As those most affected by austerity Britain blame themselves, we must turn attention to the real culprits, argues Karen Buckley
As an NHS psychological therapist, I’ve seen a lot of people adversely affected by austerity, our crumbling public services, the heartless benefit system and the pernicious effect of privatisation on jobs and wellbeing. People come to see me because they’re distressed and suffering. Too many feel a failure, broken and useless. They individualise the social, political and economic systems adversely affecting them as their own failure. It is heartbreaking.
One client, let’s call him Jack, had not known that the anxiety and depression he’d suffered for years was linked to undiagnosed PTSD. He suffered a very serious unprovoked attack from a group of men a few years before. This had caused flashbacks and agoraphobia, his relationship broke down, he stopped seeing friends, he lost his job. His life became very narrow. I tried to help him get on a sickness related benefit as the constant job searching he was required to do to get his JSA was exacerbating his anxiety and depression. The job searching achieved nothing as no one wanted to employ him. His obvious anxiety was too high. So he felt he was worthless, that he was a burden and his life was pointless. But he couldn’t risk changing from JSA to a sickness benefit as Universal Credit had come in. Universal Credit would mean he had to get ID he didn’t have and couldn’t afford. Moreover, there was a 5-week delay at least. This really scared him. What if he was thrown out of his flat because he no longer pays his rent? How would he survive if he had no money for food for at least 5 weeks? We contacted agencies to get advice but no one could reassure us a change to Universal Credit wouldn’t leave him at risk. When you’re as anxious and low as Jack and already feel you’re clinging to a precipice, there was no option but to keep doing the soul-destroying and futile job seeking that steadily chipped away at any self-worth he had left. I wish I could have helped him see the courageous, intelligent, thoughtful man he so clearly was.
But Jack is not the only one. I’ve seen many like him. All whose life circumstances and mental ill health have left them vulnerable and needing support to get back on their feet. I can feel helpless to help them. No council or affordable homes, families struggling with overcrowding and the tensions and conflicts this causes, writing letters to benefit agencies to say the person really is unwell. Long wait times to see NHS specialists to get the treatment they require. School cutbacks. People in jobs that always want more for less. Zero hour contracts. On and on it goes. So many people, all trying to survive in the harsh, cold reality of Tory Austerity Britain. An immensely rich Tory Britain where the rich get ever richer. It truly is an outrage and desperately sad.
The People's Assembly have launched a nationwide Britain is Broken tour to fight back against this government. Dates will be released soon, and you will be able to find them on People's Assembly.