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Day 2: Cannock – Falling through the safety net

18 June 2013

Cannock town centre

I was in utter disbelief when at 12.30am the hotel fire alarm woke me up, different city, different hotel, same fire alarm! I really hope that this time tomorrow I am not writing the same sentence, as then there will be absolutely no getting away from the fact that I have clearly jinxed all the hotels.

We set straight off for Cannock and District Food Bank warehouse and distribution centre to meet David Spencer who runs this service for the community. Cannock and District Food Bank distribution centre has 12 distribution/collection points all over the district and every week they distribute half a tonne of food using the dedication and skill of over 80 volunteers.

Seeing the food sorted and stacked up as a life line to so many families was a stark visual image of what life is like for so many, not just here in Cannock, but all over the country in Cameron’s Britain. David told us about the people the food bank serves and his sense of helplessness that he can’t also help with electricity bills, rent and clothing for children.

We set off to the town centre to talk to people in Cannock about what is happening to them and their families in austerity Britain. Again, the bedroom tax, ATOS and losing ESA and youth opportunity and education support were the top issues.

I spoke at length to Paul who is 48 and a number of things he said summed up well the lack of hope and connection to the country that so many people surviving day to day are feeling. Paul lost his job two years ago, he then got depressed and had a nervous breakdown, he told me that this wasn’t just because of losing his job, but it certainly impacted on his depression and created isolation. These past two years Paul has really battled with his depression, sometimes being unable to leave his bed for ten days in a row, he has been on ESA because he was deemed unfit to work. He recently underwent an ATOS fitness to work test and was deemed fit to work, he says his situation and health remains unchanged from the last time he had the test. He feels the goalposts have moved and most of the issues he was ‘tested’ on were about his physical ability to work, not his mental health capabilities to work and keep a job.

Almost immediately his ESA was stopped and his housing benefit stopped, his landlord is now putting huge pressure on him. He is appealing the decision and having to get a statement from his doctor and complete the paperwork, all of this is huge pressure on him and he told me it is making his anxiety and depression worse. He doesn’t believe that any employer would be able to accept him turning up one week, then being unable to get out of bed and turn up for work for days on end. These severe bouts of depression are still happening to him regularly.

He cares for his mum, who is disabled, when he is well enough, her ill health has been a real strain on him, certainly being a causal factor for the onset of his depression. He told me that he had worked most of his life, with short bouts of being in between jobs in previous recessions, he said he has never been so skint in his life.  The ironic thing is is the more pressure that is piled on him the worse he gets, he feels panicked and bullied and overloaded.

He was a genuinely lovely, honest, man, who is having a hard time and the one time he really needs a bit of help and a bit of time to get better, the safety net he needs is being pulled away from him. I am sad to live in a country like that.

And so onto Liverpool, where we are visiting Unison conference and then taking a tour of the city with local residents who will show us how the cuts have damaged Liverpool and the lives of its people.

By TUC Campaigns Officer, Gemma Tumelty

17 June - 29 June


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