Before coming to HARP, David was homeless for over a decade. When he split up with his wife in 1994, he lost his property too. He worked all over the country - doing household removals - staying in hotels or on friend’s sofas. After ten years, the long working hours and unstable accommodation took its toll on David, but it was a lung condition that would soon force him to leave work.
David told us, “I had to pack the job in. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was passing out, blacking out – everything.”
A lack of income, after leaving work, saw David’s life begin to spiral. Sleeping rough when he couldn’t stay at a friend or family member’s house, David knew he needed help. His sister-in-law told him about HARP and the work we do to help people in his situation. He told us, “I had to get things sorted, so I came to HARP.”
David described to us how it felt to be offered a bedroom at HARP on the same day as coming to our Bradbury Day Centre - “It was like a weight being lifted, having somewhere to stay – somewhere safe.”
On that first day, David met his keyworker Vicky. Over the next few months, Vicky helped him to register with a GP, which led to him being diagnosed with a serious lung condition – something that past doctors had not spotted. Vicky told David about Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit that he was entitled to as his ill-health was forcing him not to work.
David was sceptical at first. “It was pride,” he told us, “I’ve worked from the age of 16. I’ve never been out of work before – not until I became ill. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do what I used to anymore.”
After having both his GP and Southend Hospital advising him that he could no longer work, David’s mental health took a turn for the worse. He received a diagnosis of depression. With his mental and physical health continuing to worsen, David swallowed his pride and decided to apply for ESA.
David went to an ESA assessment with Vicky. They took along notes from his doctors and Southend Hospital, advising that David should not work. During the 40 minute long assessment David was asked to make a cup of tea, amongst other question about his health. Later, he received a phone call from his assessor saying that he was fit to work, because he successfully made the cup of tea!
“For people that are meant to care about someone, they make you feel about that big.” David explained to us whilst holding his thumb and index finger half an inch apart. “They knew all my work history, we gave them all my medical reports - they had everything. I asked how they could compare making a cup of tea to doing an eight hour shift. She didn’t answer.”
After having an appeal rejected David, with support from Vicky, took the case to tribunal. The judge on the day rewarded him with the ESA payment for a minimum of 24 months and also backdated it to when he first applied.
David was clearly relieved at this decision, but told us “It’s never been about the money; it’s about people’s health. Not just mine, there are plenty of other people going through the same thing – and they shouldn’t be putting people through it.”
Since the decision, David has seen an improvement in his mental health and the additional ESA income has helped him take steps towards getting his life back on track. After a few months of bidding for properties, in October 2017, David received more good news. He had made a successful bid and was moving into a home of his own.
David’s ESA payments are now providing him with a lifeline whilst he waits to have a major operation on his lung. After the operation, David hopes that he can return to work. We wish David the best of luck with the operation and going forward with his life.
He told us: “If I didn’t come to HARP, I’d probably be dead now. If I had been on the streets long term, I wouldn’t have survived many cold nights with my illness.”