Mary lives in Methil.
Mary was a Care Worker and single mother who found herself living on no income at all after she had to go on unpaid leave. Even though she wasn't receiving any pay she was still legally employed, so for a while she couldn't automatically claim benefits and had no money coming in at all. Eventually she lost her house, and the stress started to make her feel ill. She endured sleepless nights, anxiety, physical and emotional illness. She felt there was no way out of this situation and was becoming increasingly desperate.
She also had to go through the new Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to test whether she was sick enough to receive benefits. Her harrowing description of this speaks for itself. It pushed her even further into despair and to the brink of suicide.
"As I waited in the Health Centre I read through some leaflets, I lifted one for the CAB. This service offered people in my situation a lifeline. I went along and was seen by one of their advisors, who was very helpful, understanding and supportive. They assessed my financial and housing situation. They reminded me that I wasn't alone. They helped me complete the forms, which took some of the stress away. At the end of each meeting they told me were only a phone call away, and that if I needed assistance they were happy to give it over the phone rather than wait for an appointment. I just don't know what I would have done without them."
Mary's experience of the Work Capability Assessment
Mary was already severely stressed due to the situation described above, her loss of home etc. She then had to undergo a WCA to test whether she was sick enough to receive support. In her own words:
"This process does not help people who suffer depression, and how they expect you to look for a job in that frame of mind beats me. I was no use to anyone. I believe that this is one of the reasons people commit suicide as they are unable to cope and perhaps don't know where or who to turn to.
I found this process soul destroying and can say it added to my health problems. I think this system has to be reviewed in some depth, as the system is unfair to people suffering 'Mental Health'. It does not take into account the psychological problems people are struggling with. I have worked all my life and it's the first time I have had such an experience and it's an experience that I find very difficult.
Every day I hear the postman put a letter in my mail box I think 'God that will be from the jobcentre for another assessment'. I am sure there are lots of people in my situation who will probably have come to the same conclusion that this systems fails people who are genuinely mentally ill. I truly feel that when you become part of the Employment Support System there is no time to recover from your illness, as there is no support when and after you are assessed. The times between review appointments are very little. I think when you are assessed there should be an agreement made for your recovery i.e. six months to a year, whereby the individual know they have this time to work through their illness, assisted by the relevant agency. Some people never really recover. Again this should be reviewed in more depth.
CAB offer a range of services. If it wasn't for them I would never have known where to seek help. Without this service I feel people would see no light at the end of the tunnel and the consequences could lead to a serious outcome i.e. Suicide. I have been fortunate enough to have a very supportive sister, mother and children. A lot of people haven't even got that. So they solely rely on agencies like CAB. I now contact them for all my outstanding issues and know I will get a great service and support."
Audrey, Client Action Team Money Adviser, CARF
Audrey has been a full time member of staff for CARF (Citizens Advice and Rights Fife) for seven years. In her role as Client Action Team Money Adviser she says that no two days at a CAB are the same: “The variety of issues we can be involved in keeps us on our toes. We are continually gaining new knowledge and skills. The job satisfaction when a client, not only says thank you, but recommends a family member or friend to come and see you for help is testament to the service CAB advisers provide to their community.”
Audrey says that unfortunately Mary’s circumstances are typical of clients she sees every day in the bureau. “Often people’s difficulties are caused by a relationship breakdown, ill health, redundancy or a reduction in their working hours. The additional issues Mary has experienced relating to her ESA claim is also an issue that is on the increase. The stress and anxiety this caused her was detrimental to her mental health and therefore she was even further away from the job market.”
Audrey has kept up with Mary and says she is immensely proud of the fact that she has taken part in the making of a short film about the work of CAB across Scotland. “It’s very brave of Mary to tell people about her experiences; this has been a very long journey for her. My colleagues and I who have advised and represented her along the way are very pleased to see the progress she has made with her life.“
One of the reasons Audrey went to work for CARF was the impact she saw on people every day in her previous job for a council collecting rent arrears and implementing eviction procedures. “I saw first-hand the detrimental effect debt and financial issues could have on people and the impact to their health and wellbeing. I wanted to be involved in a more preventative role as most of the issues that caused homelessness were out with the person’s control. Often people were too embarrassed to admit they had financial difficulties and were not aware of the advice and support available from their local CAB.”
Audrey says that working at a CAB is a team effort and couldn’t be done without the dedication and commitment of volunteers in bureaux. “As a paid member of staff, I could not provide an efficient service to our clients without the support and skills of our volunteer staff. Not only do we have volunteers providing advice to clients we have some who support us in the background with administration tasks, answering the telephone and undertaking social policy work. We are a team and between us we work to improve our community and the lives of those within it.”