Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Kindness of Strangers, an Unexpected Outcome

A couple of days ago I invited a good friend of mine to guest post about a subject that has affected her and her son very badly, when Concentrix put another family into poverty. I wanted her to have her say, because she was at her wits' end. It was yet another HMRC out-sourced agency that caused the immeasurable distress that she found herself immersed in. She, we, wanted to talk about how that pans out at the bottom. After the leaf has made its way through all the beaurocratic branches, all the facts, figures, number crunching, forms, tick boxes, etc, what does it actually mean to have nothing to live on? 

My friend was that leaf sitting in the mud, abandoned by the government agencies that were supposed to support her in her time of genuine crisis. Concentrix, whose job it is to investigate cases of potential fraud, have the power to stop all of someone's tax credits, not just for the length of time it takes to carry out their investigation, but, even after you've been cleared of any wrong-doing they do not reinstate your money, until they choose to. This is presumably because, like a lot of outsourced agencies, they don't have the man-power or know-how to do the job they have been contracted for. These checks can take place for a variety of reasons, sometimes randomly, and you are then cut off until they decide otherwise. Lynn was innocent. She'd had a run of bad luck, but she hadn't done anything wrong, and I wanted to help her, because she was hungry and in need. Not in a third world country you'd struggle to pronounce, but here, on the south west coast of England. I gave her everything I had. Everything I could. Which wasn't much, but it helped buy basics that you couldn't get from the foodbank, like milk and bread and paid for a little electricity for the meter. Possibly even more importantly, though, I got behind her campaign to make sure no one else is ever put in this position again.  It mattered to her and it mattered to me. She needed something positive to focus on, while she concentrated on staying alive from one day to the next. Which is not an exaggeration, in case you're wondering. Brown envelope fear, grips the heart of anyone who has to live on benefits and when you are faced with it daily, and have no idea whether you will have food to eat or a roof over your head one day to the next, it's a very real situation. So, the blog post she wrote aimed to raise awareness and gain some signatures on the petition she had launched. 

So she wrote the post and that's when something amazing happened, something we did not expect. Firstly, and brilliantly, we got some shares on Social Media and quite a few signatures on the petition. Then, in the early hours of the morning (I published it very late) a friend of mine commented on the Facebook post; What can I do to help? There followed some private messages asking the same question and small amounts of money rolled in. It was not what we expected and certainly not our intention, but people wanted to help. Some had been there themselves, or knew people who had and it was amazing to see people putting themselves out and giving a little bit to see a friend through a crisis. Then a mutual friend of ours on Facebook, said she would like to buy her some shopping. So, she spent her time and money ordering food she thought she would like, the kind of things you would miss if you were reliant on a food bank. Fruit, vegetables, a little chocolate. In all of these acts of kindness, it wasn't about how much it cost or what was given, it was about thought given and time spent. It came as a total shock to me that people would even think to try to help in that way, but they did and it was amazing. What those small gifts achieved went far beyond what anyone intended. They made Lynn realise she was loved and thought of and cared about. Despite the uncertainty and the humiliation she had been through, they gave her a reason to smile and a reason to hope and everyone, regardless of their financial position, deserves that. I will always be grateful to my friends who supported me, by supporting her. It doesn't matter what you did to help, you did something and that means the world to someone who has nothing. 

1 comment

  1. I actually have tears in my eyes reading this post, Paul had a nervous breakdown a few years ago and I was a SAHM, we had nothing and a young baby. Reliant on others to help with our bills - I have been there and done that and it was the hardest time of my life because I was also supporting my husband through an illness he had no control over, one brought on by stress.

    The kindness of others in these hard times is so amazing. I have a friend, a single Mum with 3 boys in this exact situation and it sucks.
    I am glad to read that the Concentrix contract won't be renewed


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