S. speaks

“This morning I woke up at 10.30 – gone downstairs, she’s doing the mail. –any mail? You’ll have to come back in an hour’s time. Walked round the block – go back – we’re doing change over, come back at 1.30. – please, just see if there’s any mail for me? You have to come back at 1.30…  just a simple answer to a simple question! – just tell me yes or no! – I’m pissed off….

I’ve got a lot of problems – doctors’ letters, nurses – I could see it sitting there… I thought I could – I felt like dragging her over the counter and strangling her – come back in an hour’s time! Is there any mail please!! Balls to this. I got this thing in my head, there might be some mail.  So I’ll have to go back this evening, and they’ll say why didn’t you get it this morning. Because they said….  I’ve been walking round… what are they doing to me? Come back in an hour’s time…

Lost me appeal. What done me in: appeal on the 30th april and by 5th may they had the answer – stopped my benefit. 2 months later I get a letter – you lost your appeal! Now I’m back to last year. I’m in shit street. But I am ill! Genuinely ill! I do the voluntary because…  but 2 months later I get this letter, here’s your p45, fuck off. They’ve stopped this, stopped that – I thought they were here to support me! I’m on me own, I been doing it all meself, all they do, they look on the bad points, not what you do to help yourself – I wrote a letter, dear staff, I can’t cope with this situation, I need help, support, I’m the one that’s doing the running around, I thought they were there to support me.

I went to the job centre to get an appeal form, this gentleman behind the counter said go back to where you live, use the phone, how can I do an appeal over the phone! Every job centre’s got an appeal form but this one, no politeness, no caring. I got to go to the doctor’s on Monday to have a blood test. The 6 week one for hep c, I got to see the housing woman, explain why I can’t pay the rent, can’t receive benefits, then see someone else about my benefit problems – I got to run around. Went to the doctor’s this morning, he’s got me a duplicate sick note. Wait for M. to come back from his holiday, then he’ll sort it out – get on the  fucking phone! Get it sorted! The housing people – I’ve got to explain explain. I don’t know why, why I’ve got to – they stopped my benefit – why? They think I’m fit for work, but I’m not fit to take on a full time job, with what’s coming my way. I punched the wall last night. I get one spare rib with rice for me tea… “you should get back here for tea time!” I said listen you’ve got a home to go to, I’ve got to eat what you give me, I got to depend on people who don’t give a shit about me, I’m walking on egg shells… what can I do in my room? I haven’t got a TV, I can’t relax. I go out gardening, when I get back it’s like what have you done to make yourself proud? – this is what we’ve brought you down to – it’s like being punished. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’d rather go to prison. I’d get TV, kettle, play station, tea bags….   health and safety: I can’t even have a kettle. My room’s like a rabbit hutch. Take away everything I’ve got, pride – I’ve had nothing but people saying what I don’t want to hear. I’m not a bad person. They look down on you like you’re a piece of shit on the bottom of their boot. It could have been an important letter! I’ll get back – there was a an interview for you at 2.30!! they’ll say it was my fault. Let me just read it and laugh and weep…

Without benefits since May 5. I kept ringing. M. said, you must wait for a letter. Now I’ve got to wait for another one. The psychiatrist wrote, M., the lot, and they go – you’re fit for work!..

Got to see the blood born virus nurse, then they got to assess me – I got to be mentally stable, for the hepatitis treatment. No one in this world is mentally stable. This member of staff said to me, you’re just a drug addict, you sit in your room  taking drugs and watching Jeremy Kyle on TV. The leopard don’t change its spots. I’m not on drugs, I’m a responsible person, do my voluntary, don’t take heroin or cocaine. “The leopard don’t change his spots!” How can they say that! “Sit in your room all day.” I don’t! “You do!”  I go out gardening! “You call that gardening!” I spoke to the manager. Do I get an apology? No. He was “misled by other people”. Better for me to go back on the gear. Is that what they really think of me? I’ll prove them wrong. I’ll get a urine sample. I’ll rub that bit of paper in that man’s face. I’m not doing anything wrong. I think you are! I’ve not touched anything for 19 months…   what have I done wrong, to be treated like this. If I’ve done something wrong, ok, belittle me. But I haven’t. Listen to me!  But I heard this, I heard that…  it’s gossip! Then it goes all round the staff. I’ve just gone to the office with a limp, by the time I get back to my room there’s a bloke standing there with a crutch. There’s no confidentiality. Sorry mate – I didn’t realise – who told you that? Keep your nose out of my business – maybe it’s me…

They wanted me to do this voluntary work. Trees for Life. I said you plant Trees For Life, I’m doing voluntary with Putting Down Roots, I said you dig your own grave! He said you can do this, you can do that, I explained to him I’m doing voluntary to help me move on in life, get back into society. Read that! I showed him the sick note. I’ve got something I like doing. He said you might like planting trees. I said I don’t like trees, I’m not a tree loving person. Forget about your voluntary organisation. I’ve got a lot of support from these people, from Putting Down Roots! I went to see the doctor, he gave me a sick note, they’re making you ill, he said.

It’s 5 past 9, you were supposed to be here at 9! They didn’t open the doors till 4 minutes past! Oh, we’re short staffed today. The way he spoke to me, like I was a piece of shit. I want proof of three interviews a week. I said, here, read this, applications, interview techniques… he said I haven’t got time to read this. He said you don’t want that, techniques, you want a job! I do need interview techniques. Think before you say something and all that. Nah, you can just go and get a job. Yes, but I’m not well. When I start my treatment do you think I can take this crap? I went down the doctor’s and said he told me we’ve cut your benefit. I said I’ve got the proof and you don’t want to read it. Who’s gonna employ me, that’s why I’m doing the voluntary, to get me back in society. When I give him the sick note he went aaaagh! I didn’t realise that! No, because you weren’t listening. I’m chronic hep C, a re-occurring junkie, anxiety, depression and I’m an alcoholic. Yes but you can still stack shelves.

I’ve got to have treatment. The treatment makes people miserable, lazy, depressed, violent -I’ve told the bosses what’s wrong with me, they said go on fuck off then. I’m in debt now £1600 since they stopped my benefits.

I wish I never went to the doctor’s. Having palpitations, hot and cold sweats, he took my temperature, blood test, half hour later; you got hep C mate. Shock horror…  for twenty years I was taking drugs, fought me own battles, did detox – that one mistake! I shared a needle. He’s dead now. We boiled it, squeezed it, washed it, everything, but….

Do you think I’m worth helping?  I said to the manager, you might as well throw me out.

I been there for 18 months. There’s people gone into bedsits and from bedsits into lovely flats – me, there’s somebody, it can’t be me, holding me back. Who’s deciding?  There’s somebody saying, see S. W., he aint moving out of this building. All the rest, they’ve come and gone, they’ve moved on. Thieves, drug addicts, vagabonds – what have I done? It’s just like – why me? What have I done wrong?  I had a bed sit for 5 years but now, you can’t have a kettle! You might burn yourself! We don’t think you’re able to cook for yourself. I used to cook fish and chips for 5000 people. Leigh Delamere services on the M4, just past junction 15. I’ve done everything possible, just don’t know what to do anymore.

You got to wait for your key worker to come back – this letter, it’s going round and round in my head. What will it say? Dear Mr Ware, we have received your… why couldn’t she just give me the fucking letter? Have I got a letter? I see my name on a letter. Second from bottom of the pile. W. You have to come back in an hour. I went down the City Farm, slipped the old donkeys some nipplewort. –you have to wait another hour… staff change over. To leave you in suspense.  It could be, oh! You’ve got an interview! Or, here’s the results from your blood test. Or the benefits people, oh, we made a mistake, Mr W.. All right I’ll see you tomorrow. I want me fucking letter! Rant and rave and a little cry. If it weren’t for me you wouldn’t have a job. It could be important. Or it could be, do you want to come to the summer fete.   No I don’t cos it’ll be pissing down with rain. When I sit with M., all he’s interested in, are you still drinking? And are you taking your tablets? He never says, how about your gardening. I come back thinking, what an achievement! “We’re not interested in your gardening. Are you still taking your anti-depressants?”  I go out there, feel happy and content, you’re not interested, I’ve got good points you know! He writes down the bad points. He never writes down, the people in the community feel good about what he does, no. Anti-depressants, drinking. He writes it down and puts it in the file.  But we’re all helping each other out, part of a team! No – anti-depressants, drinking, hep C. What about when we were in the paper? No. Anti-depressants. I can get to destinations, work in a responsible manner. No. You’re an alcoholic. But I’ve done great things this week! No. Have you had a drink today? I’ve got to. If they could appreciate me… he’s from Ghana. I got to eat chicken three times a week, broccoli three or four times a week, rice twice a week and badly cooked food for seven days a week. No Yorkshire pud with roast beef!  Spanish chef. Don’t you have yorkshire pudding? No. You get broccoli, roast beef, carrots, mashed potato and gravy. No Yorkshire pud! No. Celery in spaghetti bolognese! No tomato in the sauce! Mince out of a catering tin! I hate celery. She give me three quarters of a mushroom. She said, that’s mushrooms! I said, no, there’s four quarters to a mushroom, anything past four is mushrooms, that is a mushroom. I wouldn’t say, do you want an orange and then give you two segments. I want to eat mushrooms! I want to eat food!! Frozen bread the other fucking week.  She said, you can toast it. I said, I don’t like toast. She put it under the grill, it went all crispy. No! I told you I don’t like toast!

It’s like you’re being force fed. 5.30. I like to eat when I’m hungry!…”

S. wanted to talk so I just sat down with him and let him go and wrote down as much of it as I could. I think it’s the whole truth and maybe a little more than the whole truth. Since then another worker, a mental health advocate, has discovered that the reason, or a bit of a reason why he had the medical/appeal at the end of May but didn’t get an answer until early July, although they’d stopped his benefits long before, is that they thought he had a hearing at the end of June to which he didn’t turn up. They admitted that this was a mistake. The appeal procedure takes so long that S. is now being helped to make a new claim.  The new claim is being held up at the moment because the documents the mental health advocate requested were sent to the wrong address, and because most people’s mobiles don’t have enough battery to wait for a voice on the other end of the line.This incomprehensible epic has been going on for a year or more. S. is awaiting treatment for hepatitis C, and has been warned, and has heard from other people, that the treatment makes you feel absolutely dreadful. So he’s dreading it. He’s been told by a psychiatrist that he needs to be mentally stable before the treatment can start. He is naturally becoming a little more unstable all the time. He’s the same guy I wrote about the other day who just got fined £80 for pulling a bottle top out of his trainer and throwing it away.

Part of the problem as I see it – apart from the incompetence of the benefits people and their assessors – is that on the one hand he likes to defend himself against the idea that he’s a worthless, idle alcoholic/drug addict, and on the other he doesn’t feel capable of full time employment.  It’s not so difficult to understand: he’s somewhere in the middle, but the system doesn’t recognise any middle ground.  The result is that he has no benefits; he’s neither a job seeker nor is he disabled.
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