I’d like to share Tom’s story:
Tom is one of a number of people I met whilst walking the dog down our local park. You know how it is, the dogs get on and you can’t help but get to know folk. I now stop and natter with Tom for a few minutes very now and then.
When I first met Tom he was living with his girlfriend and their son. They were living on benefits and her part time earnings. Tom was desperate for work, but suffers from epilepsy, and has unpredictable and severe fits. Although he trained as a motor mechanic he hasn’t been able to keep jobs as he’s injured himself when he collapses. Garages can be a dangerous place when you have this condition.
Tom was getting by okay until the credit crunch came, and with it the huge changes to the welfare system. His girlfriend lost her job, then Tom was reassessed as fit for work by the Work Programme reassessment interviews. His benefits were cut as he was put on Job Seekers Allowance and soon after his girlfriend went back to her mother as their relationship went into melt down.
In April this year Tom fell foul of the bedroom tax, as he was left in a two bedroomed flat and was underoccupying. He’s desperate to move out, but the Registered Provider is in a very high demand area with thousands affected by bedroom tax, and he’s been told it could be years before he’ll get a move. After paying £12 per week bedroom tax, he’s left with £27 per week, but with fuel and other utility bills he only has about £9 a week for food for himself.
Deemed fit for work by the government but considered too risky by employers, his efforts to find work have been fruitless. The epilepsy is an easy excuse for employers to turn him down. He’ll often look like he’s been in a fight, but it’s just the bruising from his latest collapse. It doesn’t seem to stop the Job Centre staff from making their constant threats of sanctions in the form of stopping the meagre benefits he’s on.
Tom was often very down even before the changes came, now he’s in a very dark place. The other weekend he had a fit at home, he knocked his TV off its stand and it smashed. This was his life line to the internet, and the only form of entertainment in an increasingly miserable existence. He’s no money to fix it. Last time I saw him he was openly talking to a couple of us about “ending it”.
Alex, one of the older dog walkers got really upset and has organised for us to do what we can to help. It’s so serious that a referral has been made to Social Services, in the hope they can help, and to intervene as we are really worried about the way he is talking right now.
Tom’s not on his own and it’s not just the unemployed that are affected. Between 2008 to 2013 earnings have risen just 5% but the cost of living has increased by 25% (source Child Poverty Action Group). There are 3 million households living in poverty and 76% report that they are living on less money than a years ago (Children’s Society Survey). The government sponsored Child Poverty Commission reported that there has been an increase of 275,000 households living in extreme poverty.
The Real Life Reform Project, run by 6 registered housing providers studying the impact of welfare reform on the lives of up to 80 tenants have found:
- 65% live on less than £10 per week after household costs.
- Average levels of debt were £2418 per household.
- 83% fear they will get into further debt this winter.
- 88% feel that their health is adversely affected.
So what are we doing about this?
Bolton at Home is doing what it can to help its tenants and the wider communities we work in deal with the tough challenges that lie ahead still. We’ve doubled the size of our debt advice teams, we’ve worked really hard on a financial inclusion strategy, and there are loads of good projects going on through our neighbourhood management teams to support people get into work, develop skills and training, and start their own businesses. We support our local Credit Union, and the local food bank.
This week we played our part in helping Friends of Fun Food to win the phone vote on Granada Reports, this project will be working in local communities, getting people together enjoying learning about making great fresh, healthy food on a budget.
What could you do to help?
We are very much all in this together, and now more than ever we need to pull together to help each other out. Here’s just a few ideas of simple things that might help you decide how you could help:
- Keep giving to the Grub Tubs
- Volunteer at the local food-bank
- Donate a recipe idea for a meal for a family for under £2 per week
- Join Hoot Credit Union
- Take a look at the Smarterbuys website, it might have something of use to someone you know
- Write your own blog and tell us your own story about someone you know or have helped deal with a food crises.
Food poverty is very real in the UK right now. Over the past two years 4,700 Bolton people have relied on the foodbank, and this Christmas the British Red Cross have launched a food appeal across the UK. Anything you can do to help us tackle food poverty and raise awareness of this would be really appreciated.
BY THE WAY, the names and the context of Tom’s story have been changed, but the story is very real. Tom doesn’t keep his dog anymore, his sister looks after it and feeds it as he can’t afford to. But he walks 3 miles every day from his flat to collect his dog and walk it around the park, it gives him something to do, something that helps him keep his dignity.
Ian Ankers is our Director of Housing Services. You can follow him on Twitter: @IanA_BaH