Homeless in Glasgow: Sanctioned and homeless, one year and two weeks later

In the penultimate piece of his 10-part series, John-Paul Clark is within painful touching distance of finally having a home

AN adult returning to sleeping in a single bed usually always represents some form of misfortune.

Coming home of a day to see that bed lying at the back of the living room was a constant and horrendous reminder of my downfall. Lying on it one sleepless night weeks after I was supposed to move out was perhaps my lowest moment in the year past. I'd had enough and could take no more of that life.

At the foot of the bed were all my belongings packed three weeks before in anticipation of moving into my permanent accommodation. I had given up on even trying to stay topped up with electricity and gas, too, so the flat was fit for sleeping and nothing more.

READ MORE – Homeless in Glasgow parts 1-7

My Universal Credit payment was due that day but I was waiting until daylight to go to the bank. I planned to go get some money, breakfast from somewhere and then get a bus and spend the day elsewhere writing for the blog.

The sun eventually rose and began to filter light into the living room and I opened my eyes and sat up and planned how to attack that day. At 7am I got out of bed and dressed, then ventured outdoors. 

There was a welcome rain out and I stepped into its soft drizzle and walked up the hill toward the shops. I stood at the bank teller and punched in my pin number and reeled back a couple of inches with bated breath as the machine processed my balance enquiry.

It flashed up telling me my account was still empty. The bastard sanction was obviously still ongoing. I stood on the balls of my feet with my fists clenched and tried to let it resonate. I'd have to go back to the bedsit and wait until nine o'clock before the Jobcentre opened to get a hardship payment organised.

I walked back down the hill and hunched my shoulders as the rain began to pelt down. Weeks earlier there had been a mini heatwave bathing Glasgow in sunshine but the rain was welcome. When the sun is shining it is harder to hide from the world. At least with the rain everyone walks around looking at the pavement and it makes it easier to go unnoticed.

I stood at the bank teller and punched in my pin number and reeled back a couple of inches with bated breath as the machine processed my balance enquiry. It flashed up telling me my account was still empty.

The sanction hadn't really been too big of a deal. When you are sanctioned they will issue a hardship loan on the very same day as you are meant to get paid your normal benefit. The standard hardship payment is only £190 but they already had me down to £188 a month so it made no difference.

Receiving the sanction was entirely my own fault. From December to March, after they had cut my money to pay for the council's ridiculously priced temporary accommodation, I just stopped going to the jobcentre. 

I couldn't work or go to university but they still expected me to come in once a week and go through the motions and I simply got tired of their bureaucratic pish.

With the promise of permanent accommodation, I should have been in a better place at that juncture but I was as extremely pessimistic. The housing association told me at the end of March my flat would be ready to move into in four weeks, but that timeline had passed and by then, nearing the end of May, I was thinking the worst. 

Paranoia began to envelope me and I was convinced the council had found out about my blog and were going to renege on the flat I had been offered. Writing the blog had been good for me. I first got writing when driven by anger at the council's failings and I wanted to try and help others. 

The Service Centre is one arm of the convoluted Universal Credit benefit. This is the benefit of choice of austerity, neo-liberal Britain.

However, as the weeks passed it became apparent to me that perhaps I may have found a niche. As a journalism student we were always told that it is best to get an area of expertise and it was quickly becoming apparent that nobody had written about the life on the ground of a homeless person in Glasgow in the way I was doing it.

The first five blogs were written in crowded libraries, but you are only allowed to use those computers for two hours per day so the process was slow. Nowadays libraries are not the centres of learning they used to be. Today they are better described as internet hubs and are mostly used by benefit claimants doing job searches. 

Still, they served me well and provided shelter from the streets on many occasions. However, writing in such an environment was a challenge and I struggled along until an old and dear friend loaned me a laptop, which helped immeasurably. 

When I returned from the shops that morning I was thankful to discover the laptop still had a little battery and got down to some writing. This occupied my thoughts for a couple of hours, but I was standing outside the Jobcentre in time for it opening at 9am.

I got a meeting to ask if the sanction was still ongoing, only the Jobcentre worker started reading off the computer and asking me how I was getting on with my addiction issues. Flabbergasted, I quickly informed him I had none and asked where he got this information. 

I am fairly switched on politically and know what the Tories are doing so have met this Universal Credit system with nothing but contempt. 

He said someone had written it on my file but he wasn't sure who. We summarised who it was pretty easily: the Service Centre.

The Service Centre is one arm of the convoluted Universal Credit benefit. This is the benefit of choice of austerity, neo-liberal Britain. The aim is to scrap all current benefits and replace them with one universal system. 

I'd had a bit of a set to on the phone with a chap from the Service Centre weeks before and it must have been he who had pegged me down as an addict. Shows how low these Tory lapdogs will go that when bested by some uppity prole they resort to slander and lies.

On Universal Credit you don't sign on at the Jobcentre in the traditional sense. Instead, you meet a job coach once or twice a week. Any queries you have with the financial side of your benefit is done through the Service Centre, which is basically a call centre. 

They don't coordinate with your job coach, and in fact are banned from doing so. This leads to all sort of calamity and confusion. I am fairly switched on politically and know what the Tories are doing so have met this Universal Credit system with nothing but contempt. 

The aim of Universal Credit is simply to make life on benefits unbearable until the point you take up one of the minimum wage, zero-hour contracted jobs that are readily available in austerity Britain.

The governmental slogan for Universal Credit is it "makes work pay". One might read from that there are incentives to work but that is not the case. The aim of Universal Credit is simply to make life on benefits unbearable until the point you take up one of the minimum wage, zero-hour contracted jobs that are readily available in austerity Britain.

Sanctions are just another tactic to make your life unliveable. The hardship payments are loans that have to be paid back once your sanction is over. This is where they cut your money down to £200 a month in the knowledge that one cannot survive and obviously in the hope this will drive you into work. 

The reality is it drives the most desperate in society even lower into the gutter. The payments are only made monthly. Even the most frugal among us would struggle to make the pittance last a month and when it runs out you have little recourse. 

The old crisis loans of the past have been scrapped and no help is available, other than a referral to a foodbank. Housing benefit is also scrapped and the money for your rent paid directly into your bank account, and the claimant has to pay it to their landlord themselves. 

This obviously leads to rent arrears and people eventually being evicted. Theresa May and her despicable cohorts are today continuing the work of Trevelyan and others before and performing their own Malthusian check on Britain's working classes.

The reality is it drives the most desperate in society even lower into the gutter.

The hardship payment was arranged and I was told it would make its way into my bank that afternoon. That left me with a full day to fill so I took to the local library to do some more writing for the blog rather than return to the bedsit. 

I had originally planned writing the blog when I was in a more relaxed state of mind but the reality was I was writing while still very much amid the chaos. I have often debated with a friend on whether or not writers can work amid mayhem. I thought not, but those six weeks taught me that I have the ability to write in the middle of a burning fire, and perhaps the creative process is even aided by it.

Every few hundred words or so I would log onto my digital banking to check my balance and eventually late in the afternoon it flashed up telling me the pittance was in my account. Most of the £190 was owed out so once I transferred that I was left with just over £50 to last the month.

I rushed out of the library and across to the shops. Without power in the flat I had been surviving again on anything that didn't need heated up and left the shop armed with a polystyrene bag containing some crisps and sugary drinks. 

Back at the flat I sat stuffing my face, reading a newspaper and contemplating my movements that evening when the phone rang. It was the housing association. I scrambled toward the phone and answered it nervously. The flat was now ready and I had to go pick up the keys on Monday morning. 

Sanctions are just another tactic to make your life unliveable. The hardship payments are loans that have to be paid back once your sanction is over.

I let the news resonate a little but was unable to feel too much relief or joy. After shuttling from one disappointment to another I couldn't allow myself to even contemplate what may lie ahead in the coming weeks and months.

I eventually gathered my thoughts and stuck on my jacket and left the flat to go to my mother's for the night. She wouldn't protest too much at my presence with the news of my flat. I spent most of the weekend there and returned on the Sunday night late on to get some sleep ahead of picking up the keys.

I managed an hour or two sleep but was awake and up before dawn. After pacing around for an hour or two I made my way with trepidation to the bus stop, still unable to even really consider my new future. 

Across the city at the housing association, I was furnished with a small see through plastic bag containing two sets of keys and told to be on my way. It was the 22nd of May and one year and two weeks since I first registered at Easterhouse. 

I walked out of the housing association officially not a homeless person anymore.

Even the most frugal among us would struggle to make the pittance last a month and when it runs out you have little recourse. 

A whole new world immediately opened up, but short term I had to arrange getting my stuff out of the temporary accommodation because you have to move from there on the same day. I didn't have
much belongings but transporting them by bus was unmanageable so I had to pay £25 for a taxi across the city.

I arrived in my new flat with a few holdalls containing clothes and some boxes of books. There was no ceremony and I sat alone on the floorboards that night with my new reality slowly filtering into my mind. 

Despite having less than £20 in my pocket and a flat with no furniture I began to taste optimism and hope for the first time in over a year. I lay in my sleeping bag and became lost in thought. 

Writing, university and girls all rang through my mind as I drifted into deep slumber.

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Comments

macjim

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 15:58

John-Paul,
I’ve been reading your blog with great interest and understanding on your plight.
The penultimate blog post resonated with me as I too, have been at the end of the DWP’s sanction system.
I took a job that I should never had taken due to my mental state at that time, and had to give it up after three days. Before that, I’d been on Job Seekers allowance but on returning to the DWP, I was instantly put on the Universal Credits hell route. At first, I was told I wouldn’t be sanctioned as my circumstances were such that it wouldn’t come about but... I was. Then, after being put into hardship I asked for a hardship credit which, didn’t do much to help with the enforced hardship... for those whom have never been in this situation they would find it hard to believe but that is the way it works.
My life too had hit rock bottom, but not as far as losing my home, but I’ve now been free of the clutches of the DWP for almost two years now and, hopefully, will never need to go back the hell that period was. My time out of work was started by the loss of a job which I’d been in for a very long time until the firm went bust... those eight years that followed are ones I do not wish to repeat. I truly hope for you, that your life is on the up and wish you the best fortune for the future... and look forward to the final instalment of this ten part blog post.

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