Have you ever been afraid to open your email in the morning? I don’t mean a mild sense of discomfort, I mean an uncontrollable sense of dread when clicking to open your browser.
For me, this is daily life. I wake from slumber, pull on my clothes, make my coffee and sit down to catch up on incoming correspondence. But I am always filled with a deep-rooted sense of trepidation as I power up the PC to what I might find inside my email.
You see, I am part of a small group called the laymen, we’re volunteers, not of any organisation or body, but individuals who have made it our mission to learn the inner workings of the system in order to find some way of helping in the ever spiralling decay that has become the united kingdom.
I pray every day “Not another one”, and by that I mean, not another email from someone stuck in a position that they cannot dig themselves out of. We are volunteers who see the worst of the system, if someone has been referred by word of mouth to us, they’ve tried almost every other avenue of trying to find help. They’ve climbed the tree of state assistance and of charity organisations trying to create just enough room for themselves to breathe, and all they have gotten from it is the fall, hitting every branch on the way down.
We try to assist with large companies like banks and energy providers, with assisting those who cannot represent themselves to the DWP in the drafting of benefit claims, appeals, and tribunals. We work on the fringes of the system and we pray every day that we never see your name appear in our inbox, because if it does – the system has failed you. On the rare occasion, there is no email, we celebrate because, for just one day, things went right.
Our pact is simple – we will use every legal means at our disposal to try and put things right, and the fact that we are not bound by the niceties and the regulations of organisations gives us the latitude to go to bat. Our commitment is a resolve to do what we can and while we have a high success rate, but we know that failure comes at a large cost, because those who come to us have already expended every avenue.
For my part, doing this sort of work is what saved me from my own health concerns, it gave me something to fight for rather than merely crawling into a hole and pulling the soil over my head. But it is hard work – you must be fully committed to it. There is no 9-5, no rest; and if you are to make a commitment to someone, you make it wholly and completely, because these people have already been chewed up and spat out by normal challenges. Your first port of call is to build trust, to show them that you will not abandon them and you must under all circumstances follow that promise through to its conclusion because you know that the consequences of breaking that promise can have devasting consequences.
You must acquiesce to the fact that your work will be obscure, and out of sight of the general public, because to do the job effectively you must be able to communicate through back doors, and outside of the normal channels. Whistleblowers and disaffected staff members working inside the institutions of government and of state organisations are your most valuable resources, those tired of the daily grind and of feeling having their hands tied behind their back, scraping and clawing and looking desperately for some way to do something to help.
Most importantly, to do this type of work, where the public and voluntary sector organisations teach their staff personal detachment, you must be willing to ignore that part of you which detaches you from the people you work with, autocracy is not your friend as it is in large scale organisations, it is all about the personal connections. The problem is that you feel every part of what the people you assist are feeling, you live it with them. It is mentally draining, all-encompassing and can be devastating to your psyche if you are unable to retain a positive mental attitude. You must turn the pain to anger quickly, the anger to resolve, and the resolve to immediate action. You must find a groove, develop coping mechanisms and live with a philosophy of optimism – pragmatism is not your friend, second best is not good enough and if you don’t have the right mindset, it will eat you alive.
For 10 years I have fulfilled this role, I have experienced the highs and the lows. I have celebrated wins and I have buried far too many people who have become my friends.
The one thing it has taught me? You cannot understand the pitfalls from spreadsheets and reports written by some civil servant on your behalf. These people who come to you are under-represented, they have no voice and their only crime is being subjected to the system which was built on personal bias, partisan politics and what lawmakers “think” they need, not what they actually need.
I’m tired of it, I have had enough, I want to turn the system on its head – until I can do so, I must retire to bed because tomorrow there will be another email to open.