Mark heads to food bank after his wallet with £130 of JSA is snatched

Mark, before his sling was taken off. He's still in pain
Mark, before his sling was taken off. He’s still in pain

Mark Bothwell came back to the London food bank today. He’s putting a brave face on things, because that’s just what he does. Despite having depression, when he’s here he tries his best to be upbeat. He’s a great guy and endlessly grateful for any small postive developments. It was wonderful to see his face when he got some new (to him) shoes. But he’s had a terrible week.

His health issues also include a damaged shoulder, that’s not healing quickly. He’s only had his sling removed in the last few days, but is still in a lot of pain, and on tramadol for that (but is due to come off it in the next few days, as it’s not supposed to be a long-term solution). He says the tramadol gives him ‘weird thoughts’, and leaves him slightly spaced out. This may have contributed to his state of mind as he walked down a local high street on Tuesday. In his wallet was £130 – two week’s worth of jobseeker’s allowance. He felt someone near him, checked for his wallet, and realised it was being taken. ‘They grabbed it, and as I turned around in shock, I realised I’d fallen. I fell on my bad shoulder and instantly screamed.’

Mark went to the police station and immediately reported what had happened. I saw his crime number and card issued by the Met. Next he went to the council to see if they would give him some help in the form of a crisis payment from the emergency support scheme. They said no. The emergency support scheme for those in a crisis does focus mainly on items such as white goods, beds and mattresses. But there’s a provision for money too. According to the website, applicants can be considered if they are under ‘exceptional pressure’ or for example if the person suffers from a disability or chronic illness. Mark is currently on the waiting list for treatment for his depression, so surely he falls into this category? The website also says those who have been the victim of a crime ‘need to provide evidence to confirm what’s happened’. He has that evidence.

So I don’t understand why he wasn’t helped and will follow this up with the council on Monday. Alan the food bank manager says that the budget for the emergency support scheme has had to be set at 2007 levels, so it’s a pot of money under massive pressure currently.

Next, Mark went to the jobcentre to explain what happened and ask if he could have a food bank voucher. The staff there checked on the system, found out that he’s had three vouchers already, and said they weren’t prepared to give him another one. Yes, the Trussell Trust policy is that people should only be allowed to use three vouchers. The rationale is that by this stage clients should be receiving support from professionals such as housing officers, social workers and health professionals – to help them get back on track in the longer term. Food bank help is designed to cover a short-term crisis only. Food banks are surely not seen as an arm of the welfare state in a first world economy?

In the end, Alan did give Mark a voucher for some food today. He was breaking the Trussell Trust’s own rules, but it means he’ll eat this weekend. He told Mark: ‘I’ll give you one (a voucher) today, but all we’re doing is giving you a sticking plaster. It would be better if you got some help in the long term.’

Because his recent health issues are interfering with his ability to work, he’s applying to go onto employment and support allowance (ESA). Transferring over is not a smooth process. If his application is rejected he has a month to appeal and the appeal process will take some time. Increasingly, the state seems both unable or unwilling to offer a future to vulnerable people like Mark.

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