My daughter and I arrived at our weekly demo a few minutes early, it’s always good to get everything set up first so that we aren’t too rushed. Unfortunately my plan was thwarted, because I was busy from the minute that I arrived. It’s like this most weeks sadly.
I’m sure that some people might think that we really aren’t that busy and it’s quite easy going. They have the misconception that we just stand around protesting and handing a few leaflets out. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone that has attended our weekly demos can attest that we are busy, that we don’t just stand there and we do a lot of work on foot. This is also hampered by the fact that we are outside, in a public space which is where we are supposed to be, but it isn’t easy to give advice on a busy street and at times we do get a fair bit of verbal abuse. You know the type, folk shouting “Get a job, scroungers” etc etc. This does happen and it really is pot luck if it doesn’t happen every week.
We now have had a new struggle on our hands. Stalybridge Jobcentre has been shut down, and the claimants are now being sent to Ashton Jobcentre. They don’t know us, haven’t a clue what we are doing and we will have to build trust up with them. From what I could gather today most people were happy to see us and all took a survival guide leaflet from us. Hopefully they will act upon the information on it.
I’m also very worried about how claimants will be able to travel to Ashton Jobcentre from their homes in Stalybridge. Having no money prevents expensive bus travel and the walk is a very long one. Failing to attend the Jobcentre for any appointment results in a sanction, because the DWP show claimants no sympathy at all, and many of the Jobcentre staff are also unsympathetic. I could write about the politics of this for forever.
Here’s an article that I wrote in February about the jobcentre closures.
As soon as I arrived and Gordon and my daughter handed over the food parcels over, I was inundated with requests for help. There were some new faces and at one point I was trying to hold a conversation with three people at once.
Whenever anyone comes over to ask for help, I have to enquire about their circumstances and to what their problems are. It’s not easy doing this but I have to ensure that as well as offering immediate help I can also refer them to any local organisations that have more facilities and the offices to help people. Some people like to talk about their struggle though, we might be the only people that they have spoken to for a long time that is sympathetic and we totally understand that. Sympathy, solidarity, help and advice is what is needed. Not like the arrogance and hate metered towards them from the Jobcentre staff and the DWP. Not all Jobcentre staff are like this though, but the nicer ones are finding it tougher and tougher to deal with their work situation. No one wins with the DWP, and the staff that are enforcing and creating unrealistic and unfair targets will realise this in the near future.
Every person was referred to local organisations and helped, food parcels were given to those that desperately needed them and those in desperate need were informed that they could go to a local organisation straight away. Some readily accepted this advice and informed me that they would go straight away, some told me that they weren’t ready yet. I understand that completely and I am working on that.
I spoke to a man who is a recovering addict who is successfully overcoming his addiction. This is such a hard thing to do, and we gave him an open invitation to come and chat to us every week, conversation and positive engagement are both very important when overcoming any type of addiction.
I was stopped by a lady and her boyfriend, her story was awful and for anyone saying that ‘lefties’ make these stories up, need to stand with us and communicate with the people that are suffering.
The lady went on to tell me her story. She had previously lived a fairly peaceful life she said. She had children, had got divorced and managed to send her children to university. However, she had suffered from mental health issues rendering her unable to work since the birth of her last child. This can happen to anyone, but she coped the best that she could doing the best for her children, and she did a good job.
One of her children, a daughter however has type 1 diabetes, and she lives with her mother. Both caring for each other.
Her life completely changed when she met her boyfriend. He used to visit her at her house twice a week, she was aware about the rules that exist about having a partner stay over whilst living in social housing, or private let housing and claiming benefits. She told me that he never stayed over than the permitted amount of times and I believe her.
She stood in front of myself, and Roy who had then joined in the conversation clutching a bundle of letters. She told us that somebody had informed her that her partner was living with her and that her ESA and other benefits were stopped. She told us that she wasn’t well, didn’t know what to do so was now trying to get everything reinstated. Her boyfriend is also ill, and very mistakenly, she thought that because they had made this decision that he had to move in with her. Since then she is finding it very stressful looking after him and herself.
This left them with no income at all, and their diabetic daughter was without food. Not having been in a situation like this before, she started the struggle to regain her ESA benefit. I also gave her a food parcel because my immediate concern was that her daughter needs to eat. If she accessed the other help available she could receive more regular help and support, but a food parcel was given straight away with the advice being, go and keep your appointment at the council offices to sort your housing benefit out, take the food parcel home then please access the other help that is available straight away. I’m hoping that she managed all this, and I also hope that she can now see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.
Advice was also given about claiming other benefits whilst waiting for her ESA claim to be accepted and we gave her the much needed signposting that she needed.
This is how easy someone’s life can be totally changed for the worst. One telephone call and her lifeline was taken away. I really don’t know what kind of sick kick that people who make false claims against vulnerable people get. Some people are just plain nasty and I’m never shocked at how low some people will go to enable another person’s suffering. Society should help each other, not punish others whom they deem not worthy of anything. Our government and the mainstream media, bar a couple of news organisations are guilty of this.
Without our help today I dread to think what could have happened to this lady. Thank goodness we were there to help.
I also helped another lady who wants to keep her details private. She waits round the corner from the Jobcentre and signals me to come over and talk to her. She’s terrified of the Jobcentre, and what they could do to her if they saw her talking to us.
Yes folks, people are scared, very scared of the DWP. We cannot become complacent about their fear, because it’s real, and it’s the reason why many people take themselves off the system then become hesitant in engaging with any help offered. The system has broken them, and they are afraid that different organisations will do the same.
This week was very busy, and I apologise if I have missed anything out. We handed out six food parcels, lots of help and leaflets. The solidarity was never ending and our compassion was self evident.
It’s very hard work both attending the demos and organising them. I work very hard at both, and being a single parent on a very low income this isn’t easy. It really isn’t. I can’t count how many sleepless nights that I’ve had because of this and the issues that we deal with on a weekly basis. I don’t have a magic wand either, even though I wish that I did.
Many thanks to everyone that came along today, you really don’t realise how much this does mean to me. Attendance has been low lately which saddens me, but I’m hoping that our delayed 4th anniversary demo will give us a moral boost. It’s going to be good. I will share more details of this nearer the time.
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There’s a Red Flag walk this Sunday in Ashton Under Lyne. Please come along, any proceeds that are made are being put straight into leaflet production because we are very low on them. I can thoroughly recommend these walks, and the link is here for further details.
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