Mary has a 17 year old son with extensive disabilities including learning disabilities and mental health issues. Until August 2014, Mary’s son had been at school and then took up a supported place at college.
Unfortunately, Mary's son did not manage stay at college due to his disabilities and withdrew from the course. This meant that Mary’s money changed overnight with a huge reduction in her income as she lost child benefit, child tax credits and disabled child tax credits. Mary says: ‘It’s a lot less. I’ve lost my child tax credit, I’ve lost my child benefit. So, I’m rapidly getting in debt’.
When asked how she was managing after the removal of all monies she received for her disabled son, Mary says: ‘I just dinnae eat. I had to phone… What do you call them? When you get emergency help? I can’t remember the name of it. It was through the council. (Was that the Scottish Welfare Fund?) That’s it! I phoned them and I explained to them what had happened (that her son had left college). But the way it happened, obviously I never knew that my money was going to stop there and then. I thought maybe, oh, there will be a week backdated or something. But nothing… They stopped it that week and I was left with 4 pounds in my purse.’ Mary was told all her benefits would stop from that day forward and that she should go to the Scottish Welfare Fund as she had a disabled son.
Mary described accessing the Scottish Welfare Fund as excruciating and explains that she had to answer many questions on why she had not money left, with the person on the other end of the phone making comments about how she should better manage her money. Mary says: ‘And I thought, “who are they to judge?” You don’t know what comes up in somebody’s life. Somebody phoned me back the day later and said “we’re going to entitle you to £18.63. You must buy food with it and that will have to do you until you get your income support on the Wednesday”’.
So Mary was awarded £18.63 from the Scottish Welfare Fund. She had been humiliated by the process, put through the wringer when she was already extremely fragile, and awarded a paltry amount to feed herself and her 17 year old son. When asked how she felt about this, Mary said: ‘I think I cried for about two days. I wasn’t expecting that’.
However, Mary’s humiliation was not complete. In order to receive the £18.63 she had to go to a local shop with a ‘Paypoint’, with a code given to her by the SWF, which the young girl behind the counter didn’t know how to use. Mary lives in a very small town where everyone knows each other. There were people behind her in the queue and she was deeply embarrassed when the young girl shouted to the manager to say she didn’t know what the code was for and the manager replied in full voice ‘this is a crisis fund’. Mary was embarrassed and wished she had not applied for the fund in the first place. Mary says: ‘I was desperate… I was so embarrassed… I was so embarrassed. I wish I had just left it. It was so degrading. I know we all need help in life now and again, and you have to hit the bottom before you come up again, but it was so degrading… I’m not caring if I’ve got half a slice of bread I’ll never do it again, never ever’.
Since this time, Mary has been getting into debt, her health has deteriorated and she has applied to access a counselling service to help with her anxiety. She says: ‘It (her anxiety) has just gone overboard the now. I was actually at the doctors today about it. But again, that’s money worries. My anxiety is making me really, really ill. My anxiety has gone through the roof. I can sleep, but the minute I wake up, all I’m thinking about is money, money, money. What have I to pay tomorrow? How am I going to get the electricity to do another two days? It’s quite scary’.
Mary feels that she is withdrawing from her friends because of the difficulties she is currently facing. She has been invited to a friend’s house on the Saturday night but is reluctant to go because they are talking about having a sleepover and she is worried her nightmares will keep people awake. She also feels that their lives have improved and progressed while hers has gone backwards and feels she no longer has the same things in common with them. There is a real risk of Mary becoming socially isolated:
‘I dinnae like to bother people… on Saturday I’m meant to be going to (my friend’s) house with the girls… we’re going to get a catch up and stuff, and I’m thinking to myself, should I go or should I no? Because she’s like, “we’ll have a sleepover, we’ll have a girlie night” and that’s stressing me out because I dinnae sleep. What if I have a nightmare and stuff like that. I ken they’d be understanding, we would just laugh about it… I think I’ve got myself into a rut now, I’ve got myself into a rut, but it’s just taking that one step to get out of it’.
Mary says that she doesn’t open up to her friends so she would not be able to share how badly she is feeling with them. She says:
“I cannae open my mouth because what can I say? My son’s up having panic attacks every night, I’ve no money, I dinnae ken how I’m going to heat my house next week and my mum’s no well” and I thought, what I had to say about my life would have just brought a complete dampener on everything so I just my mouth shut’.