Linda Colling: So very vulnerable

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FORGET the scroungers hanging on to their disability benefits, I’m talking about the genuine and vulnerable who are being stripped of theirs, like the 52-year-old Sunderland woman with mental problems I met this week.

Twice in a year she has been deemed fit for work. You only have to look at her to know she wouldn’t last five minutes in any job.

So very vulnerable, she’s tried to end it all before, and is so mentally fragile she likely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Sunderland charity Disability Support Group North East, which sadly and frighteninly is facing closure next month and desperately needs a cash lifeline.

The Group, which is helping scores who can’t fight for themselves at tribunals – they successfully appealed on that woman’s behalf and others who can’t read or write, saving them from ending up on the streets – is in crisis. It’s funding has run out and the lights will go out next month in Boddlewell House in High Street East, unless cash comes from somewhere.

That’s why I am appealing on behalf of this dedicated band of volunteers for everyone to take their plight to heart and give anything they can.

The reality is they can’t go on, and they need in excess of £30,000 a year to run this unique service, the only charity in the city offering such a comprehensive one, including wheelchair hire.

Wheelchair-bound volunteer manager, Ann Storey, a polio victim, is fighting on all fronts for funding. She told me: “If we weren’t here there would be nobody doing it to the degree that we do.”

Turning to the woman they have just saved for the second time from losing her disability benefit, and who has explained to me, “I can read but I can’t understand it all ” – Ann says: “What worries us is that there are so many people like her who are coming here. These people will fall by the wayside and if we can’t help them and go to tribunals with them to keep their benefits what happens to them then?”

What indeed? They just don’t know where to turn, and without this place would be left to God and good neighbours.

And for the mentally fragile and others it is frightening to think how many will fall through the net, end up homeless, lost souls, totally lost off by a system that defeats them and decrees that they are fit to work when they aren’t. It’s cruel, dangerous and downright wrong that in weeding out those who are milking the system, the genuine, both the physically and mentally unfit are driven into destitution and despair to such a degree that lives hang in the balance.

That’s a terrible fact. And that’s why it is crucial this charity stays in existence. It had no option but to dispense with paid welfare benefits manager Tracy Vincent, 41, from Farringdon, who is now jobless and working there as a volunteer.

Here are people standing up for all those who can’t speak up for themselves, many at their wits end, in tears, distraught who are treat not as a number but a person.

And given there are more vulnerable people facing losing their benefits, this service has never been needed as much as now.

It can only afford to be open Monday and Tuesday from 9am to 5pm, and Thursday mornings. We can’t afford to lose it. You can help by sending any donation to Disability Support Group (NE) 1-2 Boddlewell House, High Street East, Sunderland SR1 2AS. Tel 5678107.