Matthew was referred to Wandsworth Foodbank by a job centre adviser after a life-threatening illness and emergency surgery meant he was unable to work - and then his disability benefits were wrongly stopped.
A former Special Forces soldier, Matthew (not his real name) was working full-time as a self-employed carpenter and joiner before becoming unwell. After a DWP health assessment, Matthew was told he was not ill enough to receive out-of-work sickness benefit despite severe ongoing mobility problems and recently diagnosed PTSD. This had a knock-on effect on his housing benefit which stopped, and he began receiving notices of eviction. Matthew says:
“Until it happens to you, you don’t realise how bad life can be. I had to stop work. It was devastating, because the funds I’d put to one side, they were soon gone. I even sold my tools just to make ends meet. I was being threatened that I was going to lose my place. My world was just coming round my ears.
“I’ve paid my taxes since 1980, but it was still a pride thing for me to actually go and put my hand out and say I need help.It’s the stigma from society, from the media, of being categorised as a ‘worthless layabout’. It sounds stupid but when I eventually did go and sign on I used to walk past the job centre as if I was lost, and go back in there as if I was asking for directions. I used to hate it. I didn’t want to be there.
“The DWP can be very abrupt and you have to chase them, and you have to be a thorn in their side because otherwise you will be disregarded. You have to fight. But every time I seemed to turn a corner, there’d be a wall. It was so frustrating, worse than frustrating.
“I had to borrow money to pay bills – to try to pay some rent – and I got into debt, and I didn’t have anything in the cupboard. The world just becomes a dark place, a really horrible place. I’ve stayed in bed for days, because you don’t get hungry in bed, when there’s nothing in the cupboards.
“I’d gone to sign on at the job centre and I asked if there was an emergency payment available for food, and they said ‘No’. I explained I had nothing, I literally had nothing, and they said ‘We can give you a food voucher. Go to a foodbank.’
“I thought how low can you go? I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. I was told where the foodbank was and I had to walk, because I didn’t have any money at all. I eventually came through the doors and it’s the best thing I ever did in my life. The volunteers were so welcoming, so understanding. I wasn’t judged. It restored a lot of faith in me of seeing there was actually something in place for this situation, for me. I was going to go home and eat.
“I was given an appointment with the Foodbank Adviser, and she got on the phone to the DWP straight away and eventually everything got sorted out.
“People need to know the work that foodbanks do, and need to know the position that people are put in. People have to realise that foodbanks are here for a reason now, because of what’s happening; because of the situations people face through no choice of their own, like me.”