Homeless in Glasgow: Don't buy into the benefit porn propaganda, here's the reality

In part six of a 10-part series, John-Paul Clark slips further into isolation before resolving to take control of his predicament

THE neon streetlights illuminated the night sky as they gave chase behind. I could hear feet pattering on the pavement and their heavy breathing as they got closer.

Outside a tenement block I stumbled and fell and crouched onto my elbows and knees, with hands covering my head, and the assault commenced. The thudding blows did not cause too much concern until suddenly I felt a sharp pain pierce into my lower back. They were tooled up.

I quickly realised my life was at risk as more sharp pains stabbed into my body and I let out an almighty wail. Lights came on in the flats and it spooked them and allowed me to scamper back onto my feet. 

READ MORE – Homeless in Glasgow parts 1-5

I stood facing them until the one with the knife came forward grasping the handle with the long blade pointed toward me. I leaned in and grabbed it, ripping open another flesh wound, and threw the knife into the dark of night and with the same motion turned on my heels and ran. 

They followed bellowing profanity and threats but I was running for my life and easily outran them and took shelter in nearby forestry to phone for help.

In the months following that I didn’t do much as I became aware of my own precarious mortality for the first time. My teenage years weren’t long over and other than an unfulfilling semi-skilled job, I hadn’t made much of an impact on the world and had almost died with no worthy legacy. 

I spent months doing nothing much but recalibrate on where my life was headed. The end result was I decided to go to university and try to get a career and secure a better lifestyle.

Some people might call it a breakdown but I prefer recalibrating. I fell into a similar rut when I first moved into the temporary accommodation and discovered that I could not do the masters course because of the rent charges. 

For the first time in months I had no hope on the horizon and ashamedly I crashed and deliberately isolated myself from the world.

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Immediately upon moving into the temporary accommodation I went to the jobcentre to inform them I would no longer be going to university. I knew working full-time on a minimum wage job would not meet my rent obligation but I still hoped I might be able to work part-time and bring a little cash in. 

Alas, they advised me any money I would potentially earn would go toward my rent. I was stuck and there was nothing I could do until I got out of the temporary accommodation. Getting into somewhere permanent, with normal rent, was the next step and then I could find work, but that had to wait until I had paid some rent arrears. Short term, I had nothing and desperately needed escapism and something to occupy my mind and escape the feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.

I am not a gamer but a friend gifted me an old console and I immersed myself into an electronic reality. For weeks on end I pitifully gamed through the night and into the morning and wouldn’t get into bed until I was ready to collapse. That way, the only time I was alone with my thoughts was when the console was loading or I was walking to the shops.

November arrived and I gratefully started receiving visits from a homeless charity. They asked about permanent accommodation and my rent arrears. When I checked my bank online to see what day of the month the payments were coming out I discovered I had set the direct debit up for the wrong date. 

I went to the bank one frosty morning in December and discovered the DWP had cut my money down to £180 a month.

Another payment plan was easily organised to begin in December but I had messed up massively and prolonged my spell as a homeless person for two or three months longer than it could have lasted. Still, this didn’t rouse me from my self-imposed solitary confinement and I continued on hiding and gaming.

I was best man at a wedding at the start of December and had to try and get myself together for facing family. The thought of doing so and having to explain my situation was daunting. Not only that but partaking in such a joyous celebration of love and commitment only triggered everything I had recently lost.

And like the weak-willed bastard I am I got in touch with my ex-girlfriend again two days days before the wedding. We met up, but to my astonishment she remained in denial and unrepentant of all that had gone down. I actually began to believe her lies again and was obviously not anywhere near over her.

I went along and reticently mingled with family and put on a brave face. It was a tough affair but I got through the day and from looking at the nuptials realised that what my and ex and I had was nothing more than a sham.

After a couple of glasses of wine I loosened up enough to enjoy myself a little. It was refreshing to shake off the stigma as I allowed myself to forget all my woes for a few hours. That day and another day at the football with friends months later were the only two times in the year past I have felt less like a homeless person.

I was already on an extremely tight budget but again I cut costs and began eating some real rudimentary meals. Cheap pasta boiled with chillies and vegetable stock cubes for flavour was typical. 

Afterwards, I retreated back into my concrete cocoon in the clouds and made no more contact with her. It would be early in the new year before I paid enough rent arrears to get onto the waiting list for permanent accommodation, and until then I had reconciled just to stay squirrelled away for the festive season.

That was until I went to the bank one frosty morning and discovered the DWP had cut my money down to £180 a month. It was 3am so there was nothing I could do at that stage. I assured myself it was a mistake and that they couldn’t expect anyone to live off such a paltry amount. 

However, I phoned the bank at 9am and discovered it was no error and it was in fact the council who had taken the money. It had requested that the DWP take £70 a month off my Universal Credit benefit to help with the cost of its £700 per month rent. 

I was incandescent. Not only was the council stopping me from working or going into education, but now it had elected to leave me with not enough money to provide for myself.

I phoned the council up to protest but it would not budge. I did discover, however, that my caseworker had been holding up my application at her own behest. Only those with rent arrears to Glasgow Housing Association cannot go on the list until they pay arrears and my arrears were with another association from years before. 

I was living on £180 a month and £120 was going to electricity. I still had gas to pay at £40 a month, leaving £20 for food and travel for the month.

However, I would have to wait for a couple of weeks for any more communication because the council was shutting for Christmas.

I was already on an extremely tight budget but again I cut costs and began eating some real rudimentary meals. Cheap pasta boiled with chillies and vegetable stock cubes for flavour was typical. 

I was surviving, until my electricity meter started going tonto near the end of December. Previously it was costing me about £10 a week and then all of a sudden it was £30 a week.

I phoned Scottish Power and was met by what can only be described as the most belligerent workforce I have ever encountered. Nobody could or would help and with each phone call arrived a new excuse for the charges. Or else they simply hung up on me. 

Energy companies should hang their heads in shame for these pay-as-you-go meters with their higher rates than normal meters. Why should the poorest pay most for electricity?

I was living on £180 a month and £120 was going to electricity. I still had gas to pay at £40 a month, leaving £20 for food and travel for the month. Don’t buy into the benefit porn propaganda espoused by the mainstream conservative media. This is what welfare really looks like in these times of austerity.

Don’t buy into the benefit porn propaganda espoused by the mainstream conservative media. This is what welfare really looks like in these times of austerity.

This all served to give me the vigour needed to dig myself out of this hole and over the holidays I turned off the games console and devised a plan of action. I would begin volunteering in the new year and get myself together enough to take the fight loudly to the council. 

I had come a long way from the illiterate little rogue who initially rocked up to university all those years ago, and the final step was within my grasp. 

I was seven months homeless at that stage and my attempt at social mobility had followed a curve different to most, but I stepped into the new year determined to reinvigorate my flagging career hopes and quickly fix my housing situation.

Picture: CommonSpace

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