This has been one of the hardest articles I’ve written – to maintain objective distance to write about a tragedy that has me close to tears and a callousness that makes my blood boil. I’ve done my best and I hope I’ve done one man and his family justice, at least.
Today, Theresa May gave a speech in which she spoke of a ‘shared society‘ and pledged to end its ‘burning injustices‘ – as if she’s not fully aware that the worst of them are caused by the policies and worldview of her party.
I’d like to tell her about one of those burning injustices. One that it’s too late for her to end, even if there had been a shred of sincerity in her speech.
Liverpool man Charles James Agnew – Chuck to his friends and family – was a human being. Loving, compassionate, flawed and a hard worker – a former merchant navy cook and baker, as well as a master butcher and trained confectioner. A man of skills and a love for life, who didn’t like to be in front of the lens but took his camera with him everywhere when he was well, which he hadn’t been for some time.
Like most Scousers, he had a big heart, a love for family and an innate generosity. He was close to his sister and three brothers and he loved kids.
I say was, because he died last week, after a series of sanctions imposed by his local Jobcentre – no doubt to meet targets the Dept of Work and Pensions claim don’t exist it’s been proven they do – left him starving and penniless.
Because my words are inadequate to tell his story, I’ll let his brother, who contacted this blog, do it in his own words.
Hi, I am Paul the brother of Charles James Agnew – Chuck to all of us.
Chuck was in the merchant navy from when he left school till he was dismissed through ill health, I’m not sure exactly how many years he was in but at least 12 years. Chuck had a big heart – he had a long time girlfriend who at that time had two children in care one about 6 the other about 4 years old when Chuck met her.She suffered from depression and severe panic attacks. I don’t know exactly why they were put in care, but I do know it was Chuck who got them out.
My brother brought them up as his own – he took them to school, he picked them up from school, he cooked all their meals – all while being a carer for their mother. One day he had to take a bus journey with their mother, but when they got there she got off first and before chuck could get off the bus drove off with the doors still open. Because she was in a state at that time, my brother panicked and jumped of the bus. He fell and the result was severely smashed wrists, which ended his career on the ships – he’d never be able to do the jobs he was trained for again.
A couple of years down the line they both had a child together. Chuck considered all the kids the same – as far as he was concerned they were all his and they were all treated the same . But eventually things went wrong for him when he and she started having arguments, mainly over her not helping him round the house.
He got depressed and started taking some of her tablets to help him get through the day and eventually she threw him out and he ended up in our mother’s house. His ex stopped him seeing the kids – he went through the courts but she wouldn’t turn up to hearings and he got no where.
He missed the kids so badly that he started on harder drugs, but tried to get off them. Now I know people think drug addicts are thin and thieves but even in his worst times Chuck would rather give than receive and was a bit on the chubby side.
Anyway then came the changes to JSA (jobseekers allowance). Chuck went from getting disability allowance to JSA and it was all down hill from there. Chuck lost his younger brother, then our mother. He suffered from diabetes and then with all the stress the heart attacks started – and still, through all of this he suffered what I would describe as harassment by the JSA – appointments here, targets there, being passed from pillar to post.
Chuck had already had a stent in his left leg because of circulation problems from his diabetes and then he was told he needed one in his right leg as well. The operation wasn’t a success, so he was looking at amputation of his right leg and possibly his left as well.
The jobcentre had given him an appointment and with all this going on there was no way he was going to get there. Chuck called the jobcentre and the surgeon wrote them a letter as well – and they still sanctioned him again. It was heartbreaking.
After my mum died, Chuck had to move in with our younger brother, who’s on a low wage. The outcome of the sanction meant my younger brother had to carry the burden of paying all the bills and the extra stress caused him to start drinking.
My younger brother pays his taxes and my sister too and they were both having to pay twice – she’d bought Chuck a laptop so he could do his jobsearches and she could ill afford it. I pay my taxes as well, but I’ve had to subsidise both my brothers.
My brother Chuck, who would help anyone if he could, was basically frozen, starved and harrassed to the point of collapse. Within a year he went from a good 14 stone to just 7 stone, not a picking on him.
And then on Thursday he was found dead in the street by passers-by. He had been to the shop for his small amount of shopping and his heart had just given out.
It feels like there’s a holocaust in this country but it’s being ignored and lied about.
Charles James Agnew of Kingsheath Avenue in Liverpool was my brother. Rest in peace, Chuck, we all miss you loads.
Theresa May, this is not a ‘shared society’ – it’s a scared society. A blighted one.
A society indeed of burning injustices – in which people who do their best are hounded even to their deaths.
A society in which hundreds of thousands of people, including 120,000 children, spent Christmas homeless and face a bleak new year with no hope of better.
A society in which you cut taxes for the rich while you starve the NHS to the point of collapse while you and your Health Secretary hide and ignore it.
A scared society – and you and your party are the cause, not the solution.
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