‘The government has been putting a position, ably assisted by the mainstream media, that it had somehow got rid of the problem of unemployment. But in many areas unemployment never went away.
For us, the recession means we are seeing a lot of new people who are seeking support, on top of the problems we were already dealing with. Many of these people are very angry.
Benefits have been eroded to the point that, if Jobseekers’ Allowance had gone up in line with average wages rather than with below-inflation increases, it would now be worth around £110 a week rather than £60. This means that it is harder to survive when unemployed today than it was under Margaret Thatcher.
We’ve met a lot of people in this recession who have never experienced unemployment before. When we tell them they’ll be getting around £60 a week they look at us in disbelief.
After reading the papers, many of them thought that unemployed people get loads of money. They are shocked to find this isn’t true.
Since the turn of the year we’ve seen a lot of people sacked by bosses who want to avoid paying out redundancy money and people who’ve had their terms and conditions changed overnight.
Employers are riding roughshod over people’s rights. Bosses are using the recession as an excuse to attack workers.
Unemployment means that people have to take a serious reduction in their incomes. It affects all areas of people’s existence – relationships, friends, family and self-esteem.
We are against the government placing greater obstacles on benefit claimants.
People have had their benefits taken away from them for ridiculous reasons, such as failing to fill forms in properly, not making themselves “presentable” for work and not chasing every job on offer no matter how ludicrous.
The government is stopping people’s benefits at a time when more and more people are chasing fewer and fewer jobs. Job centres should be there to help people not punish them.
The benefits system is used as a deterrent to those in work – it says, “don’t rock the boat because abject poverty is waiting for you if you lose your job.”
Since Thatcher we’ve seen the prevalence of the idea that people should survive on their own.
But there is nothing wrong with wanting security. We must reclaim the language and change the nature of the debate.
It was short-sighted of the government to close job centres with a recession looming.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently contacted me – to ask if we had any spare capacity at our centre because it couldn’t cope with the amount of new people coming to sign on.
Ironically, they wanted to use our space to run compulsory courses for the unemployed – something we campaign against.
Four job centres have closed over the past decade in our immediate area. I asked the DWP where it was when we were campaigning against job centre closures.
The government has got to stop believing this is just business as usual. Ministers believed their own propaganda about the end of boom and bust. But this should be a lesson for the future.
Derbyshire County Council provides substantial funding for us. Now the Tories have taken control of the council we fear for our future.
Most unemployed workers’ centres are independent associations in the voluntary sector and they have to survive any way they can. Often they have to make bids to external funders, such as the National Lottery and trust funds, for money.
This has a political impact on what such organisations can do.
Instead of campaigning, organisations can become more passive because they become funding-led.
Our supporters, both in and out of work, make donations to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres so we have a bit more independence. We have tremendous support from local trade unions.
Our organisation was built on the need to forge solidarity between workers whether in or out of employment. We need this now more than ever as many on the right seek to divide us.’
The Derbyshire unemployed workers’ centre, together with anti-poverty organisations, will hold a conference on 19 October on the benefits system. Contact: email@example.com