1 Amount of money Dave had on 28 November 2016, Balby, Doncaster.
2 The longer caption contains better and worse news; Dave was getting paid the following day, his ESA benefit would go into his bank, he’d be able to buy cat food (for his cats and the increasing number of strays who visit), top up his phone, and his direct debits for bills would be paid for another fortnight.
It hadn’t always been so simple, Dave is still very thin (he can fit in the trousers he left school in) due to the malnutrition he endured as a result of being sanctioned twice in 2014. He’s also thin because he has terminal cancer, that he believes was brought on by the malnutrition. His diagnosis eventually ensured that he would be found unfit for work and thus entitled to ESA rather than have to submit evidence of 60 job searches per week.
Dave is 59, growing up in a pit village, he didn’t go down the mine but was rarely out of work until 2008. His training as a painter and decorator is evident in the skilled papering around his home.
The financial crash affected people far away from its epicentre. Whilst the boys in the city lamented a year without bonuses, Dave and his workmates were opening brown envelopes in the canteen. He used his redundancy to pay off any debts – as he was taught to.
Subsequent regular work proved nearly impossible to find and slowly debt returned. Signing on and claiming benefits proved difficult, the dyslexia that wasn’t diagnosed at school, thwarted his efforts to get details correct. To receive benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, some claimants must agree to undertake work-related activities which aim to help them move into work. Not completing these activities can lead to a sanction, where a claimant’s benefit payments are suspended for a period of time. The second time Dave was sanctioned he had volunteered for the Salvation Army, arriving back in Balby after the library – whose computers he used for job searches – shut for the day. Unable to evidence a day’s worth of job searching, he was sanctioned.
Dave described his second period of sanctions,
‘I had to use the foodbank, they charged £2.50 for food, I used to take this out of the £6 I had for the week after bills. “I’ll be having egg and chips for my Christmas dinner”, the claims advisor didn’t believe me, I told him come to my house, I had a loaf bread (24 pence) and a packet of salmon paste (3 for a quid), margarine 30 pence.’
There have been reports in the media of ‘scroungers’, ‘skivers’ and ‘benefit cheats’. In 2013 it was estimated that 0.7% of the benefits budget was fraudulently claimed. More was left unclaimed, or lost through errors.. Data from the Trussell Trust reveals that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank. Referrals due to low income have risen to 26%.
Dave only now receives ESA and PIP through the efforts of a job advisor based in his local community library rather than the town centre DWP office. His diagnosis, that he walked the six miles to hospital for, meant little to the DWP staff he showed it to originally –’you’re still fit for work’ was their response. This, despite falling asleep in the afternoons and getting weaker every day with diarrhoea. Staffed by volunteers, his local community library submitted funding bids in order to employ skilled job advisors. The advisors do not sanction anyone, and have a higher rate of getting people back into employment than the national average despite usually working with the ‘most difficult’ cases. Their funding (not from central government) ran out in March 2017. Without this local advisor’s help Dave said he was, ‘down and out’. Since the day of his diagnosis he was entitled to the benefits he now gets – with the first back payment he bought ‘two pairs of jeans for £12’ – yet the DWP staff didn’t redirect him to claim other benefits.
Even though he now receives the benefit he’s entitled to, Dave still struggles, £20.84 in his fortnightly list of payments is for the Bedroom Tax (also known as under occupancy charge or the Spare Room Subsidy) which was introduced in the Welfare Reform Act 2012. He spends more on this punitive expenditure than he does on his gas and electric. Outside of London most social housing stock is three bedroomed, like Dave’s home. The only single bedroomed flat available is a property that bars pets. Dave does not want to give up caring for his cats.