Benefit changes are driving claimants to brink of suicide

MORE than 43,000 people have inundated Glasgow's Citizen's Advice Bureau desperately looking for help over Government benefit changes.

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Margaret McIntyre works at Greater Pollok CAB, one of the city's busiest
Margaret McIntyre works at Greater Pollok CAB, one of the city's busiest

Nearly half of all calls last year were from people desperate for help – many told staff and volunteers they were contemplating suicide.

CAB across Glasgow are being inundated with 120 calls for help every day from people worried about the sweeping changes which the Universal Credit will introduce.

The overhaul of the system has seen many lose thousands of pounds in benefits.

And CAB volunteers and staff across Glasgow are bracing themselves for even more visits as the full impact of the changes hit home.

Margaret McIntyre, manager of Greater Pollok CAB – one of the busiest in city, said that debt worries, which previously represented most referrals, have been overtaken and compounded by welfare reform.

She said: "People are desperate – some have confided in the advisors that they are considering suicide.

"It is a very difficult situation.

"Welfare reform is having a devastating impact on people's lives.

"The public need to realise that headline-grabbing stories about claimants walking away with £60,000 in benefits are rare. The majority of people who get help have very little.

"The people who are worst affected by these changes are older people and those with mental health problems."

Everyday at CAB offices across Glasgow people are queuing for many hours before the branches open.

But the city bureaus – which are being stretched to capacity – are having to turn some people away because of limited resources.

Benefits advice accounted for 47 % of all the new cases raised with CAB staff across Glasgow during 2011/2012.

Help filling in lengthy and complicated benefits application forms and processing appeals took up most appointments.

At Greater Pollok CAB, there is usually standing room only.

Assistant manager Alison Rowntree said: "We see as many people as possible. We give clients a number and they can come back – to save them waiting all day."

Filing cabinets are full of details of all those who have visited the CAB and an archive room is bursting with thousands of clear bags packed different coloured forms.

Alison added: "There is a life in every single one of those bag.

The Greater Pollok staff and a team of dedicated volunteers dealt with 9882 calls for help in 2011/2012 – 3650 were about benefits.

The bureau - which is manned by paid staff and volunteers – costs £230,000 a year to operate.

Greater Pollok CAB receives £175,000 in annual funding from Glasgow City Council as well as smaller grants but a significant funding gap has to be plugged every year.

Margaret said: "Most of my time in here is spent trying to source funding.

"The only extra cash we have had since welfare reform is £1500 from the Scottish Government, which is basically tea and coffee money.

"What we really need is to be able to fund another member of staff to cope with the increasing demand."

linzi,watson@ eveningtimes.co.uk

STROKE victim Mike, 60, has crippling depression. Most days he can barely muster the motivation to leave the house and his Pollok flat hasn't been cleaned for months.

Mike has been stripped of Employment Support Allowance and has had no money for weeks.

He has now been told he will be moved on to Job Seekers Allowance and must find work.

Volunteer Carol Christie is helping him fill in an appeal form after he scored 0 points during an recent benefits assessment.

He says: "My doctor advised me to appeal.

"I had a stroke a number of years ago and lost the use of my right arm and leg for a while.

"My speech was also affected but this came back."

Reading from the appeal form, Carol asks: "Can you carry out household tasks?"

"I haven't emptied my bins in three months," admits Mike. He adds: "Most days I don't leave the house. I don't eat properly and I don't have a sleeping routine.

"This is because of the depression."

Mike pleads: "I am 60-years-old. I haven't had a job in 10 years so going onto Job Seekers Allowance is a waste of time.

"Fit and healthy young people are struggling to find jobs, what chance have I?"

JEAN is 61-years-old. She has suffered from arthritis since she was in her 20s and struggles to get about because of a severe respiratory condition.

By the time she has travelled to the CAB in Pollok she is so short of breath she struggles to speak.

Jean, a grandmother who lives in the South Side, is in receipt of Employment Support Allowance, previously called Income Support.

Because the benefit is 'targeted' meaning that action is being taken to reduce the number of people who claim it, Jean has been asked to reapply.

If her application is rejected she could be put on Job Seekers Allowance while she finds a job.

She visited Greater Pollok CAB for help with the application forms.

Her personal life lies strewn across the table, prescriptions, medication, a diary of appointments, hospital letters.

Volunteer Barbara Rennie, talks her through the questionnaire, filling in the details including a list of ten different medications her doctor has prescribed to be taken every day.

Jean says: "I don't want people to think that I am an invalid.

"I can look after myself – I have too – but who would seriously consider me for a job?"

"When I went to the assessment centre in Cadogan Street I broke down.

"There were people there who were blind and missing limbs.

"I was asked to demonstrate bending down and lifting my arms – it is so demeaning."

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