Back to Oldham foodbank last week, where I talked at length with Andrew Smith, 55 [there’s a transcript from the interview at the end of this post].
Keep Andrew in mind when you read about the extraordinary salaries and bonuses trousered by people who are responsible for the Carillion disaster. Ask yourself how we arrived time and place where people such as Andrew must grovel for food at a foodbank while Carillion chancers are paid unbelievable sums of money for risking and destroying vital public services and jobs.
How dare anyone claim that people such as Andrew are the leeches?
Makes me sick.
Andrew was at the foodbank, because the DWP had stopped his Personal Independence Payment. This meant that Andrew was down several hundred quid a month*. He said the local CAB was appealing the DWP’s decision on his behalf.
“I said the wrong thing [at Andrew’s face-to-face PIP assessment] and they [the DWP] stopped it [Andrew’s PIP]… I’m just hoping they give it me back, because if I don’t [get that money], I’m going to be in an absolute mess.”
He was right about that. Andrew’s chances of getting the money elsewhere at his age and with his health problems were zero.
Andrew had a schizophrenia diagnosis. He also had varicose veins which ran the length of both legs (I won’t forget seeing those). He said that it hurt to walk – a statement that was extremely easy to understand when you saw the state of his legs. The DWP didn’t give a damn about the state of Andrew’s legs, though – or any other aspect of Andrew’s life. The department stopped Andrew’s PIP about three months ago. Some genius DWP decision-maker had decided that a man of Andrew’s age and with Andrew’s health problems could manage without money or support – or, I suppose, that he could find that money and support elsewhere.
I despair at these decisions – or at the people who make them, anyway. The benefits bureaucracy is disgusting. It stops people’s benefit money and consigns them to poverty at the stroke of a pen. People are not even given lead time or a grace period to deal with such decisions. They just get a letter saying the money’s stopped, or not coming, or whatever. Benefit decision-makers who cut guys like Andrew loose know full well that the Andrews of this world have neither the health nor the opportunities to make up lost benefit or support money. They can see people’s paperwork and the bank statements. They know the dire financial circumstances that people will be left in when money is cut. The bureaucracy makes the decision all the same.
The government and the DWP know that Andrew will not step out of a PIP assessment and into a job. Job opportunities are especially scarce when people are older. I’ll punch the next worthy who says otherwise. I’ve lost count of the number of men who I’ve talked to at foodbanks and jobcentres who are in their 50s and 60s, who did manual work when they were younger and who are now on the scrapheap. Fitters and joiners, painters and decorators, general kitchen assistants: their health goes and they’re dumped.
Andrew said that in his working days, he had jobs on building sites:
“I did wet stone walling with sand and cement,” and, “I worked on canals and paths at Greenfield… building sites.” Needless to say, Andrew can’t do that work now. He’s too old for it and his health has gone, as health does in these circles.
“They [the CAB] have put an appeal [against the DWP’s PIP decision] into tribunal and the tribunal should get it me back… I’m very poorly. I’ve got schizophrenia and I’ve got very serious varicose veins. Horrible, love… I said the wrong thing [at my PIP face-to-face assessment] and they stopped it.”
Yeah. That’s what they do. The bureaucracy casts people adrift and lets them sink. There’s no justification for that, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum and no matter what you think people should or should not have done to “take responsibility” in their lives. I don’t pay my taxes to keep people like Damian Green on the payroll, or to line the pockets of the swindlers who’ve run Carillion into the dirt. I pay tax to keep guys such as Andrew from having to visit foodbanks.
I’m sick of this one rule for some and one rule for others stuff. It has to end. A Damian Green downloads porn at work, inflicts untold agonies on benefit recipients as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and gets to keep his MP job and salary. People of less privilege are punished for their choices and just for getting older.
What’s the justification for such alternate realities?
Interview transcript: [Andrew, 55, Oldham Foodbank, 5 January 2018]
[A fire alarm went off at Oldham foodbank that day. While we were outside, I asked Andrew for his views on Brexit. I usually ask people at foodbanks and jobcentres for their views on Brexit, because I want to know if people who are struggling in austerity are as obsessed with ideas of sovereignty and Europe as mainstream press and politics are].
I think… don’t know. It’s a difficult question. I’d have to have a really good think about the situation… but England is… basically…this is the British Isles. We’re just one now. It’s not just England. It’s the British Isles. It’s a difficult call, that. I don’t know what to say. I’d have to think about it.
On visiting the foodbank:
I’ve only been here three times before. The CAB said I’ve been here four times, but I haven’t.
I’m struggling. I get ESA. I was on PIP, but they stopped it. They have put it into tribunal [the CAB] and the tribunal should get it me back. I’m very poorly. I’ve got schizophrenia and I’ve got very serious varicose veins [Andrew rolled up his trousers to show me the veins]. Horrible, love. I said the wrong thing and they stopped it [Andrew’s Personal Independence Payment]. I had the problem before with it when I lived in Wales. I had it in me back then, so I’m just hoping they give it me back, because if I don’t, I’m going to be in an absolute mess.
At the moment, I’m losing £600 a month*, so I’m very depressed. I’ve got schizophrenia anyway and I’ve felt suicidal recently. But I have to see someone at [charity name unclear]. They put me onto the right people, yeah, the mental health team, so I’m having an appointment to see them. I’ll hear something off them and they’ll make me an appointment and I’ll have to go to it, cause otherwise I won’t get my money back.
About three month ago, the PIP stopped… two month, I think. The CAB is helping me with the appeal. I go to the men’s groups on Tuesday and I go to the thing on a Wednesday – the cooking thing – and I see the CAB on a Wednesday. Also, I go to the lunch on a Friday, the one at [unclear] street, you know, [near] Tesco. They open… now, I have a load of nice friends who go there. I’ve had to keep myself occupied, because I have felt, like, terrible. I’ve felt suicidal, because of the fight of this government and what they’re doing the benefits, and all that. It’s all wrong. It’s terrible. I should get it back…yes. I got DLA before that. Then, they shifted me to PIP.
Well, at the time I was very ill and they thought I were fit for work, but I weren’t. I don’t have to go to the jobcentre, no, I don’t have to hand in sick notes… I’m here for the rest of my life really, but I need to get my PIP back.
Mum and Dad live in Thornton and he is exactly… they own their own home [unclear] and the guy who lives next door to me mum and dad, he’s an author. He wrote a book about Thornton.. Cleveland – me dad, I love me dad to bits. He’s had metal rods in, because he had arthritis and had a triple heart bypass… he’s 78 years old.
Next year in February, me mum and dad have been married 59 years. Me mum’s had a coleostomy… she runs after me dad and me eldest son from me ex-wife. He’s been in the army. Now he’s building houses all over. She cleans and that. She manages to go line dancing twice a week. She goes to the local church to make money for the cake stall. She is absolutely amazing. Me dad – I was talking about God to me dad. He said, “never mind God, Andrew. Nelieve in yourself.” Do you know what I said to him? I said, “Dad – you know the nearest thing to God?” and he said, “what?” and I said, “it’s you,” and I meant that, because he is.
We [Andrew’s family] flew over to Berlin in 1963 and he [Andrew’s father] joined the army and they were going to buy a house on [name unclear] road, me mum and dad in Oldham. Him and two of his mates had been for a medical for the army. Me dad came back and said, “me mate’s failed [but] I passed. I’m joining the army. You’ll have to fly over to Berlin to married quarters, I’m going to get married quarters… so that’s all December… honest to God, we flew all the way there. coming back, wow. That was the last time I’ve been on an airplane in my life – coming back from Berlin when I was two. Oh my god. With these legs, I don’t think I’ll be on an airplane again, do you?
What happened [to my legs]? I had varicose veins. I am really conscious of them and they were really bad back even then, so they stripped them out in Royal Oldham. They stripped them out of both legs and then, because I didn’t do the exercises, because it was snowing, because I didn’t do the exercises, then they came back like 40 times worse. I’m not kidding. Now, if you saw me legs, the way they are, you would wonder how the heck is he walking. Honestly.
God’s keeping me going. It’s painful and when I get cramp it goes right up from me big toe to my groin. It’s nasty. Nasty pain. Look at me feet. Look at them.
I feel that with this and with losing me benefits – I feel like they want me to drown. Honest to God, the pain is immense and my back, it is hurting again…
I had been getting DLA [disability living allowance]. I used to work when I was younger… I did wet stone walling with sand and cement… I built a wall at the side of [the] dell… congregational church with a master builder called Jimmy and I worked at a suitcase manufacturer’s and it were called [unclear]. I worked on canals and paths at Greenfield building sites and everything else… and I do that and…[foodbank volunteer brings bags to Andrew]. Thank you. Thank you, love. I got to carry that. I better shift these. This will hurt me getting this home. It’s right over other side. It’s going to break me back this. When I get in, I will be absolutely shattered. I’ve got to do it though, haven’t I. I’ve got to do it myself.
- Originally wrote that I thought this might have been £600 over three months. Re-listened to recording & it says £600 a month, but there was also a discussion outside the foodbank when the fire alarm went off, so may have misinterpreted. Will aim to clarify when I return to the foodbank. Whatever the sum, the point I’m making stands: things are too hard for some people and too easy for company bosses who are rewarded with obscene amounts of money when they run a company and services into the ground.