Mary is in her fifties and hasn't been very well for a long time. She drinks heavily and cries a lot. She goes through phases of feeling suicidal and very hopeless. Mary can't read or write and doesn't like to ask for help. She feels very alone and isolated.
Right now, Mary has no income at all and this has been the case since the beginning of March. She used to get Incapacity Benefit but this was scrapped when the new sickness benefit, Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced. Mary was 'invited' to make a claim for ESA, which she did. Her claim was not successful, despite the fact that Mary couldn't enter the assessment room without her son there because of anxiety, had a panic attack half way through and told the medical professional conducting the assessment that she had tried to commit suicide just weeks before.
Quite soon after this, Mary had a big falling out with her son and he went away for a while. Mary's son is usually the one who helps her with letters and forms. While her son was away, Mary received the decision letter about her ESA telling her that she was fit for work but she couldn't read it. She started to drink heavily to stop feeling bad about the argument with her son and she blacked out for a few days.
These days turned into weeks and Mary's money was stopped without her really knowing. Because she had been turned down for ESA, Mary's Housing Benefit was also suspended. The Housing Benefit department wrote to her to tell her this but Mary didn't open the letter because she didn't see the point when she wouldn't have been able to read it.
Weeks became months. Mary hid away in her house drinking heavily and hearing voices in her head. Her housing association served her with a notice of seeking possession because of the rent arrears she'd accrued as a result of her Housing Benefit stopping which had happened because her ESA claim had been turned down. Mary tried to commit suicide again. Her son found her just in time.
Mary has now submitted a late appeal against the decision about her claim for ESA. While she waits for a decision as to whether or not she will be allowed to appeal, her income will remain at zero. The decision might be made in a month, maybe in two or three. Mary was advised to contact Bristol City Council for an emergency payment. She did this. She was given £30. She will not be eligible for this kind of help again for 12 months.
Mary really doesn't think, on balance, that she is fit for work and she doesn't think that the decision makers do, either. In her own words, you're just a puppet to them; just another number; just another success story if they turn you down. Well, if I'm a success, if my life is a success, I just don't know what to say, it's just like they're on another planet altogether, you know what I mean?
Since this post was written, Mary has attempted suicide again and is currently in hospital.