I thought I had it bad. Over lunch Marie from mental health services told me the following story.
She was shopping in town, when she came across one of her clients, looking distressed. The client has been off work with long-term mental health problems.
He told Marie, after some coaxing, that he had been called in for a health check by the Department for Work and Pensions last month. Two weeks later he received a letter saying his incapacity benefit was going up in April. But another letter was sent to him saying he was fit for work, IB had been stopped and he must apply for jobseekers allowance. Confused, he did nothing. So a week later he was wandering the streets with no money – and ran into Marie.
Over the next three days she tried phoning various parts of the benefits system, Newcastle, Plymouth, local offices – and suffered the usual frustration of being put on hold for what seemed like hours before being forwarded to another queue. Eventually, Marie secured an emergency crisis loan (half of what the client was receiving). They are currently appealing against the decision.
Of course, the client has not been sent on any back-to-work courses or interviews and no counselling has been offered to help him back into employment. A cynic might say it is all to do with saving a few pounds a week.
Marie ended with: “Later that day I heard about a report from Dame Carol Black, which echoed health secretary Alan Johnson’s call for an end to the sicknote culture. Cheers Carol.”
● E-mail your anecdotes and observations to firstname.lastname@example.org