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Charity seeks out vulnerable Irish people in local pubs

Edward O’Neill is one of those who was helped by the Southwark Irish Pensioners’ Project

A LONDON charity is sending outreach workers into local pubs to find vulnerable Irish people who have had their benefits slashed and don’t know where to turn, The Irish Post can reveal.

Southwark Irish Pensioners’ Project has helped more than 50 people affected by the Government’s radical welfare shake-up since January, many of whom found themselves in dire financial circumstances, some on the brink of homelessness.

Case study: Edward O’Neill – “I felt victimised, like I was being starved out of my own home”

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“We are trying to engage with those affected by the changes, but we have had to be proactive and send our workers into local pubs to find many of them,” SIPP Manager Rita Andrews explained.

“The pattern we are seeing is that most people have not engaged with any services to date and have been living on benefits for a long time.

“They are often Irish men, their social networks are based around pubs and they are quite isolated.

 

“They don’t tend to talk about things such as benefits because they do not want other people to know. So if we did not go into the pubs to find them and talk to them, we would just have more people ending up on the streets.”

She added: “All the landlords in the four pubs we have started with are saying ‘Thank God someone is coming to do something about it’ because Irish people are coming to them with letters about changes to their benefits, not knowing what to do.”

As well as its active attempts to find vulnerable Irish people hit by benefit reforms, the organisation has had to fund comprehensive training programmes for its outreach workers so that they too understand the changes that have seen many of their clients lose part or all of their benefits.

Many people have lost the payment they received on the basis of their disability after attending compulsory face-to-face reassessments that are central to the Government’s reform of Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance.

Ms Andrews admitted the new demand is putting the charity’s already busy team under significant strain, as collating the information needed for some forms, including an 18-page disability questionnaire, takes a ‘minimum’ of six hours, while appeals can last for months.

“We have helped one man who spent his life working on the buildings, had a stroke, is aphasic and is partially paralysed down one side of his body,” Ms Andrews explained.

“When he was reassessed, they found him ‘fit to work’ and put him on Jobseeker’s Allowance. Then his benefits were cut as he went through the appeals process.”

She added: “If he was not given support by us, as with other people in that situation, he would have been very vulnerable. He might not have been able to pay his rent or feed himself. The initial decision was eventually reversed at the appeal because it was obvious he could not work.”

This month, the Government launched a further wave of benefit reforms, including the so-called “bedroom tax”, which will see Housing Benefit reduced by up to 25 per cent for claimants with spare bedrooms.

Benefits will also cease to rise in tandem with inflation and will be capped at £500 a week per household.

Defending those measures earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne said: “For too long, we’ve had a system where people who did the right thing – who get up in the morning and work hard – felt penalised for it, while people who did the wrong thing got rewarded for it. That’s wrong. So this month we’re going to put things right.”

He added: “This month, around nine out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes we are making. This month we will make work pay.”

By the time Universal Credit – the Government’s largest shake-up, which will roll all benefits into one monthly payment – arrives later this year, SIPP expects the number of Irish people affected by it to outstrip its capacity.

“We are coping at the moment, but we are on a very tight rein and have had to streamline our services,” Ms Andrews admitted. “But it is only going to get worse, so once we have trained up our existing staff, I hope we will be able to find some volunteers.”

Case study: Edward O’Neill – “I felt victimised, like I was being starved out of my own home”

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Niall O Sullivan
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Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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