A mother’s desperate benefits plea

  • ‘Stuck waiting on a cheque’: Sarah Fox with her legally blind son, Branden, in their Pembroke apartment (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

    ‘Stuck waiting on a cheque’: Sarah Fox with her legally blind son, Branden, in their Pembroke apartment (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

A blind teenager and his single mother on financial assistance said they were in a “desperate” situation owing to lack of cash.

Sarah Fox, who lost her job as a human resources assistant at a law firm in July 2018, said she and 18-year-old son Branden were on the breadline.

But the Department of Financial Assistance ruled last month that the family’s government payout was in line with her level of income from two jobs, which bring in about $1,800 a month.

Ms Fox, who shares a flat with her son on Berkeley Road in Pembroke, said: “I’m not asking for a free ride. I’ve been taking care of Branden his whole life on my own.

“For a long time I didn’t even know he could have had disability payments, but that’s OK. But I can’t afford this.”

Ms Fox wrote to the department on November 13 and said she was “desperate because I don’t know how I am going to come up with the money for rent and Belco [electricity]”.

She added: “Branden and I lost our place this summer and we were separated for three months.

“I’m really scared that will happen again. We cannot lose each other again; he needs me and I need him.”

Mr Fox gets $650 a month in disability allowance and Ms Fox receives $946 a month — $429 for her Health Insurance Plan cover and $517 to cover rent.

The Department of Financial Assistance said that Ms Fox “receives all that she is eligible for based on her income” after a review.

Branden is registered as legally blind because of damaged retinas — a condition he has had since birth and which worsened just weeks after his mother was made redundant.

He said: “Just imagine going to sleep and waking up to darkness. That’s what happened three weeks after she lost her job. Most of my mother’s severance package went into medical costs.

“We went to Financial Assistance to try and assist us with rent. We didn’t get it because of the severance package.”

The Foxes went back for help in March when they faced eviction. They said they were offered a single bedroom to share and decided instead to stay with friends.

Branden said: “From April 31 to September 15, until we got this place, we were bouncing from couch to couch.”

Ms Fox has asked to have the insurance funds applied against her rent, but uninsured Financial Assistance clients are required to join the group insurance policy.

Branden’s father does not contribute and Ms Fox cannot work full time because she looks after him.

Ms Fox is allowed to take her son along to her house cleaning work. Branden goes to charity Vision Bermuda for rehabilitation during her three-hour shifts on weekdays at a plant nursery.

The two now live in a two-bedroom flat that costs $1,700 a month and Ms Fox said she cannot cover her bills.

She is not eligible for payments from Financial Assistance to cover food and Belco bills and said that splitting a single room with her son to save money was “not an option”.

Ms Fox added: “We want to be together — he is my responsibility and I cannot handle losing him again. We just need a little more help.

As far as Financial Assistance is concerned, what I make is enough to cover rent. But they don’t take into account that if I call in sick, if I have to take Branden to the doctor, if there’s a public holiday or the people whose house I clean go away, I don’t get paid.”

The two have lived on Berkeley Road since October but have never had gas for cooking because they cannot afford it.

Branden added that his disability payment also comes with several conditions. He said: “Every three months I have to get a doctor’s note to say that I’m still blind. I really want to work. I’ve been to Workforce Development but there’s nothing for me.”

Although he is not completely blind, Branden can only read the enlarged lettering on his phone if it is close to his left eye.

They approached The Royal Gazette after their plea for additional support was turned down. Ms Fox said her son has struggled with depression since his vision deteriorated last year, adding: “He was having panic attacks and he pulled himself out of it. I want people to know how proud I am of him. I just don’t want to lose my son again.”

Branden said his “dream goal” was to attend college in the UK.

He said: “I want to teach, and to advocate for the visually impaired. Just staying here like this is not going to help me — I don’t want to just live off the system. I want to do something with my life and have a future. Not just sitting and waiting for a cheque.”

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Published Dec 4, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 4, 2019 at 6:11 am)

A mother’s desperate benefits plea

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