The Conservative government continues to cause hardship for Britain's most vulnerable with a cruel and inadequate benefits system.
Peter is a 53 year old technology teacher. Originally from Australia, he has lived and worked in London for several years.
Peter became a self-employed supply teacher 2 years ago, and for the first year enjoyed a steady flow of temporary teaching contracts. Then, in the wake of budget cuts, the work began to dry up.
Peter lived on his savings, reluctant to claim benefits, sure that something would turn up, but it didn't.
Eventually his money ran out and, on 21st July, Peter finally had to make a claim for job seekers allowance. He was advised not to make a backdated claim as they are always refused, although they are occasionally successful on appeal. The first payment he received was for just £40. A good friend paid some money into his account. Peter says that without Anita's help he would've starved.
At the start of the school year in September Peter managed to find a temporary teaching position. The contract was to run until Christmas. With the security of a 3 month contract, Peter took out a small loan to help pay some of his mounting debts.
Just 2 weeks into the job, Peter received an email from the school telling him that his services were no longer required. The school had apparently found a cheaper alternative.
Once again, Peter was forced to sign on. The money he had earned had to be paid to his landlord as he'd fallen into arrears with his rent. Peter was left destitute.
By Wednesday 2nd November Peter was desperate. He had not had any money for 5 weeks, and no food at all for 3 weeks.
He emailed his job centre caseworker but received no response.
On Thursday 3rd November he phoned the job centre at 9am but the system was down. He rang again at 11am and was told to come to the job centre.
When he arrived at 1pm Peter was understandably upset and frustrated with the situation. He politely asked to speak to the manager and requested that another person be present to witness the conversation.
The staff at the job centre threatened to eject him from the building and sanction him because of his attitude. Peter just wanted them to understand how desperate his situation had become. He left the building, returning once he'd regained his composure.
Peter explained that he had been unable to actively seek work because he was too ill, weakened by having nothing but water for 3 weeks. He told her that if he did manage to get a job he wouldn't be able to accept it as he didn't have the means to buy the necessary items nor to travel to and from work. Unbelievably the advisor told him that he'd be better off continuing to claim for 11 weeks because then he'd be eligible for help with the costs involved with returning to work.
In the last 5 months Peter has received the grand total of £279.
Today, Monday 7th November, Peter was offered a job. Sadly, he had to refuse even though he's desperate to return to work.
His suit now hangs off of his rapidly shrinking frame, his hair unruly and in dire need of a good cut. He's just a shadow of the man he was 5 months ago. How can he walk into a classroom looking as he does. His physical and psychological health are suffering. His self esteem is now nonexistent.
Peter is a professional, a teacher, who through no fault of his own has fallen on hard times and, what Peter now realises is that today, in Britain, if you fall into the hole, there's no getting out, no matter how hard you try.
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