A quietly spoken young woman comes into the foodbank for help and tells me about the events that have led her here.
Besma (not her real name) is 24 and is from Casablanca in Morocco. Her English is good. She speaks slowly and precisely, and is keen to share her story. She wants people to understand that she needs help because of her particularly vulnerable situation.
She tells me she had been studying management and economics at university in her home country. Back in Morocco, she met a 46-year-old Polish man who had been living in England for 12 years. They got married two years ago and seven months ago she moved here to join him. She became pregnant almost immediately.
She tells me that in March – when she was still at an early stage in her pregnancy – he was abusive towards her. While in Morocco he had been a “model man”, but when she came to London she says he became very different – “like he wanted to control you. He was always saying ‘I’m jealous’”.
The police were called following an incident and they advised her to remove his things and that he should stay away. Her husband then stopped paying the rent and the landlady told her to move out. The same day she went to the council and was given some temporary accommodation. She was given her own bedroom in a shared house.
She found out she was expecting twin girls. She adds: “It’s hard for me. Too many things have happened to me in the last month. But I keep going just for my girls” That house, with her room on the first floor, is suitable for a single person. But it will not be adequate for a woman with twin babies to care for, and she is seeking to be rehoused. I also wonder why she has been rehoused in mixed gender accommodation. Were any risk assessments done before rehousing her as victim of domestic violence?
In March she applied for jobseeker’s allowance, but this was refused. She is now appealing that decision. One of the grounds for the appeal is that she is entitled to recourse to public funds based on her marriage to a citizen with permanent leave to remain. The local Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Greenwich Community Law Centre have been providing help to her during the appeal process.
She says the people she’s encountered in London haven’t always been kind to her. But she met a woman from Kenya at the local mosque who has befriended and supported her. She admitted to the woman that she had no access to benefits and was having to survive on foodbank vouchers. The woman gave her some money. “The woman told me: ‘I haven’t given you a gift for the girls, so this is your gift now.’”
When her husband became violent, she contacted Al Hasaniya – an organisation that serves the needs of Moroccan and Arabic -speaking women and their families in London. They provided her with a social worker. Two months ago the social worker helped her apply for a one-off grant of £300 from the Zakat Foundation, an initiative which uses funds and voluntary donations collected in the UK to benefit vulnerable members of the Muslim community.
She is very aware that her diet needs to be good. While the foodbank voucher enables her to have a three-day emergency supply of long life food, she is using what remains of her £300 to buy some fresh food. She also has to find £10 each week for the service charge for her emergency temporary accommodation. “This was a surprise to me as they know I don’t have money,” she says.
In addition to the ongoing support she’s receiving from the Al Hasaniya social worker, Greenwich Children’s Services have also provided her with a social worker.
Her experiences seems to reflect those of a growing number of people using the foodbank, according to Greenwich foodbank manager Alan Robinson. He is noticing an increase in those who cite domestic violence as a reason for needing help.
Besma’s only concern now is to provide a safe home, food and some measure of security for the twins. Her resourcefulness and dignity as she searches for these in a City where she has no family and few friends is truly impressive.