The tories like Thatcher destroyed our manufacturing base .......so where are the jobs now for our young people ?
Welfare reform: £53 a week... You do the maths
Gas £5, Water £3, Electricity £8, Food £15, Travel £13, Debt £4, Phone £5, Social life £0. Iain Duncan Smith claims that he could live on £53 a week. But for many people it is the miserable reality
He is right. Two decades ago, Matthew Parris, then a Tory MP, came to the same conclusion in the nearby neighbourhood of Scotswood, just four miles from Newbiggin Hall. He’d agreed to live there on the dole for a week for a Granada documentary, despite an order from Margaret Thatcher not to. This week he wrote of the futility of the task.
Those in Garrity’s position agree. A week, even six months, spent this way does not accurately convey how crushing it is to be struggling constantly to scrape together enough money to live on. Or what it’s like to be trapped in a dehumanising system of welfare that punishes progress and makes it impossible to escape. The true face of poverty in modern Britain is as far removed from the sponger lifestyle of “shameless” Mick Philpott, who raked in £100,000 a year on state benefits and was jailed for life this week for killing six of his 17 children in a house fire, as it is from Duncan Smith’s comfortable Buckinghamshire home. Those, like Garrity, who know it best agree that the welfare system is in desperate need of an overhaul.
She has watched some of the debate raging this week on her small television. Although not much. In order to save on bills, she is careful with her use of electricity, switching off her fridge and hanging food items out of the window to keep them cold. Like other residents on the estate, she occasionally heads to the local swimming baths for a shower, to save herself the cost of hot water.
“I don’t put the heating on,” she says, “although I do give myself a small treat every now and then and put the electric fire on for a bit. It can get very cold here. You can ring up the electricity company to find out how much it costs for 10 minutes of hoovering – although I haven’t quite got to that stage yet.”
Garrity grew up in the Northumberland town of Rothbury and moved to Newcastle about 25 years ago for work.
“I’ve always worked,” she says. “My whole family has a strong work ethic. My dad was a bricklayer and my mum worked in lots of part‑time jobs. At first, I trained to be a chef and worked in the Lake District. I started washing dishes and worked my way up.”
After moving to Newcastle, she combined chef work with a job in the social-care sector and studying for a degree with the Open University. “When I was 32, I was working about 70 hours a week,” she says. “I did a BSE in health and social care and got a 2:1. My plan is to go and do a master’s and then work with people who have disabilities.”
She is reluctant to discuss personal details, but after her marriage ended a decade ago, she moved into a rented house. Two years ago, her landlord sold the house. No longer able to afford to rent privately, she moved into her current two-bedroom council flat, despite having asked for a one-bedroom home. After losing her full-time job in the health and social sector a few months ago, she was forced to contact the housing charity, Crisis. She currently receives an employment support allowance of £71 a week, which goes on council and now bedroom tax, as well as housing benefit of £61 a week, which goes straight on rent. “I’ve been waiting to hear back on a few voluntary posts,” she says. “But there are very few jobs out there.”
She continues: “The thing that I miss most is driving my car and being able to go where I want, when I choose. I last had a car two years ago, but I couldn’t afford one now. I’m fortunate that I know how to cook. I try to eat healthily, and have worked out how to cook a meal for 75p.
“I only eat one meal a day. I go to cheap shops and find the cheapest deals; I look for anything for 10p or 20p. I never buy vegetables unless they are reduced. I’ve just bought a packet of reduced parsnips, though, so it will be nice to do something with those. I don’t buy red meat – I would love a rare rump steak one of these days.”
Much of Garrity’s time is spent walking. She wanders through the rundown Sixties housing estate to use the public library and welfare office (which stands next to a derelict working men’s club) to study and look for jobs, or just to keep out of her flat. When she can afford it, she takes the bus into the city and uses the university library. “It can be very, very isolating,” she says. “You need to keep trying to have a purpose to your day.”
Duncan Smith and George Osborne, the Chancellor, have stressed this week that the Coalition’s reforms are “restoring the original values of the welfare state”. Key to their motives is tackling “idleness”, the fifth Giant Evil that Beveridge identified in 1942. But ,any of those in receipt of state benefits say they are trapped in an enforced idleness. They cannot afford to progress. Cases such as that of 23-year-old Abbigail Aziz are depressingly routine. The Scarborough shop worker tells me she was recently promoted, but has asked her boss to demote her again as it has meant her benefits have been reduced to the point where she cannot afford to live.
Mother-of-three Lorna Sculley is in a similar predicament. She works 16 hours a week as a school kitchen assistant in Tower Hamlets (the maximum permitted before her benefits become automatically reduced) from which she earns around £90 a week on top of benefits of £371. After paying bills and outstanding debts, she is left with £50 a week to feed and clothe her family. They have spent the past two Christmases in a nearby food bank – one of hundreds now established across the country. Her three boys, aged 12, eight and two, share a bedroom in their tiny flat in the shadow of Canary Wharf, with the two eldest sleep on mattresses on the floor.
“The weekends are the worst,” says 33‑year-old Sculley. “By then the money has been spent. I sit here and think about trying to take the kids swimming or something, and then I look at the budget and realise I can’t. Sometimes I can’t afford to put anything in the electric meter and know it will run out. We sit here with quilts around us.
“I look out of the window at Canary Wharf, and see all the lights on those buildings and all the heat coming off them at 11pm or midnight, and wonder who on earth is in them at that time of night. I can’t work any more than my 16 hours a week, it doesn’t matter what I earn. I’m a working mum trying to do better for myself and it’s really wrong.”
Sean, her eldest tells me at one point that his mother often goes hungry in order to feed them. She nods and falls silent.
As the Sculleys gaze up at the glittering wealth towering over them, so Debbie Garrity glimpses a better life in the Northumberland hills beyond her estate. One where they are not dependent on a welfare trap that reduces life to a weekly wait for the next handout.
“I stay in touch with my friends in the countryside and my dream is to move back,” she says. “But I’m pretty worried about the future.”