“Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of following the TUC Austerity Bus as it toured localities in Liverpool.
As an academic I have been alerted to the adverse impact of austerity policies on key issues and populations through current controversies and debates. The uses and abuses of statistical data are often central to arguments about what are the ‘real’ impacts of policy programmes. However, hearing the stories and strategies of those living with the consequences of austerity policies certainly put flesh on the statistical skeleton for me.
A dominant theme throughout my independent discussions with residents, volunteers and paid workers in three urban localities was, of course, the ‘Bedroom Tax’.
Women I spoke with in West Everton were clear that the creation of under-occupancy in social housing was a deliberate strategy that would later be used to justify selling prime inner-city land to the private sector. They spoke with passion about how residents during the last 20 years had worked hard to transform their locality into the stable and supportive community it had become, and how the Bedroom Tax was now destroying this.
“What politicians don’t understand about Liverpool is intergenerational support between the community. Move a grandmother out and who will pick up the kids? Families support one another. Strip them of their pride, take everybody’s dignity and pride from them –it’s a slow tortured death – like Schindler’s list.”
Another key issue was food poverty.
The Chair of Knowsley Foodbank told me that since the 1 April there had been an astonishing level of increase – 40% more people compared to the same period in 2012. This meant feeding 4,300 this year compared to 3000 last year – 40 tons of food compared to 24 tons.
I asked about fraud, as press and politicians sometimes suggested that people used foodbanks so they could spend their income on alcohol and cigarettes. He told me the Trussell Trust administers foodbanks through a rigorous computerised system of logging access (a maximum of three times a year for three days although some areas have now had to increase this because of need) and said:
I was told of many instances where long gaps in income had been caused by mistakes and failures in other state welfare systems and that this was becoming increasingly common. A Children’s Centre manager in Norris Green told me:
“Things are very bad – we keep going because our staff are wonderful – they will stay as long as it takes – evenings or weekends. I can’t believe some of the things that happen [elsewhere]. For example a family with a young child came to us on the 18th December after their money had been stopped for three weeks by the Job Centre because they were late for an interview. I thought the person who did that had no moral sense at all.”
Of course the overriding anxiety was employment or rather the lack of it especially for young people.
Back to “day labourers on the docks”
There were many stories from parents about the exploitative nature of work programmes for young people. The associated employment often involved long hours, (e.g. 6 a.m. to 11p.m.; 9.00a.m. till 4.a.m) unsafe conditions, paying for their own work-related expenses and no pay for the first two weeks because they were ‘training’.
Some were told they were regarded as self-employed and so had to do their own tax return and many had zero contract hours. As one mother said they were, “hanging about and then told they are not wanted – going back to day labourers on the docks”.
So my over-whelming impression, wherever I went and whoever I spoke with, was that no one believed that any mainstream political party or leader know what is happening as a result of these policies or, most significantly, even care – one more powerful indictment of the democratic process in Britain in the new millennium.”