Terminal Discussion for 2 in a Hostile Environment
When I have time to kill, overhearing a terminal discussion doesn’t spring to mind. Nor does a feeling of futile sadness. When mist, rain and chill breezes mean taking shelter on dreich days, I sometimes pop into a local library and work. Yesterday was a pouring wet writing day, and my car was being serviced. A hostile environment confronted me.
… the study concluded the scale of the cuts and their lopsided impact on the most disadvantaged were a policy choice, rather than inevitable. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur
With a couple of hours to spare, I said ‘hi’ to the staff at the desk, found an empty table, logged on to the wifi and started writing.
terminal and indistinct distress
About an hour in, an unhappy, indistinct murmur grabbed my attention. Was it a person on a mobile phone having a noisy I-don’t-really-need-a-mobile-to-communicate, conversation? No, it was a very public terminal discussion.
On a per-head basis, reductions since 2010 were significantly higher in England – equivalent to about 18% – than in Wales (5.5%) and Scotland (1%), in part because the devolved governments chose to mitigate some effects of the cuts … Guardian article
terminal and distinct torment
Ten minutes later, with desperation adding volume, I couldn’t help hearing a young woman in a desperate situation. Her diction was crystal clear, like an Inverness accent. Her terminal discussion went something like this (‘other end’ is an unheard benefits official):
‘…but I had to pay my October rent last month.’
‘…it cost me £190, and I had to make it out of savings’
‘…Yes, you paid September, but you didn’t pay October, I did.’
‘…Now it’s November, and I have to pay my Landlord.’
‘…But I don’t have any money to spare. You said things would be sorted, and they aren’t.’
She repeated her story pretty much as above a further three times, an increasing note of desperation filling her voice. Yet, she didn’t become abusive. About thirty minutes in…
‘…you want my mobile? What’s going to happen?’ She wept.
‘…Universal Credit isn’t working for me. You make excuses, and my money doesn’t come through.’ She sobbed now, long sniffy sobs, between clear statements.
‘…you’ll call me back tomorrow.’
cradle of civilisation?
The phone clicked firmly on its cradle. It wasn’t slammed. I glanced up as a young woman passed a short distance from my table, lips twitching. A trembling hand rubbed at her face. Outside, she strode past the window, distressed, wiping her eyes with stiff shaky fingers.
Later I walked through and found an all-singing and dancing terminal provided by my Local Council. That’s what she used. A helpful idea for a personal consultation, but in a very public place.
Before I left, I spoke to the librarian at the desk.
‘Does this happen often?’
‘All the time,’ she said.
‘How does it affect you?’
‘It’s upsetting. I wish I could help, but I can do nothing.’
‘Do you all hear this a lot of the time?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘lots of different people, all much the same.’
angry older adult…
I drove home with a heavy heart. Writing this, I feel angry with the insensitive architects of such mental cruelty. What price is the government’s duty of care? Why a belief in hostile treatment? What about a cruel terminal discussion?
Imagine the impact on the young woman and the library staff hearing such conversations, not forgetting the officials operating the system.
the politics of hostility
It is easy for a government to create an insensitive and hostile environment. Policymakers say they care. Do their actions and their outcomes support this? How credible is the rationale?
Whatever the political rationale, a rule-based, computer-controlled, system provides an inhumane platform for just following orders. What are we like? When will we change?
loopholes for claimants?
But the system can be hard to navigate, and it has lots of hidden elements to it that you might not be aware of. Luckily, Anna Stevenson, a benefits expert at debt charity Turn2Us has shed light on five of them.
© Mac Logan