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Days 4 & 5 – Manchester, Carlisle, Newcastle, Sunderland

21 June 2013

In Newcastle City Centre with Lesley Mercer and Judith Kirton-Darling

There was a lot of travelling on a very bumpy, rattling bus over these two days, travelling from place to place. The accents were different but  the stories we heard were, yet again and somewhat depressingly, incredibly similar.

One of the major concerns I had before coming on the bus was that people would be reticent about telling us their stories and that we would have do a lot of cajoling and all of the chasing.

However, the opposite has been true. Everywhere we have pitched up so far people have approached us to talk about their experiences. Sometimes we haven’t had enough volunteers to listen and record their stories and often dire circumstances.

These days were no different, with the bus’ arrival generating real interest and engagement in Manchester, Carlisle, Newcastle and Sunderland.

I spoke to people with a variety of challenges including the cruel bedroom tax ­(a recurring a theme everywhere we go), rising bills, and fitness-to-work tests. ATOS certainly won’t be winning any popularity contests in the North, or anywhere else in the country for that matter.

Everyone I spoke with today felt they were being penalised by the government in different ways and sometimes in multiple ways. There was a shared sense of disillusionment about austerity and the cost it had inflicted upon the living standards of ordinary people. I am really not being dramatic when I say that everywhere we have been there seems to be a serious lack of hope about the future.

One person whose story really stood out for me today was twenty eight-year old Adam. Adam has Asperger’s Syndrome and has been trying to find a job for the last two years. He has yet to have one interview, despite volunteering at a number of organisations to gain experience.

Adam, like hundreds of thousands of young people in this country is not being given the opportunity he deserves to build a successful career . However, he is not using this as an excuse to feel sorry for himself. He is determined to keep on trying. Adam wants the government to know that young people like him are not lazy, and that he is sick of youngsters being demonised by ministers as work shy and feckless.

I spoke to many people who felt the same, they are desperate to work, applying for job after job after job, with no success whilst helplessly watching their financial situation worsen. Day by day, Sue from Carlisle told me, her confidence shrinks as her worries grow, she has no sense of hope for her future.

I heard about the instability and uncertainty of contracts with few or no guaranteed hours – zero hours contracts. One mother told me of her son, trying to work in construction, turning up every day for two weeks straight, only to be sent home a few hours later because there was no work that day for him. What an incredible waste of his time and his scarce travel money, how utterly demoralising.

Three places in one day on the Friday (21st June) was a real logistical challenge, particularly in a bus that does not go faster than 50 miles an hour. But we wanted to visit as many places as possible! I also didn’t really factor in traffic jams to the schedule so when we came across an overturned lorry on the road between Newcastle and Sunderland, it meant our time in Sunderland was squeezed.

Talking to locals in Southwick Green, Sunderland, we heard of the growing homeless problem. It was brought up sharply for local residents by the very sad news that the night before a man in his 40s who was recently homeless and living in the park, had died.

As the bus headed off to Stockton, I headed to the station to travel back to London, to re-join the bus on Monday morning, leaving colleagues to cover Sheffield and Halifax over the weekend.

Gemma Tumelty is a Campaigns Officer with the TUC

 

17 June - 29 June

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