Not everyone is middle-class with assets

Rachel and Jack1 are in their late thirties, with two young children. Both are immature but have worked hard on their relationship. Jack’s a self-employed window cleaner, odd job man, labourer and gardener. He’s hardly ever in steady full time employment. As the weather worsens in Autumn and Winter, they struggle for money and debts mount up. They get threatening letters, which they find hard to cope with. Both fear what the next letter will bring and so out of desperation they screwed shut their letterbox. Rachel was reduced borrowing from parents, friends and neighbours on the estate. She become adept at juggling money. She’d pay a bit to her nearest and dearest friends from her child allowance payments but was caught in a downward spiral of ever increasing debts.

The Authorities assess her partner as capable of finding full time employment. He argued he was working when he could get any. But that cut no ice with the official who interviewed him. Jack said to Rachel, “It was almost as if the interviewer, had a script printed on the inside of his eyelids and nothing would let him deviate from the formula or rules that the Government had devised”.

Reluctantly, the pair came to the conclusion they had to split up. Their plan was that Jack would move back into his Mum’s home and Rachel would keep the flat as the tenancy was in her name. But Jack would have to be reported to the CSA (Child Support Agency) for a sequestration on his earnings. Rachel was reluctant to take that step.

Her rent arrears was growing, like a millstone around her neck. When Jack came to visit; the couple were constantly bickering over things everyone else takes for granted. For example Rachel wanted a push chair for her two year old but even a cheap pushchair was £80-100 which they couldn’t afford. The day came when Rachel, spent a little over £5 on fish-fingers, oven chips and a tin of baked beans, leaving her with just 20 pence in her purse.

We bumped into each other as she returned from the school run. Asking if I knew how to access the nearest food-bank. I had to confess, I didn’t but said I would look into it on the computer. I was amazed. People in need of food have to go through a referral agency, before being allocated a voucher. Anyone turning up at a food-bank without a voucher, is turned away. Where would anyone get a voucher from? The website listed; Local agencies, Children’s centres, Housing Associations, Advice Charities and Mental Health Teams.

When I showed Rachel the list, she asked, “How do I get to any of those place, to get this voucher thing”? The best advice I could think of was to attend one of the food banks in Havering and ask them who’s vouchers they accepted. Get the address and then return with the voucher.

I can’t she sobbed in tears, I’ve got the baby, and I don’t have any money for the bus fare!”

When I look again at the internet, there are three food-banks in Havering, in Collier Row, Harold Hill and Rainham. What further surprised me, was the list showed every London Borough, including the most affluent like Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea. They all have food-banks, for the destitute/hungry. I gave her £20, so that she’d alright for at least that day.

She got help (I don’t know which one she went to) and said they were very kind and understanding. I wasn’t shocked to learn … About two months later the Council were claiming that she’d made herself “intentionally homeless” and therefore after the Court case they hadn’t a responsibility for either her or the children.

A stark case of the harsh bureaucracy, the council and government have toward people who don’t conform to their criteria.

1 Pseudonyms


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