UK – Budget 2013: little hope for aspirations of the country’s poorest

March 22nd, 2013

The residents of Jaywick in Essex, officially England’s most deprived place, are eager to escape the benefits system but trapped by growing unemployment – Published on The Guardian, by Amelia Gentleman, March 20, 2013.

“What Can God Do 4 Jaywick?” a sign asks outside the Methodist church in this Essex seaside resort – a reminder that, for some time now, residents here have been looking in all directions for help. Even a local Citizens Advice worker says, with only a note of flippancy, that it would take a miracle to resolve the problems of the village, which since 2011 has held the unwelcome title of most deprived place in England.  

This week people here have been considering the more mundane question of what George Osborne can do for Jaywick. Many of them are entirely dependent on the welfare system, which the chancellor described in his budget as “bloated”. With 51% of adults here receiving benefits, the Brooklands estate acts as a test zone for the impact of government welfare reform. Residents here will experience the changes in great numbers as they roll out later this year and are already feeling the effects of tightened eligibility to some benefits.

There are many people here who would like to sign up to Osborne’s vision of an aspiration nation, and become hard-working, home-owning tax payers, but for the moment they are simply finding it difficult to get work … //

… Dan Guy, 27, who lost his job as a barman a year ago, lives in a one-bedroom bungalow on the estate with his girlfriend and baby. He has applied for between 20 and 30 jobs. “No joy. They just write and say: ‘We are sorry that you have been unsuccessful,’ ” he said.

About 40% of residents, according to Citizens Advice, have a disability or a long-term health condition that makes it impossible for them to work. Tony Taylor, who used to work as a builder and did seasonal work on the local campsite, has not worked since he had a motorbike accident, and is currently receiving employment and support allowance.

Summing up his budget, George Osborne said: “If you want to work hard and get on – we are on your side.” There was very little said about support for those unable to work, leaving an uncomfortable question mark over whether or not the government is less on the side of those people.

Douglas Carswell, the independent-minded Conservative MP for Clacton, saw little in the chancellor’s speech that would have a positive effect on the lives of his constituents in Brooklands.

“I don’t really think that the budget will transform things for Jaywick,” he said. Although he said the increase in the personal tax allowance and decision not to introduce a rise in fuel duty would help some people in the area, he was concerned that rising energy and food prices would hit his constituents particularly hard.”I understand the need for welfare reform but the people who design the schemes should look at it through the eyes of the people in Jaywick. In pursuit of these reforms we should be sure that we are not trampling on people who perhaps cannot make their case as eloquently as others … with the greatest respect to the welfare reforms, some of these people are not people who should be forced to go back to work. Often people who are long-term unemployed have got a good reason why they are long-term unemployed.”

Councillor Casey also said he understood the need for some welfare reform but he was dismayed at the effect that the changes are already beginning to have on the local population. “People need benefits to survive, and those people are getting their benefits curbed,” he said.

Diane Boyd, who runs youth development courses on the estate, trying to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, has been referring greater numbers of people to the local food bank in Clacton over the past six months. “I have seen desperation,” she said.

Linda Isaac, chief executive of Tendring Citizens Advice, said she was particularly concerned about reductions to the council’s budget for emergency crisis payments. “If you don’t have access to emergency funds, you turn to loan sharks. If you can’t get emergency funds to keep your family fed, you are going to get really desperate,” she said. “We have clients in the area who are prioritising paying Wonga back over feeding their children.”

At Frobisher primary school, the new headteacher, Julia Hill, tries to discourage parents from talking out loans, but says the estate is “crawling with loan sharks because they know there are a lot of desperate people”. A parent recently told her she had taken out a £1,000 high interest loan, in spite of teachers’ advice. Over 60% of her pupils receive free school meals, and she has been disconcerted by the conditions some families are living in. “I have done some home visits when children don’t turn up at school and it is quite a shock to see the general standard of the houses they are living in. When you go to certain parts of it, you are quite shocked that you are in England,” she said.

But her entire school ethos is built around instilling in her pupils the kind of aspiration the chancellor would like to see more of. The school’s motto is “aim high, work hard” and she has been determined not to allow anyone to make excuses for her students. “There was this attitude: ‘What can you expect from these children?’ Well now we expect the very, very best,” she said. “I tell them we are team Frobisher – we are going to be world class!”

*****

Deprived ward:

  • Jaywick’s Golf Green ward, (where the Brooklands estate is situated) is the most deprived ward out of 32,482 wards in England and Wales.
  • 51% of adults live on benefits
  • 32% claim housing benefit
  • 40% have a disability or a long- term health condition
  • Life expectancy is 74.9 years, nine years less than in the most affluent area of the Tendring district of Essex and four years less than the average life expectancy of 78.3 years in England. Average weekly household income is £360, against £650 for the east of England
  • 77% properties are in the bottom 2 council tax bands
  • 60% of children at Frobisher primary school receive free school meals

(Sources: Tendring CAB, ONS and Essex Partnership JSNA).
(full text and links for related articles).

Comments are closed.