“If you feel like you are not being treated right – speak up.”
More and more of our customers are now feeling the impact of welfare reform.
Someone who only knows too well the devastating effect it can have on families is Barbara Dean. Barbara is our tenant board member who has been fighting to ensure people are treated fairly by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Barbara has now taken her battle all the way to the Houses of Parliament
This is her story:
“My husband Bill was a hard worker. Together we ran a taxi service and we enjoyed what we did.
“Everything changed when Bill, who was just 47 at the time, suffered a massive heart attack. It came as a huge shock, especially as Bill had been fit and healthy throughout his life.
“Our lives changed overnight. We had worked hard all our lives but the heart attack meant Bill could no longer work and that put pressure of our finances. We lost everything - including our business and home. This meant we had to claim benefits.
“This was the lowest point of our lives. Bill was a hard-working man, he would have 2-3 jobs on the go at the same time. For him to even think about asking for help was a major thing, so to then be refused help when he needed it the most absolutely broke him.
“Visiting the job centre was a demoralising experience for Bill. The assessments and criteria used are set up to fail people like him. Bill was declared fit to work and refused support.
“We appealed three times against this decision but kept getting turned down. It was extremely stressful for Bill as our doctor was adamant that he couldn’t work, so why were the people at the Job Centre going against medical advice?
“I had to watch him suffer every day. I watched him do things that I knew could possibly give him another heart attack. There were days when Bill would tell me he felt useless because he couldn’t provide for me and it broke my heart.
“After three-and-a-half years Bill’s appeal finally went to tribunal. While we waited for the outcome he suffered a heart attack and passed away. I received a letter on the day of Bill’s funeral advising that he had now been accepted for sickness benefit.
“I’m not saying Bill would still be with us if he had received what he was entitled to sooner, but it would have made things easier. It would have lifted the weight off his shoulders and we could have concentrated on getting him better.
“In 2016, I was invited to be part of the West Cheshire Poverty Truth Commission (WCPTC). It was set up to allow people who have experienced hardship to share their stories with the intention of bringing about change. We are known as Community Inspirers and our aim is to get the people making these decisions to listen. I am still fighting because, over 20 years on, people are being subjected to the same hardships as Bill and I experienced. Myself and a couple of other Weaver Vale customers were invited to be part of the commission.
“The Inspirers have worked closely with the local DWP and other agencies and I think we have made a real difference at a local level - people who come through their doors are treated with a lot more compassion and respect. Some people have trouble getting their head around the benefits system and that can lead to a lot of frustration and stress, having someone sitting across from you who has empathy and understanding goes a long way in helping people to navigate the system.
“As members of the commission a number of us were recently invited to the Houses of Parliament to share our experiences with MPs.
“Bill’s story shocked everyone who was present as there has recently been a film called “I Daniel Blake” and the character’s story mirrored Bill’s in many ways. I was able to look people in the eye and tell them that this does happen. The MPs who attended were willing to listen and they were moved by all of our stories. I think they understood that the system is broken and needs fixing.
“Since then, I have met with Mike Amesbury MP, who has taken a keen interest in my story and the work of the PCT. He has agreed to help in anyway he can.
“Bill had paid into this system all of this life, but when he needed help it wasn’t given and that is wrong. You shouldn’t have to beg and be treated as if you are trying to fiddle the system.
“My advice to people is - don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a Weaver Vale customer the Money Matters Team are the first port of call but there are many organisations out there who are geared up to help people. Don’t fight this battle on your own. If you feel like you are not being treated right – speak up.”
If you’re worried about your finances, please get in touch with the team by calling 01606 813535 or email firstname.lastname@example.org