More or less exactly a week ago I bashed away at these very same keys and asked the online world for some help to give a client of ours some heat and light. I awarded him the made up name of Donald and laid out his story for the world to see. He is one of the millions of unnoticed people who have fallen victim of an increasingly vindictive and ruthless state. Donald's learning difficulties mean he finds it almost impossible to do what the Job Centre tells him to do. Hell, someone can tell me I am required to beat Usain Bolt in the hundred metres but let's face it, it ain't about to happen.
So he is guilty as charged of the crime of not being able do what they demand. Bang to rights. Deprived of all his disposable income for the next three months. Last week Donald was living in the cold and dark and he was sentenced to stay that way until February. So we asked if you guys out there could come up with £160 to get the lights back on.
Well, nearly 400 of you said OK, count me in. And not just for £160. Let's make it £7000. It's OK. Your eyes aren't playing any tricks. You read it right.
So. We got our act together pretty quickly and by Wednesday we unveiled the new First Base 'Donald Fund'. It is there for anyone in our neck of the woods who is living in the cold and dark as a result of the cruelty or ineptitude of the British State. Our local paper splashed the news on the front page complete with a somewhat bizarre picture of me looking like a complete eejit. Tomorrow morning Donald's story and your response to it is the subject of a debate on radio Clyde.
By Thursday, the three local Citizen's Advice offices had a referral process in place and all staff duly informed.
Well, yesterday the Donald Fund sprang to life. First up was Donald himself. Lesley walked up the road with him to stick £200 on his gas and electric and all the way he kept promising faithfully he would make sure he didn't waste any. Not a light would be left on unless it was absolutely required. And all the way Lesley tried to encourage him not to be too mean with the heating. It's winter Donald. It's cold Donald. So make sure you stay warm, OK. Aye. Well. But I'm definitely going to keep it switched down as low as....
Maybe she persuaded him to get his living room up to seventy degrees. Maybe not quite. We'll keep working at it as he comes in for his bi-weekly food parcels. And how was he when we told him we had come into some funds which meant we could get his lights back on? Bowled over, stunned, cautiously over the moon, wondering if there was a catch, not quite able to process the fact that some good news had come his way. The likes of Donald are used to getting kicked in the teeth all the time. They find it hard to get their heads around something going their way for once.
Next up was Ruby, another real person with a made up name. Ruby is from West Africa. Back home she was a successful professional woman but things were going bad. Gangsters were taking over the neighbourhood and every week somebody got very dead. The bad guys were up to their eyeballs in drugs and guns and all of a sudden life was as cheap as chips. The police were nowhere to be seen. She was a mum with two kids. Here son was two and her daughter was eleven. She was terrified they would become collateral damage in the growing mayhem. So she did like mums have done since the dawn of time. She protected her kids. She cashed in all her chips and flew north to the land which had once upon a time planted its flag on the soil of her land. The old Imperial Master.
London was tough. There was no point in asking for asylum because her country wasn't an official war zone. Drug crazed murdering gangsters with booming rap music and AK 47's don't count as a war zone. Nothing there to justify asylum. I mean, come on.... So instead she was deemed an economic migrant on a work visa. One of the ones everyone seems to want rid off.
Work in her given profession was not an option. So Ruby spent every spare penny on re-training for the kind of work she could find. The kind of work we don't seem able to persuade our own people to do. You know, the caring for the vulnerable thing. She collected up all the 'Social Care' certificates she needed and worked away and paid her taxes. Her son settled in primary school with English as a first language and West Africa as a fading memory. Her daughter got straight A's in all the sciences and got a place at university.
The time came to renew the work visa and this time the Home Office said thanks but no thanks. Oh of course we realise you are doing a job that absolutely needs doing. And of course we realise you are paying all your taxes. But I'm afraid all of that really doesn't come close to cutting the mustard. Not any more. We have a mandate you see. We promised to reduce the likes of you to the tens of thousands. Yeah? Watch the news do you? Ever heard of a thing called Brexit? Duh?
Can't you get it into your head, we don't want you here. Time to go home. To get lost. To bugger off. And if that means there will be nobody to wipe our old people's bottoms then our old people's bottoms will have to be left unwiped. Settled will of the people, right? We're all bigots now.
Ruby heard whispers about a place called Scotland where there was still some hope instead of hate. She cashed in all her chips and came north. Everything she owned was just enough to cover four months of rent. She was left to hope and pray four months would be long enough for the Home Office to say yes, we grant you leave to remain to continue wiping the bottoms of our old people and to pay our taxes.
But there has been no word. Not so much as a whisper. Which means Ruby and her kids are in the worst kind of limbo. She isn't eligible for any State support whatsoever and if she even thinks of applying for any it will be deemed a blot on her copy book. Worse still, she isn't allowed to do so much as an hour's worth of paid work and if she does and gets caught it will be an even bigger blot on her copy book. The offer of university has been withdrawn from her daughter, though thankfully her son is allowed to go to school.
Ruby came to us in November without a penny to her name with less than fortnight left on the rent she had paid. We told her we could guarantee to feed her and her kids come what may. For as long as was necessary. I gave the wonderful Moxy from DG Refugee Action a call and the wonderful Moxy whistled up a month's worth of rent. Enough to keep a roof over the family's head for Christmas. Enough to put off the moment of truth.
So food. Tick. Shelter. Tick. Heat and light …... Nothing doing. Christmas looked like being all about candles and cold. And then 400 people gave £7000 and the Donald Fund was able to do it's stuff. This is the text Ruby sent me yesterday. I am pretty sure it is also to every person who gave us the money to make the Donald Fund a reality.
'Good afternoon, sir. Thank you very much for your support and assistance. God will reward you richly and have a nice weekend. Best regards. Ruby.'
Will there be a happy ending or will the Home Office goon squad crash through Ruby's front door at four o'clock in the morning? I don't like to think about it much. The new hard line of immigration is way above our pay scale. All we can do is keep the family fed and warm and to pray for the day when an Independent Scotland has the right to offer a home to people like Ruby who will give us the care we hope for in our twilight years.
Yesterday we had our first referral from Citizen's Advice. This time it was all about cock up rather than deliberate nastiness. What shall we call the client? Why not Bernie. Bernie is disabled. He is disabled enough to make work a thing that is out of the question. For years he has been on DLA – Disability Allowance. Now he is required to 'migrate' to the new PIP – Personal Independence Payments. Seriously, that is how they call it. 'Migrate'! Like a Canada Goose. Like Ruby.
There is no argument about Bernie's PIP. They just haven't got their act together to make the payments continue seamlessly. The computer has buggered it up and Bernie has no money for a week and less than a couple of quid on the meter.
Well he has power now. £20's worth. Enough to see him through to the payment the DWP has promised to make next Thursday. And if the payment fails to materialise and the cock up continues, then we will will keep topping him up until the DWP eventually come through.
So there you are. Our first three Donald Fund clients. Different lives, different stories, very different people. But they were all living in the cold and dark. And now they are living in the warm and light because 400 good people gave a damn.
Yesterday Lesley smiled and said Christmas at First Base will be better this year. Because this year there is more we can do. Last Christmas all we could offer was food. This Christmas we can offer food and heat and light.
Progress, right? Oh, nearly forgot! If you fancy topping up the Donald Fund you can do so by following the link below.