Losing everything
January 31, 2018 7:57 AM   Subscribe

You're on the verge of losing everything - but you don’t understand why.
posted by Memo (33 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Realizing how lucky I really am. When you hear about people "slipping through the cracks" of a system. This has that feel. Though it's not so much a crack, more like a chasm waiting to swallow you. That was overwhelming but good to read.

Also, I'm going to go find I, Daniel Blake as quickly as I can and give it a watch. Good share. Thank you.
posted by Fizz at 8:16 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


So you have a system to fall through the cracks of? Lucky bastard.

In the US, this guy would have been totally fucked by about the third paragraph of that story. (Well, fourth, when his mom died of cancer, she wouldn't have had coverage and they'd have lost the house at that point. He and his dad would have been on the street.)

I don't mean to turn this into the four Yorkshiremen sketch, but this sort of thing can happen in a country with a real, functioning social safety net that usually works. Imagine what it's like where there's no net to begin with.
posted by Naberius at 8:18 AM on January 31 [31 favorites]


I'm living in Canada, thankfully I have a basic health care system. It's far from perfect but it's there.

Within the last year and a half, I've finally found a job that offers benefits for the first time in my entire life. First person in my family to have that, so yes. I realize I truly am a lucky bastard, because not everyone has that type of privilege.

This poor man has endured lifetimes of pain. I am glad that he has the will to keep fighting back and pushing against everything he's faced. I'm not sure I'd be that strong if I was in a similar position.
posted by Fizz at 8:22 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


In the US, this guy would have been...

Thanks Naberius, but this isn't a story about the US, it's about how the welfare system in a European country has been made aggressively hostile to those in need. Nobody can deny that Tony needed help, but the system seems structured in a way as to officially deny that help, whilst at the same time giving the illusion that it still exists
posted by The River Ivel at 8:24 AM on January 31 [64 favorites]


Yes, the system is worse for USians, but this was particularly shocking:

It seems that every time you go to the Job Centre, someone gives you a different story about what you should be doing. You try to phone the DWP to sort things out, but no-one seems able to help you there, either. Each phone call costs you something like £8 - the claimant helpline is premium rate from mobiles and you haven't got a landline.

Holy hell, eight pounds for help? Am I missing something?
posted by eclectist at 8:26 AM on January 31 [30 favorites]


I was going to say, from a U.S.ian perspective, Tony’s treatment is shockingly humane.

Fuck, his story would have ended when he first moved in to his parent’s house. If you’re on social security in assisted housing or Section 8, if some new person moves in you’re out on your ass, the whole family. I’ve seen it happen.

Off all work for six months after an assault? Doctors there can just do that?!

750 for living expenses and housing will get off your ass for 300 a month? Here, if you are medically unable to work and you can go through the three month application process, you’ll get $300 a month, food stamps (separate application process), a spot on the 3 year subsidized housing waiting list (yet another separate application process), and, inexplicably, only if your disability is mental, money for rent assistance in a fourth application process.

Not to mention the fact that Tony and his parents had automatic health care in the first place. I could go on and on and now I’m angry in the morning.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:34 AM on January 31 [11 favorites]


On preview, I see we are headed into derail territory, to bring it back, the shenanigans Tony’s system are committing are all too familiar. I particularly recognize the idea that a lot of the communications and applications are online and through email, not recognizing that computer literacy among people on assistance is something like 15% and there are almost no programs to change this. Or the free phones low income people can get (these exist, the folks that use them here call them Obama phones) are not smart phones and don’t get data. Or that a doctor’s opinion is frequently overturned by a bureaucrat under the guise of “rooting out abuse.” Or that struggling for survival in this system causes employment preventing depression.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:41 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


[One deleted. Please let's not immediately jump to making this about the USA.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:41 AM on January 31 [38 favorites]


Ugh, bureaucracy.

My oldest brother became my legal guardian when my father died. He spent my orphan's pension on himself, mostly alcohol. I had a scholarship at a boarding school, and I lived there most of the time, but after I graduated I couldn't stand living with him, so I ran away.

Then I turned 18 and my orphan's pension was cut off. So I applied for youth allowance. On the application forms there were questions about my parents income and assets. I just skipped those questions. The application was rejected.

I went into their office and explained that they were dead, and it's kind of dumb to ask since I was on an orphan's pension. Because all records of minors need a court order (or something) from a judge to look at. Not even I could look at them, now that I was an adult. I had to go to the registrar of births, deaths and marriages to get my parent's death certificates. I had to pawn my guitar for the paperwork fees. I was relying on that so I could busk and get some money.

I showed them the death certificates and they finally approved the application and started paying me, but then stopped. I was suspended because I hadn't shown them my parents income still. I showed them the death certificates again. They started paying me again. Then I was suspended again, for the same reason.

I went into the office to show them the death certificates again. I was a bit banged up from falling out of a mango tree. I was pinching mangoes and had a fight with a fruit bat. Like flying dogs they are, and you can't eat the ones they touch because they have nasty viruses. But I was so hungry.

The second time I bought the paperwork back I joked a bit, as if I just had to clear up that my parents weren't undead and earning a wage again. The third time though, I didn't bring anything to read but the two death certificates. They had me wait about an hour and I read them over and over. Where they were born, when they died, cause of death.

When they finally called my name I sat down opposite the desk and told them to make sure I wouldn't have to do this again, make sure to copy them this time. When they asked I said this was the third time, and the clerk realized that this was one really big shitty thing to do to an orphan. They gave me the VIP treatment and I got a big apology from the manager. I didn't care about that I just wanted to get out of there.

So yeah, they asked me to prove my parents were dead three times when I turned eighteen. I think sometimes the people that develop these systems forget they're for people.
posted by adept256 at 8:49 AM on January 31 [65 favorites]


Holy hell, eight pounds for help? Am I missing something?

The help line used to be a 0345 number that can charge up to 55p a minute from a mobile (9p from a landline). All the lines are now 0800 freephone numbers, there was an announcement here.

The fact that benefit phone numbers cost money to call was an abomination in itself, but at least that has changed now.
posted by antiwiggle at 8:51 AM on January 31 [15 favorites]


Nobody can deny that Tony needed help,

Well, actually...

This is what happens when you have a legislative body made up of people who disagree with whether Tony needs help. They negotiate and argue and eventually compromise to get stuff done and the result is that the system stays in place but it’s funding is choked to the point of suffocation and all the well meaning people (at least they were well meaning before they were burned out) who work in the system, do what they can. Email is free and postage costs money. It takes a lot of human work to help people through the system, we can either lay those helpers off and there is no help, or we can recoup a small amount from those that need the help. It costs a lot to issue those checks for food money, why don’t we contract with Big Ass Bank and they can issue debit cards with a 3% transaction fee?

People who enter the welfare system come from all different political persuasions but they all come out with a unified vision that it needs fixing and more funding is an inevitable part of the solution.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:55 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


I've really come to believe that no benefits system can be meaningful unless it comes with a guarantee of adequately-funded legal and paralegal assistance in accessing it.

Problem: competence is in short supply everywhere, at all times. The supply of good faith, only a little better. When it comes to dealing with the poor, there is a healthy store of hostility.

Problem: these systems were designed by people who are probably of limited competence and who may be implementing irreconcilable or ill-thought-out or actively malicious mandates.

Problem: you access the systems through people who have the limited competence and often the limited good faith issues (usually not the malice issue, usually).

Problem: most though far from all the people who end up needing this kind of aid by definition have never developed skills in dealing with complex systems. Add on the likely physical and/or mental illness that's taken them out of work, and you have a population rarely capable of advocating for itself effectively. (And that's before you layer on any issues of cultural competence or racial or other prejudice.)

Without an independent advocate, these scenarios will recur constantly. Even then, their assistance will tend to be invoked when the situation has already gotten fairly dire.

(Here in NYC we have just committed for the first time to free legal aid for people in housing court...)
posted by praemunire at 9:32 AM on January 31 [17 favorites]


So yeah, they asked me to prove my parents were dead three times when I turned eighteen. I think sometimes the people that develop these systems forget they're for people.

it hurts to read your story. I'm sorry.

since 2009, this is the focus of my work, looking at how to put people front and center of either "a" system, or no system at all (aka informal), and this inhumanity is why
posted by infini at 9:41 AM on January 31 [9 favorites]


Here is a systems monster for those who faced one. The poor thing doesn't even know why he can't help you.
posted by infini at 9:43 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I remember coming across some poverty porn thing from England on YouTube, and it was very much framed as people on benefits who didn't deserve them or whatnot, but the runaround they'd get from the JobCentre, where the paperwork was endless, the hours were bizarre, the qualifications obscure and the attitudes of the people in charge were horrendous, it had the opposite effect on me. Who could possibly find the way, under the stress of disability and/or poverty, to navigate such a complex, byzantine system of traps?

I suppose that's the reason it is the way it is.
posted by xingcat at 10:21 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


In the U.S. welfare system, they used to call "churning" the process by which people were denied benefits for no good reason. It took a month or 12 to get back into the system and get paid the benefits *to which one was entitled*.

It *might* be unintentional, but it has the consequence of saving the government a good deal of money. So we always suspected it was built right into the system.
posted by allthinky at 10:22 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


So we always suspected it was built right into the system

Absolutely. The fear of paying people who might be seen as undeserving absolutely outweighs the risk of letting the "deserving poor" fall into destitution and homelessness. That the system is so unforgiving of even minor errors is a feature, not a bug.
posted by suelac at 10:32 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


On my RSS feed is the blog by Kate Belgrave, who interviews (and often speaks for and represents in meetings) the most vulnerable and marginalised people who have borne the brunt of what the Tories have done since 2010. It's constantly chastening and infuriating, and absolutely essential reading if you are concerned with this matter, as it often represents those people more faithfully than newspaper articles can.

Certainly too important and worthy of greater distribution for me to get this comment deleted for suggesting what I think ought to be done to the ministers responsible for this ongoing atrocity.

(Assemble some rope, razor blades, paraffin, a box of matches and several lamp posts and use your imagination.)
posted by Grangousier at 11:38 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Something that should be built into any system to prevent "churning" is retroactive payments, especially if there's some interest also paid out, it's suddenly less in the interests of the service to revoke benefits without sound reason. Of course, that will make for horrible headlines; someone gets wrongfully denied benefits and after a year of fighting they get an $8400 payday - that's hate-the-poor gold Jerry!

On the downside, is that the systems here in Canada that do retroactive payments, also expect payback/clawbacks if someone's deemed to have illegitimately received something... not that I'd be surprised that systems that don't pay out retroactively do expect paybacks/clawbacks before one could reapply.
posted by nobeagle at 12:34 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Social security pays retroactively in the US (as far as I know, no interest), but in most cases the majority of the retroactive payout you receive when approved goes to the lawyer you retained to help you get what you not only are entitled to, but what you actually paid into when you were working. Most people, when approved, have accumulated enough debt, back rent, etc that once they pay the lawyers, the landlords, the realatives you borrowed from, are conveniently left with nothing.

No shortage of disability lawyers round here. I’m sure individually they feel that they are helping their needy clients. But when you have a large group of highly educated people whose livelihoods depend on the inefficiency of the system, it’s not helping the problem.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:15 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


the majority of the retroactive payout you receive when approved goes to the lawyer you retained

This is not accurate. There's a statutory cap on contingency fees for lawyers handling SSI/SSDI applications: 25% of retroactive payments, with a maximum of $6,000.

But when you have a large group of highly educated people whose livelihoods depend on the inefficiency of the system, it’s not helping the problem.

If you're convinced that the systems stay crappy because the SSDI contingency lawyers, the people who do the limited civil legal defense paid for by the state, the public defenders, have an investment in their continuing to suck, I don't suppose I can change your mind, but...that is not my experience.
posted by praemunire at 1:22 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]




Tax credit debt - The Universal Credit problem nobody is talking about

Wow, the government seems to have imported all the incompetence of the U.S. debt collection system, combined with the particular lack of accountability of a government bureaucracy (firms have their own version, though). Horrible!
posted by praemunire at 2:32 PM on January 31


After a recent interview I listened to with David Harvey, where he mentioned debt peonage, I've rather been struck by the notion that it's a systematic strategy to essentially enslave the population.

(It was on the Intercept podcast, I think. I'd heard him talk about debt peonage before, but it suddenly struck me that it was something that was being enacted strategically to take control of the population. David Harvey is terrific, and manages to explain Marx such that I almost understand him.)
posted by Grangousier at 3:03 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Soul-destroying bureaucracy, for sure.

Part of the problem seems to be the many moving parts - different programs covering different things, each of course with its own bureaucracy. This makes me think that a Universal Basic Income would be a better, fairer, less messy approach. Am I right in thinking that?
posted by Artful Codger at 4:26 PM on January 31


Social security pays retroactively in the US (as far as I know, no interest)

As an FYI for anyone in the same circumstances... in my case, SSDI was only retroactive to one year before the date I submitted the application, with no lawyer involved; I spent far too long trying to get by on my own.
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 5:24 PM on January 31


You're on the verge of losing everything - but you don’t understand why.

You make up these questions, Mr. Holden, or do they write 'em down for you?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:28 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem seems to be the many moving parts - different programs covering different things, each of course with its own bureaucracy.

No, this is, in this specific case, and most likely in the general case, wrong. The systems worked 15 years ago when I spent a long time on benefits. They worked together, the person who came out to my house to check that none of my housemates were actually my partner was polite and friendly, and everything meshed together fine. And this was in a poor area of a poor town. England's bureaucracies spent quite a long time working just fine in the early 2000s. (As did the other 3 UK countries'.)

One of the cock-ups in this guy's life was the transfer of responsibility for paying his rent from the benefits system into his own responsibility, without him having been clearly informed. And the aim of the government is to bring everything into one system while fudging all the details of how everything interacts.

The simplicity of a bureaucracy where everyone knows their role and knows what they're providing for each person that they're dealing with is a huge advantage over UBI or even Iain Duncan Smith's venal Universal Credit.

So the problem is deliberate cruelty from the ruling class. The solution is not to be cruel. And not to have press that exacerbates this cruelty.
posted by ambrosen at 1:40 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


...this sort of thing can happen in a country with a real, functioning social safety net that usually works.

Maybe? This, however, is a story about what happens in a country that used to have a real, functioning social safety net that usually worked, which is now being systematically dismantled by an upper class who would find it much more convenient if people like Tony just ... somehow ... ceased to exist and stopped bothering them.
posted by daisyk at 1:49 AM on February 1 [12 favorites]


Even Universal Credit might be sane, if it wasn't implemented by a bunch of weasels. There's no reason the new system had to be set up so that it took a minimum of 6 weeks (often 8 weeks) to go from initial application to first payment of benefit for instance. Doing things that way was just a deliberate 'f you!' to the poor sods forced to transfer onto it as far as I can tell. (You can probably blame George Osbourne for that one - as far as I can tell almost every recent appalling misfeature in the UK benefit system appears to have been something that the Treasury insisted on rather than the Work+Pensions dept itself.)

nb. That 6 week delay was recently reduced to something slightly less insane. Universal Credit is still a vaguely sane idea with a completely botched implementation though - as far as I can tell the people creating the new systems have absolutely /no/ idea what it's like to be poor.
posted by pharm at 2:52 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]




When I was last on JSA (a a few years ago now, before they cut people without a British passport off entirely) I would get a letter telling me that my benefit had been stopped for [reasons] at least every two or three months. I suspect it was my ostentatiously foreign name that made me seem like an appealing, not-able-to-navigate-bureacracy target. Usually it concerned bout providing some information I had supposedly been asked to provide for the umpteenth time in a letter (no letters or other requests were ever in evidence, even after I got wise to their ruse and asked not to be contacted by post, given how unreliable it apparently was). My favourite was when they sent me a letter - to my home address - saying my benefit had been cancelled because I was in police custody. I wasn't. Have never even been arrested. But good luck proving that. The police were no help (they reckoned it was in someone to prove that I'd been arrested, not in me to prove that I hadn't, and were unable and unwilling to provide me with any document to say they hadn't got me in their care). And how the fuck was I supposed to deal with a letter, to my home address, if I'm supposedly in prison? I think in the end I started threatening my local Jobcentre with libel claims (literally the only thing my CAB advisor could suggest) until they ran it up the chain and got it fixed.

The system is worse than ever, but it hasn't been good for a long time now. Meanwhile I keep hearing from older punks how going on the dole to finance a music "career" - often while working seasonal cash in hand jobs like fruit picking at the same time - was completely de rigueur in the late 70s and early 80s. A generation had a working welfare system, paid for by their parents' high levels of tax, then dismantled it because they didn't want to pay those taxes themselves, and nobody receiving benefits really deserves them, after all they didn't when they got them back in their youth.
posted by Dysk at 7:10 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile I keep hearing from older punks how going on the dole to finance a music "career" - often while working seasonal cash in hand jobs like fruit picking at the same time - was completely de rigueur in the late 70s and early 80s. A generation had a working welfare system, paid for by their parents' high levels of tax, then dismantled it because they didn't want to pay those taxes themselves, and nobody receiving benefits really deserves them, after all they didn't when they got them back in their youth.

Yeah, I heard much the same from the rock climbing scene. The dole was effectively a backup minimum basic income back then, but the moral minority hated that so they spent the rest of their lives trying to dismantle it.
posted by pharm at 9:28 AM on February 1


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