In the news this week the Department for Work and Pensions announced that more than 400,000 people have lost Jobseekers Allowance under new government sanctions. Employment Minister Esther McVey said that people were paid Jobseeker’s Allowance only if they were doing all they could to look for a job. She said these sanctions were only used against those who were “wilfully rejecting support for no good reason”.
On Tuesday I stood outside the Ashton-under-Lyne Jobcentre with members of the Tameside against the Cuts campaign and heard a different story. We were leafletting to show solidarity with the thousands of people who have had their benefit cut for no reason and those who are being pushed into working for employers whilst only receiving their benefits.
Several young men came up to me as I was leafletting and were very angry and bitter about the way they had been treated by the Jobcentre staff.
One young man, in his 20s, said;”I have done everything they have asked me to do. I have attended every interview and they suspended my claim. I went to the CAB and appealed but its going to take another month for it to be sorted. It’s not fair and now I am in debt for no reason.”
Another older man joined us and said; “They, the Jobcentre staff, are making a lot of people very angry. And when you complain, they just ban you from the premises.”
Steve Starlord from Tameside Unemployed Workers Alliance said that they had organised the picket “to stop state sponsored slavery and opposing working for your dole. If there is a job out there then people should be paid the rate for the job.”
TUWA are just one group that took part in the action yesterday. members of the Green Party and the anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign are also part of the Tameside against the Cuts group. Each week they meet and offer support to people who are unfairly having their benefits sanctioned, being made poorer by legislation such as the Bedroom Tax and the increasing numbers of people who are being taken to court over Council Tax arrears.
It is not just the unemployed who are facing hardship, as on the same day in Ashton and across the country, staff in Probation Offices were on strike against the privatisation of their service. Privatisation only means one thing: massive cuts in wages and benefits such as pensions. From the Jobcentre TAC moved to show solidarity with striking Probation workers.
Across the northwest pickets and demo took place on Tuesday to highlight the affect of the Government’s austerity agenda. They were organised by the People’s Assembly with the support of groups including Greater Manchester Keep our NHS Public, the Green Party and the various Bedroom Tax and anti-cuts campaigns.
Stockport NHS Watch picketed Stepping Hill Hospital, giving out 2, 000 leaflets to show how the NHS is being privatised and facing £20m worth of cuts.
In Bolton and Salford, where the mental health service is facing cuts, supporters took part in rallies outside the hospitals where the mental health wards are under threat.
Later that day, as it rained and got darker, over 60 people marched around Manchester city centre and stood outside banks and employers who had not paid their taxes. From Barclays to Starbucks people are asking why is it that the poor are being told that they have to pay for the economic downturn whilst the rich can get away without paying their taxes.
And it is not just the unemployed who are feeling the lash of the austerity agenda. People in work, whether the public or private sector, are earning wages that are not keeping up with constant rise in prices for everything from food to energy bills, and are faced with the threat of losing their jobs, or at the very least being expected to take on more work as cuts are made.
This was just one slice of the activity going on across the country but you might not know it was happening because it did not get any publicity in the north west media nor in the national news.
Long time campaigner and Green Party member Christine Clarke summed up the Bonfire of Austerity day:
“We are here to show our support for the unemployed and to show them that they are not alone. For us in the Green Party it is about human rights and social justice. Unemployed people should be offered real jobs and a living wage so that they can have a decent life.”
If you have enjoyed this article and would like to support this blog by making a donation you can do using this button