When 41 year old Mark Smith found himself out of work and homeless in Thailand, after 15 years living in the Kingdom, he turned to social media for help.
Like many other brits who arrive in Thailand Mark had enjoyed the beaches, bars and the freedom Thailand offers those looking for a way out of the rat race in the UK. After exploring the country, enjoying beach parties and the exotic lifestyle Mark invested in a bar, fell in love with a local girl he later married and started a family. Mark was living the dream, however, like many others the dream later turned into a nightmare.
As the tourism on the island took a downturn, thanks to the world economy and the exchange rate, business in the bar dried up and Mark found himself looking for alternative methods of earning a living. After inheriting some money he invested in land in the north of Thailand, close to his wife’s family, and planted rubber trees.
Life in the north was very different for Mark, who had become used to the excesses of island life and as he continued to enjoy a boozy lifestyle cracks started to appear in his marriage that eventually ended in divorce.
Unable to find work back on the islands Mark called on friends back home for loans to pay for his visas and work permit and keep the company he relied on for his visa alive.
With generosity from friends back home drying up and little work about for British men, Mark fell on hard times and eventually found himself sofa surfing before being homeless sustaining himself on free food offered at local bars on special occasions and later from the bins outside MacDonald’s.
Struggling with alcoholism Mark turned to social media and friends back home for a solution that came when a friend found him a job on a building site in the UK that included free accommodation and paid for his ticket back home.
However, what seemed like the perfect solution was not as easy as it seemed to Mark who lost his job within a week due to his alcoholism, he once again found himself homeless, this time in the UK.
Like many other Brits who return to the UK when things go wrong in Thailand, Mark turned to the British Government for help and was horrified to discover that he was not eligible to receive benefits until he had been back in the country for 3 months. Mark asked for help with housing, but, as a single man with no dependants he was low on the list of priorities and was only offered a sleeping bag and given a list of charity organisations who feed the homeless.
Mark felt very resentful at the way he was treated by the authorities in the UK and felt it was disgusting that he was not being taken care of, despite having not paid into the system for 15 years. Again Mark turned to social media to help and found sofas to sleep on. Sadly, Mark, who was still suffering from alcoholism, found he often outstayed his welcome and ended up back on the streets.
After being forced to steal meat from local stores to feed his addiction Mark managed to survive the first three months and ended up in a homeless shelter who offered counselling for his addictions and very low rent he was able to pay from his benefits.
Upset by his new surroundings and having to share accommodation with drug and alcohol addicts Mark was happy to receive the opportunity of help from a friend who had also recently returned from Thailand and was willing to help him rebuild his life. With support from his friend, a warm bed, a roof over his head and three meals a day Mark managed to control his alcoholism and found a job on a local building site. Mark did so well at his new job he was given a company truck to drive and looked forward to his first monthly pay check. Sadly when that pay check came, missing Thailand and his child, his need for alcohol overtook him and he found himself upside down in a ditch, three times over the legal drink drive limit in the UK and after being taken to hospital spent the night in the police cells before facing the courts and the sack after writing off the company truck.
A few weeks later in court Mark explained that drink driving was a way of life in Thailand and he had not understood the restrictions in the UK. Having never been in trouble in the UK before he was let off a custodial sentence and community service and landed himself a nominal fine and a 2 year drink drive ban. However, finding work now was going to be very difficult.
With only £70 pounds a week coming in from the Government Mark found he was unable to contribute to his friend’s household bills and food budget as he only had enough money for cigarettes and alcohol. Once again he was homeless.
After a few weeks sleeping rough Mark managed to get a place back in the homeless shelter and is now very bitter at the way he has been treated. Mark feels that returning Brits are largely ignored by the British Government, who he feels favour assisting migrant families to the UK. He said “the accommodation I have been given is meant to be bed and breakfast, but all I get is a slice of toast and some stale cereal for breakfast. I am not allowed to have alcohol in my room and I am charged for the room and even for doing my laundry” Mark finds the other residents difficult to dealt with too he said “this place is full of alcoholics and druggies, they lie and cheat and have stolen my tobacco, I can’t believe the UK government treat me like this, I am British, it’s disgusting”.
Mark’s case is not unique. Many ex-pats who find themselves in trouble in Thailand are surprised to find little help available when they return to the UK and many choose to remain and eke out a meagre living in Thailand as they know re-establishing themselves in the UK can seem impossible. With private landlords wanting large deposits and credit references before letting their properties, those who have spent many years abroad are often turned down when submitting rental applications.
Many ex-pats have fallen prey to alcoholism overseas and find, on returning to the UK, little help is available.
Should the UK be doing more to help returning ex-pats establish themselves back in the UK? One of Mark’s friends, Jane told us “while I am sorry that Mark is in this situation I am not sure what he expected on his return. He has arrived in the country with nothing and basically lived of the goodwill of his friends. He has received free health care from the National Health who have given him free blood tests, anti-depressants and organised counselling to help him with his addiction but he turned it down, despite having been told his health has been damaged by his drinking. He has not paid into the already overburdened system, refuses to deal with his alcoholism, and has already lost a good job that could have got him back on his feet to the demon drink. I think its Mark’s responsibility to sort his life out and not the UK Government. His friend gave him a roof over his head and food for two months and he didn’t pay a penny towards it, I think he needs to take responsibility for his own life and not expect others to do it for him. It was his choice to leave the UK and go and live on a beach.”
Another friend, Barry, told us “I think Mark has been badly treated, it’s not fair that asylum seekers get all the help but the British are forgotten. As a British man I think Mark should have been offered a council house and benefits, he has paid into the system, he had a job 20 years ago in the UK and he paid tax then. So he likes a drink and a cigarette, it’s not right he should stop the things he enjoys because he is forced to choose between alcohol and food trying to live on seventy quid a week, this country needs to wake up and take care of its own”
Mark told us that he feels his situation his hopeless, “I don’t know why I came back” he said, “I would have been better off being homeless in Thailand, there may be no benefits but at least it’s warm and I could sit on the beach all day. At least there I can always find something to eat and drink, people are not generous in the UK, they just treat you like s**t, I have had to resort to picking cigarette butts up off the street, if I had the money I would go back without a second thought”
The names in this article have been changed
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