Alone and abandoned
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After her parents passed away, Mary* was brought to the UK from Gambia but found herself alone and abandoned at Heathrow airport. Fourteen years old, orphaned and in a foreign country she was taken into the care of social services in London – not the start in life that any of us would hope for.
It’s possibly no surprise that when Think Family support worker, Joyce Skene met Mary seven years later that she was struggling with her mental health. It was four days before Christmas and Mary was anxious and depressed. She found herself living in a shared house – and only nine weeks away from giving birth. She had diabetes and to make matters worse her landlord had told her that she would have to leave her accommodation before the baby was born.
Mary’s permission to stay in the UK had expired and although she had applied for an extension this had not yet been granted meaning that she was no longer entitled to the Income Support that she needed to survive. Without any money for three weeks she had been unable to feed herself and couldn’t even afford the bus fare to get her to ante-natal appointments and important diabetes checks.
Although Mary now had help to appeal the decision to stop her Income Support, she was still told that she wasn’t entitled to any benefits. Over the coming weeks Joyce referred Mary to social services’ safeguarding team as her unborn baby was at obvious risk. Mary was diagnosed as having depression and was allocated a mental health midwife; she was also referred to Sure Start for family support that together with her support worker helped her to feed herself through the generosity of food parcel donations and emergency funding from social services.
Six weeks after her income was cut, Mary took an overdose of diabetes tablets. Luckily she was in hospital at the time and another Bromford colleague, Joanna Stearn raised the alarm before any lasting damage was done.
With continued support, Mary eventually got the help of a solicitor to chase up the border agency who acknowledged that her application had been submitted in time – despite this, she still received no income. With no money, not only was Mary struggling to feed herself but she was now threatened with eviction as her rent wasn’t being paid. A nil income application for housing and council tax benefit was placed, and eventually this was paid which, at least ensured that Mary had a roof over her head.
Two months after we first met her, Mary gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy but she still had no income. Feeling anxious that her baby would be taken into care because of her lack of income, she eventually received some good news. The border agency confirmed that Mary could stay in the UK and, after more appeals her income support was reinstated and an application for child tax credits and child benefit was completed. Things were starting to look up and an application for social housing was also submitted to help Mary to move out of the shared house.
Unfortunately things for Mary never seemed to run smoothly. Following an investigation by child tax credits it was discovered that her landlord was not legitimate. When pushed for a tenancy agreement he ‘evicted’ Mary, making her and her baby homeless.
A few months later and Mary’s life is on the up. After initially spending time in emergency accommodation Mary and her baby now have a two bedroom home of their own and no longer need the involvement of social services. Not only are Mary and her baby secure in their tenancy, they are also receiving the financial help that they need. The tenacity of her support worker has ensured that she also received a back payment of income support for the period when it was wrongly stopped. This payment has allowed her to furnish and carpet her new property, making it into a home for them both. She has also applied to Birmingham University to continue a politics degree that she had to pull out of when she was 18 due to lack of financial support because of her immigration status.
The support given has not only helped Mary to find a home and improve her mental and physical health, it has shown Mary a future and has given her the confidence to pursue her ambitions.
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