by Chloe Maclean
· Despite austerity being declared over by Boris Johnson, the action of the DWP does not seem to have changed. In fact, very little seems to have changed for ordinary people.
On Saturday night I met a young woman in Edinburgh city centre, Sarah*, sheltering from the rain underneath an alcove of one of Edinburgh Universities grand Grecian-style buildings.
She was hiding back from the visibility of the street, crying into the wall.
That day she had found herself, for the first time in her life, forced to beg after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the DWP and subsequently seeing her disability benefits—the ‘personal independence payment’—removed.
This decision by the DWP came as a shock to Sarah. She has epilepsy, a condition which causes her to have regular seizures and loss of awareness.
Despite experiencing no changes in her condition, a DWP assessment marked her as ‘fit to work’ because she can go up to two hours without having a seizure and instantly removed her personal independence payment.
Appeal means benefits freeze
The job centre told her she could appeal this decision, which she did, but they did not tell her that her remaining benefits will be paused whilst the appeal is being considered. Because of this, she has found herself homeless.
Because of her disability, Sarah had a high priority on the council housing list and was placed in temporary accommodation in a woman’s shelter in an area of town she did not know.
However, the women’s shelter charge a £30 per week fee as they provide amenities such as washing machines, which the council will not pay for. As such, Sarah has been forced to beg to stay in this accommodation.
After a day of receiving abuse, being propositioned for sex, and receiving almost no money whilst begging in Edinburgh, she is in complete distress.
She fears begging again, she fears sexual propositions from men, she fears losing her place within the women’s shelter, and she fears the prospect of homelessness becoming a long-term situation.
Sarah’ story is a Dickensian story that should be part of history rather than the present, and a story that we increasingly see.
Corrupt welfare system
The UK is the 5th richest country in the world, and Edinburgh the second richest city within the UK. Sarah’s situation isn’t inevitable, there is enough wealth to support Sarah and many, but it’s a situation that governments and councils choose for their people.
This welfare system is corrupt. It does not care for the welfare of those in need. The actions of the DWP have been deliberate in removing Sarah’s support with knowledge of, but no care for, the difficulties Sarah will face with no personal independence allowance.
The act of suspending claimants’ remaining benefits when an appeal is made also acts to discourage appeals and force acceptance of cuts.
As socialists, we campaign for a revolution in the economy and the welfare system to support people, rather than demonise them, demoralise them, and force them into precarious dangers of homelessness.
• *Name has been changed to protect anonymity