Austerity measures adding to long-standing social issues

29th Nov 2012

Finding work is a matter of pride, not just money, in an area with high levels of unemployment and benefits claims. Mary O’Hara finds out more.

In South Lanarkshire, Jane Churchill, Assistant Director of HealthynHappy Development Trust – which runs a range of projects promoting the health and wellbeing of residents in districts of Cambuslang and Rutherglen – points to the need to address the differing socio-economic circumstances of particular areas and how it's vital to understand deep-rooted issues against a backdrop of austerity.

HealthynHappy has been responding to a complex array of local needs for more than a decade, including problems related to much higher than average unemployment (in some parts of South Lanarkshire as high as 36 per cent compared to 13 per cent for Scotland as a whole).

High rates of benefits claims among 16-24-year-olds are also a problem, she says – as much as 60 per cent in some districts, when the Scottish average is 13.6 per cent – as are stark levels of substance misuse, low educational attainment, high levels of disability and poor health.

People living in the area seem worried about a range of factors, such as welfare changes, adjustments to disability benefits and the 'bedroom tax' and, as with Glasgow, finding work is a central concern.

Twenty-nine-year-old David Marr has been unemployed for almost two years and has also been homeless for periods of time. He says finding work is an uphill struggle and often leaves him despondent.

"The last company I worked for decided I was surplus to requirements," he says. "I wasn't best pleased when they said I was being laid off."

I've done the odd occasional voluntary job but beyond that… Too many companies are shutting down or downsizing their staff so even if I lived in a major city… anyone would struggle to find work."

David says finding work that would enable him to support himself is important but also that it is a matter of pride for him and many people:

My late father always said to me that if you don't earn money yourself then stuff that gets given to you really has no value."

David says the upcoming welfare changes are about to make his situation even worse. He currently lives in a two-bedroom council flat, which, under the new ‘bedroom tax’, means he is over-occupying the property and will lose £14 a week in benefits, inflicting more financial hardship.

I'm kind of in a catch 22 ... I rely on public transport [to get to job interviews]. The money that I get, only a small minority of it can I afford to put into [getting to job interviews]."

Marr says Government should do more to help people like him find good employment but also perhaps set up small businesses as a way out of unemployment.

I grew up around cars I'd love to get into that [but] I'm looking for bar work and stuff. If I was to walk out tomorrow and someone was to walk up to me and go 'I understand you're looking for work; I need a cleaner,' I'm not the kind of guy to turn round and say no. I would take it in an instant. I would prefer to be out working."

Scott Randall, a young man with Cerebral Palsy, says the effects of welfare changes on people with disabilities should be a top priority that’s challenged head-on, especially in terms of the abolition of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the uncertainty surrounding its replacement, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The controversy that has arisen around 'fitness for work' assessments shouldn't be ignored either, he adds. It is especially distressing that so many changes are targeted at vulnerable people, leaving many in fear for the future.

I find it ridiculous that people that may be more worse off than me in terms of [disability], they want to try and cut their benefits, ...There are people who have got genuine things [wrong] and they turn round and say 'yes, you're fit for work,' and you think how can you say that when the person clearly is not fit for work and are suffering?"

This insight is part of our Austerity in the UK project, looking at the the impact of public spending cuts, policy change and the state of the economy on disadvantaged people and places in the UK.