more certain and get you an appointment. You have to wait four days though. You have no money. 

Your supporter is impressed with your ability to recite your National Insurance number. That number is more important to you to remember than your name.

This is the reality of a system that is broken. One that lets down vulnerable young people every day. Maybe I am imagining things though. We are talking about people not numbers..right? Imagine that.

No comments:

Post a Comment