Make no mistake, warns benefits specialist Nick Dilworth, it is a gruelling time to be a frontline welfare advice worker and no less arduous to be a campaigner. Recalling a recent client who was desperate for help with benefits, he says: “He didn’t turn up for his appointment. Then his father rang to say he’d been found dead. That is not the first time that’s happened to me. I had another case where I was expecting to see my first client of the day and instead it was a detective inspector from the local police telling me that he had been found dead. He was only in his 20s.”
According to Dilworth, 54, the collective stress and individual tragedies that have piled up since the government began rolling out welfare reforms in 2011, coupled with cuts to grassroots advice services that have eroded the assistance available, amount to a national scandal. “I don’t think the public knows how bad it is. In the past we’ve nearly always been able to find a solution [to people’s problems]. Now you come across situations where there is no answer and you can’t do anything.
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“People are coming in with multiple problems,” he adds. “You get grown men crying. What you see are broken lives. It means we are seeing people for whom all you can do is give short-term answers like food-bank vouchers. Then your problem as a frontline worker is, ‘how am I supposed to solve this?’”