These last few weeks at The Manna have been eventful to say the least, with sadness in the mix, along with laughter and good news for a number of individuals. On August 8th, The Manna Singers sang farewell to our highly energetic and popular co-ordinator Rachel who is taking a well earned rest before embarking on her next career adventure. We also said a final farewell to a long standing client and the Requiem Mass in North London proved to be a poignant moment for all who attended as his Irish family lovingly laid him to rest.
In the middle of all of this, we continue to welcome strangers who have come along to grace us with their presence. One 62 year old woman arrived at our doors homeless and in a daze just over three months ago. This week she moves into her new sheltered housing flat, the first place she can call her own home in thirty years. Sally, as I will call her, has proved to be a down to earth, straight talking, upbeat woman with the gift of encouraging others and seeing every glass half full, not half empty. At a time when we are one staff member down and still adjusting to change, the person who comes in our midst so well adjusted, practical, and cheerful, surely is a godsend. She is now a familiar face, volunteering with us and we only wish we had met her sooner for our mutual benefit.
We continue to chip away relentlessly at the bizarre and unjust decisions dealt by the Dept of Work and Pensions on welfare claimants and we have played our part three times in the last month in overturning decisions at Her Majesty's Tribunal Service. We are outfoxing them at Fox Court, however 'them' is not the tribunal members but the Dept of Work and Pensions. HMCTS puts the jewel back in the crown of British Justice because judges, chairs, and doctors at Fox Court, Holborn, are typically marked by clear thinking, careful questioning and compassionate insight for the hardships facing our clients.
Thus amidst the difficult moments, the goodbyes which arrive too soon, and the tears that accompany them, it was the sight of one young man in the waiting room of the Tribunal Service, which deeply affected me in these last few weeks. 'Sam' as I will call him, suffers extreme anxiety and social phobia, but despite the supporting evidence of his psychologist, his disability payment was withdrawn last year, leaving his mum to struggle to support him. He had just turned 17, and despite a request for a review, he had to wait one year for justice to be done. During that time he was consumed with a sense of hopelessness about his life, and how he would cope with a tribunal.
When the decision letter was issued to Sam by the court administrator, he handed it straight to his mother who then gave it to me. They were unsure of the legal jargon in the letter so despite the positive attitude from the tribunal board, they still doubted the evidence of their eyes that the appeal was allowed. As I deciphered the letter declaring his victory, Sam put his head forward, his hood falling over his face, and he began to make this low moaning sound as his shoulders heaved up and down in spasms. This went on for several minutes until the Tribunal called us back in because they had looked again at their decision, identified an error in the judgement, and decided to increase the award further! Sam's catharsis revealed the depth of anguish and suffering that the stress of the legal process had done to him. As I look at mother and son in their combined daze of relief, I wept too.
August at the Manna has reflected the present weather in its intensity, turbulence and clouds. Many people continue to be supported and their lives strengthened by their contact with The Manna but the truth of the matter is that the anguish of Sam and all the other victims of merciless bureaucracies, and divisive agendas, is totally unnecessary, wasteful and dangerous to health. We cannot be satisfied as professionals that we are developing higher levels of expertise in welfare advocacy when the cost of it is human misery of our clients. We exist for people in crisis and social exclusion: they do not exist for us. Policy change alone will stop such needless human suffering and promote the common good. Our Manna folk need foundational justice, not eleventh hour turnarounds. The TRUTH is that there is a war being waged against sick, disabled and people of marginal status by our bureaucracies. Its a War on the Poor and its called AUSTERITY.