Tameside Against The Cuts has been protesting outside Ashton Under Lyne Job centre for the last twelve months. Supporters of the campaign gathered outside Ashton job centre to mark a year of continuous campaigning against the policies of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Charlotte Hughes an Ashton resident and founding member of the campaign said they were there because of “the evil sanctioning system, the way the people in the job centre are treated, actually the whole DWP regime.”
On a wet Thursday (6th August) afternoon around 25 people gathered outside the job centre to protest against austerity driven DWP policies such as sanctioning , workfare and universal credit. Hughes has been demonstrating outside the Ashton job centre every Thursday, and is pleased with its success in highlighting the plight of the unemployed and low paid people in our society ,who are bearing the brunt of the austerity policies of the Tory party. Blogging is a strategy Hughes has adopted to record and publicise the campaign, The Poor Side of Life documents the struggles of individuals harshly treated by sanctions and other policies ,which often go unreported in the mainstream press.
Sanction of benefits, which can last up to three years, are the subject of much controversy and their use by the DWP has been on the increase. In 2013-14 there were 900,000 people sanctioned who were claiming job seekers allowance (JSA), and that figure was only released by the DWP due to a freedom of information request.
The DWP has been criticised over its lack of transparency in its data and that the monthly statisitics on sanctions (usually around 5%) are misleading and that annual figures (Guardian estimate is around 17%) should be published; the UK statistics watchdog has warned the DWP to ensure their statistics are “objective and impartial”. Another freedom of information request by Disabled People Against Cuts revealed that 1 in 5 benefit related deaths concerned sanctions; the DWP, after employing extensive delaying tactics, have promised to release the full statistics on deaths/suicides linked to sanctions in the Autumn.
Hughes was particularly worried about new policies affecting social security claimants “they [DWP] are trying to get disabled people, and carers, back to work illegaly…They are bringing them in and telling them they have to go back to work, when they don’t ”. Hughes is adamant that the DWP are giving carers and disabled people incorrect information about returning to work due to background research she has done on the subject which is published on her blog.
Members of Unite in the Community Greater Manchester branch (UCGM) were also present, with flags and banners supporting the campaign. Norma Turner is the chair person of UCGM and spoke of her reasons for being there “as a branch we are supporting the poorest members of society who are having to pay for the excesses of the rich. Whats happening is that people receiving social security are being treated really badly, being sanctioned and driven more and more into poverty and homelessness”. Turner described the benefits to unemployed people of joining the union, such as legal advice, education and debt/financial advice. She also spoke of how being in the union helped people to support each other in times of need and that “in solidarity there is strength”.
The importance of educating the public on the policies of the DWP and there effects on people was an important issue to Turner “people need to be aware that the government are really demonising anyone that is signing on and sending people to workfare. These workfare places are not real job opportunities, they are just stacking shelves or sorting out clothing in charity shops.”
The campaign is set to continue as the DWP has shown no let up in pursuit of its policies. Hughes is determined to keep up the pressure and has vowed to keep the protest going when the Job Centre moves to its new location in Ashton town centre even though “they have told us we can’t demonstrate outside there…they say its private land but it isn’t, that part isn’t private land; so bring it on that’s what I say.”