In her latest guest blog for us, disability rights advisor Laura Welti raises an issue of practicalities for some welfare benefit recipients
I have recently been approached about the arrangements for those without a bank account to access their benefit payments.
The government, albeit reluctantly, contracted a high street chain to pay out benefits monies to individuals without bank accounts upon the provision of certain evidence. The chain has a presence in many areas of Bristol where I am based (and I assume elsewhere too). But there is a fundamental flaw in the arrangement that has been resulting in people having no cash whatsoever for several days after they should have been able to access their benefit payments.
The flaw is that the company has a policy requiring staff to bank the money in the till once it has reached even a fairly low amount, every time it reaches that amount. Consequently a branch will rarely have enough in the till to give more than a couple of claimants their benefit in a given period. The impact of this deeply flawed system is well illustrated by a report from a benefit recipient we’ll call A.
A. visited her local shop to collect her benefits only to be told they didn’t have enough in the till to pay her. Apparently this was because they had already paid someone that day. She then had to go to the next nearest outlet; they had just banked so the till was virtually empty. She then had to visit two more stores, even further from her home, where she was still unable to get the benefits payment she was entitled to.
In the process, she had travelled over 12 miles, mostly on foot as she had no money left for bus fares, and spent over five hours, trying to get money to (literally) be able to eat, to no avail. So she had to walk four miles to borrow enough money from her mother to buy ingredients for that evening’s meal.
The next day she went through the same process – except she gave up a little sooner because she was beside herself with anxiety and could no longer speak to the shop assistants without feeling totally disempowered and getting angry. By the end of the day she had still not been able to collect her benefits payment. The same thing happened the next time she was due a benefits payment.
Bristol is a relatively large city with a number of the contracted company’s outlets, so those living in smaller areas with poorer infrastructure must be facing even greater difficulties – at least in those areas with high unemployment and/or poverty. This is the reality of one of the numerous types of conditionality now woven into the benefit reforms and the high levels of emotional distress they have created. And A. is one of the lucky ones because she had someone to go to when she needed enough cash to eat; many are not so fortunate as to have family close by.
Laura J Welti is Manager of Bristol Disability Equality Forum