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Day 1: Dudley, the tour begins

17 June 2013

The bus in Dudley Market place

Day one started a little earlier than we expected, at 3am in fact, as the hotel fire alarm went off. So after a stint in our PJs in the middle of the night (waiting for our excellent public servants the Fire Brigade to come and check everything was OK) the morning started with a rather rushed, bleary eyed breakfast before setting off to meet the bus and the driver Steve at 8.30am.

The bus looks really great and for the next couple of hours the TUC team set up for the day’s activities, setting up the gazebo (good job because it rained pretty much all day), putting out signs, getting all the materials sorted and out and most importantly, for the workers, making sure we had good tea and coffee supplies.

It wasn’t hard to get people to talk to us, in some cases it felt like they had just been waiting to be asked, they had so much to get off their chests. We spoke at length with people gathering their stories about how the government’s austerity agenda is affecting them, their friends and families and their community.

Passers-by wrote their messages to the Prime minister and Chancellor on cards. One man, Mark, was very keen for us to set up a one on one debate with Ian Duncan Smith for him – if I was Iain Duncan Smith I’m not sure I would take him on!

There were parts of today, listening to people tell us in depth about what is going on in their lives, that really got to me.

We heard from a young mum, 23 with two kids 6 and 5 who is about to lose her home because of the bedroom tax. In fact we heard from many, many people in various situations about the bedroom tax. Nearly everyone knew someone who was being affected and there was real anger about it.

I spoke at length to a couple in their 50s Ann and Mark, both made unemployed in the last few years, both desperate for work, both losing their confidence more and more day by day. Ann has endured two years of the work programme without success, Mark told me about the hurdles and costs he has endured to apply for jobs week in week out without success. Their savings have dwindled along with their confidence. They feel invisible in the job market, and Ann told me of her fear that she will never work again. Mark said to me,

‘I don’t want to live like a premier footballer all I want is to earn a wage I can live on, try to improve my life again, maybe even be able to save for a holiday, but all I see ahead is a struggle to get by.’

Teenagers and young people in their early teens don’t feel any more secure. The loss of the education maintenance allowance is being felt deeply by some and they fear for their own futures. But they also worry about their family situation telling us of parents made unemployed or under threat of redundancy and how money doesn’t stretch as far as it used to at home, increasing tensions and worry.

We also spoke to a large number of disabled people who had tale after tale of ATOS and benefit cuts and changes. Matthew lost his job after his health failed, he told me that his old colleagues are now working half the number of shifts they used to as the industry he worked in has shrunk so much. Matthew and his family had their own house but lost it. In part due to the loss of his ESA support for 14 months which they only got it back after going to court, the stress of which has put its toll on the family. They struggle to make ends meet, his wife telling me that her youngest has a birthday coming up and they don’t have the money to get him a present. She said, ‘it’s not their fault all of this has happened to us, we feel so guilty.’

But almost the saddest thing was hearing, over and over again, the utter disbelief that any political party, any institution or any one in any position of power will do anything at all to make things better for them.

Which is why it is so important that trade unions who are campaigning so hard against austerity and for an alternative, are going all over the country demonstrating that we are listening and are on their side.

Tomorrow we are heading to Cannock Chase, to visit a food bank, speak to local residents in the town centre, and meet a group of workers whose jobs are under threat. I am sure we will uncover lots more similar stories of how the poorest and most vulnerable in society are being clobbered by this government’s policies.

More from Dudley:

Photos from the Marketplace event

Video: Dudley residents tell us their stories

17 June - 29 June


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