“I do not think there any politicians who are from a poverty background”…
“You get to vote, yeah – but that doesn’t mean we are heard.”…
“They want to come and live like us for a few months”…
“They should stand up for the people and their choices, rather than treating everyone like crap.”
We’re at The Cedarwood Trust in Meadow Well in North Shields, a neighbourhood on the banks of the River Tyne, where many people live in poverty. There are local elections here in May, but what do local residents think about the national poll in June? A dozen are gathered to consider what they want the campaign to be about, to discuss priorities and values, and to share ideas and ideals.
Can you tell us about Meadow Well?
“Meadow Well has a reputation. Some people will not put Meadow Well on their address – they’ll just put North Shields,” says one of the group.
“People think it’s rough, but there’s a good sense of community,” says Alwyn New.
“We always put Meadow Well on our address,” says Phil – “Because the community needs to be proud of what it achieves.”
“There is a lot to be proud of, but people are not proud of the estate in the way that they should be,” says Alwyn.
A couple of the group recount an incident when some residents had reported troublemakers.
Police would have moved them on if they were causing trouble in a wealthier neighbourhood like Tynemouth, they argued – so why not here?
“You don’t pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for your houses like they do in Tynemouth,” an officer apparently replied.
Dawn Brunton says: “Meadow Well has got a fantastic community spirit and it’s a lovely, lovely place to live – however we have lots of residents who have massive issues with the bedroom tax; we have antisocial behaviour; and education needs looking at – and health of course. That’s the thing we’d want the MP to be looking at.”
What are the challenges here that aren’t being addressed in this campaign?
Sanctions, says one person. Sanctions, says a second. Sanctions, says a third.
“People are sanctioned and it creates even more poverty,” says local resident James Binks. “I think people in Meadow Well are impoverished.”
“Food bank referrals have gone up dramatically but you can only get three food bank parcels,” says Elaine Butterfield. “You could be sanctioned for weeks but only get three parcels.”
“For me, the thing that has hit hardest is sanctions, job searching, and the rules around that,” says Phil McGrath, chief exec at Cedarwood, and nobody seems to disagree.
“They assume everyone has a computer or computer skills but there are people without a computer – or the system goes down, but they still sanction you,” adds another member of the group.
“People pooh-pooh things. They pooh-poohed the film I, Daniel Blake, but it’s real life,” says Lisa Harley.
Three times, the centre has hosted screenings of the film, each time with the plan of holding a workshop afterwards, says Phil. But each time, the film has so moved people that the workshop has had to be postponed.
The word ‘appeal’ itself is daunting and puts some people off challenging rulings, says Alwyn New.
Passports are a source of irritation. Many authorities require them as identification – but at £72.50 a time, the cost is considerable.
“It’s such a cost, and you need the money to pay for them. Why can you not use a bus pass as ID, rather than having to get new ID?
What would you say to people standing for Parliament, if they were here?
Lisa Harley: “Sit with people out there, getting to know people who come into our sessions. Speak to people. Be part of us; don’t just sit behind a desk.”
Alwyn New: “Come in as an ordinary person. Bring your grandchildren if you like. Hear people talking about how they have had such a hard time.”
Elaine Butterfield: “They should come in as an ordinary person, not as a politician. We’re here 365 days a year. They should just come and hear other people. Come to our drop-in session and just have a cuppa and listen.”
Dawn Brunton: “Be honest – tell the people what you are going to do, and just do it .”
What would you like to see the next Parliament standing up for? What would you prioritise as soon as the election is over?
“Better living standards,” says James Binks. “Better housing; some of the standards of housing is shocking. It always seems to be the North East of England, and Scotland, that are worst off.”
“Education,” says Lisa Harley. “There are kids who have got potential and it’s not getting dug out and fed. They need to grab those kids with both hands and feed the potential they have got and encourage it the best they can.”
“Education is the key; it’s giving people aspiration and opportunity,” adds Elaine Butterfield.
“The NHS,” says Alwyn New. “Put some money into that. You go on to waiting lists for ages.”