PAUL has a benefits assessment today.

It couldn’t come soon enough. In fact, it should have come sooner – he’s been waiting since October, when he was unable to travel to Glasgow to attend checks for the UK Government’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP) disability allowance.

He’s been calling every week for a while to double-check when he can be seen. He says the last operator he spoke to “couldn’t believe” he’d been waiting so long.

He doesn’t blame her – he doesn’t blame anyone, in fact. But Paul has cancer and depression and is reliant on food banks and other help, including support from the HEAT fuel poverty project by the Wise Group social enterprise, which The National has boosted with thousands generated by its partnership with Together Energy.

The meter top-ups have allowed him to have a bath to alleviate the discomfort associated with prostate cancer.

The Coatbridge man has asked us not to use his surname. He was embarrassed to ask for the help, he says. “The only reason I did it was it was a necessity. I can’t work at the moment, but I’d paid tax since I was 16. Now it’s like I’ve been forgotten.”

Paul was employed in steelworks before they were closed under Thatcher. He then became an engineer and his career working for a Swedish firm took him around the world, with assignments in around 30 different countries from Chile to Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh to Brazil.

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That ended seven years ago as his mental health deteriorated and he now gets by on £500 a month from an occupational pension which has to cover rent and bills.

He used alcohol to cope with his depression at first and his marriage of 17 years broke down. “Alcohol doesn’t work, so I’m not doing it any more,” he says. “It was not something that was good for family life.”

Paul has been shielding during the pandemic and his garden has been a godsend. He’s not angry, but he has been struggling. “There are people worse off than me,” he says. “I’ve got my health, apart from the cancer.”

Assuming Paul’s treatment goes well, he’d like to get back to work, maybe in nursing, maybe in work coaching, using the lessons he’s learned from working in different cultures to advise others.

For now, he’s “watching TV and reading a lot of books” – he even read “my old engineering books, but that’s just a bad habit”.

And he’s trying to look after himself, something made easier by the delivery of a supply parcel from his local food bank and the ability to use the power he needs to cook it and keep the hot water on.

“I’m grateful for the help”, he says, explaining why he’s agreed to tell his story. “If someone’s helping you, it’s nice to appreciate it and say ‘they’ve been good to me’.

“You hear many stories about people who are out of work, about the ones that don’t want to work. On the other hand, there are people who do and they can’t. People do look down on you.

“There needs to be more empathy. Politicians make so many mistakes, they should show some empathy with the rest of us.”

The National’s partnership with Together Energy is the first of its kind. Ten per cent of this newspaper’s proceeds from sign-up to the Together Energy Green Brexit Protect 25 Month deal go to fight fuel poverty each month, for the entire duration of each customer’s contract.

To learn more or to sign up, visit