It’s 8:30 on a Thursday morning in York city centre.
In a back room of the Central Methodist Church, a hundred metres from the famous Shambles and a few minutes’ walk from York Minster, volunteers are serving breakfast to some of the city’s most disadvantaged residents.
Carecent has been going since 1985. It caters for homeless, unemployed or otherwise socially excluded local people, serving breakfast six days a week and providing food, clothes and fellowship.
So, what are the views here about the forthcoming General Election? Carecent manager Nicky Gladstone welcomed Church Action on Poverty along, as part of our Voices From The Margins project. Later that day, the centre was holding a voter registration session, responding to a mistaken belief among some that homeless people are not allowed to vote.
What should our priorities be as a country – in the election and beyond?
Michael Webster: “Every time I turn on the news it’s all about Brexit. They need to focus more on the children of this country. They’re the future. There needs to be more investment in kids, kids’ facilities, parks for children so they’re not hanging around, and they need to focus a lot more on housing. That’s a massive issue here in York. The housing’s not affordable. It’s not a real life. I meet people in hostels and they cannot get flats.”
Martin Royle: “It should be about democracy, values and opinions and what’s right for the people, and I think they’re doing that.…
“I suppose most important to me is health care. There is not going to be more funding – or not much – but that doesn’t mean you take your eye off the ball”
Mary Nelson*: “This election should be about real people and equality, beginning with the little people; the poor. Everything needs to be equal and fair for everybody. I wouldn’t say it’s like that now.
“It would be good for MPs to find out about real people and what’s going on. Everyone is an individual with individual needs. They cannot be put into boxes. If people are not supporting our needs then we will be back outside, homeless. We need to be treated as individuals.
“This place [Carecent] is the only place I know of that is not linked to the system.”
What are the challenges here that are not being addressed?
Graham Feetenby: “When I was at school York had the carriageworks, two chocolate factories, a glass factory. There were a lot of opportunities for people who maybe weren’t so well educated to earn employment. Not now. And a lot of places are very similar…. I think the hardest thing is linking the DWP and council together. I was off sick and claiming ESA and I went for a so-called assessment and basically someone on a computer said because I could go to the shop and buy a loaf of bread I was fit to work, and they stopped my ESA and told me to claim JSA instead – but it was five days between me being notified and them stopping my housing benefit and I have been fighting that ever since. A lot of the guys here will go through the same thing in the next few months, when Universal Credit kicks in. I did not get any benefits for five weeks.”
Kevin Allan: “There are two worlds in York. They have this facade for all the tourists but nothing there for the homeless. It must be pretty embarrassing for them having homeless people in the streets when the tourists go past. We are just ignored.”
Stuart Laville: “In York the issues are homelessness and housing. We need more support. Also Bootham Park Hospital needs to be replaced. [Bootham Park, the city’s mental health hospital, was closed following a poor inspection report in October 2015]. There are families travelling to Bradford or Leeds or other places and they cannot afford to go to see their family. They need to bring back better mental health services. And when people are homeless, help them get somewhere to live.”
Do you feel involved in politics and the election?
Mark Smith: “They say on TV they will help schools or help hospitals or help the poor – it’s just to get brownie points, and there are mugs who will believe it…. MPs are all overpaid. What do the leaders know about York? They all came after the floods and got their wellies on for a photo then went. They will not know what our lives are like if they have not been in that kind of life.”
Martin Royle: “MPs work hard, long hours and do a good job. Most are decent people. Maybe they don’t understand poverty but they do not understand a lot of things – we have nuclear power but they are not nuclear physicists.”
Stuart Laville: “I get fed up hearing about politics. I stopped following it. They just say they will do this or that.”
What’s most important in this election? And what should be the priorities once it’s over?
Michael Webster: “Housing springs to mind first, definitely housing. They should focus on building more flats for people.”
Graham Feetenby: “They need to sort out the benefits system. It’s a mess. There are 20 people here and they will be on three or four different benefits. It needs simplifying…. Get the benefits system sorted, and the homeless system. I listen to Five Live and they brought up food banks. And one politician [Edwina Currie] said there will not be one person listening to this show in poverty. I was in a doorway in York in my sleeping bag listening to that.”
Kevin Allan: “What’s most important? Housing, definitely. It’s no point putting people in housing when they are on JSA. They have not got a clue – they’re all born with a silver spoon in their mouths…. More should be done for the homeless. There are that many issues but care for everyone. Politicians should stand up for everyone. When they mucked up, or the bankers mucked up, it’s the poor that got poorer.”
Michael Webster: “The homeless system here in York is quite good; it’s just expensive to live here. It’s holding people back from going out and getting jobs. The rent is so high. Who is going to earn £300 if you have to give £250 rent, working all week for twenty bar?”
Mark Smith: “Get the health system sorted. The health system stinks. People get into hospital for a couple of hours but they get kicked out even though they are not well. They need more space.
“Nicky and the volunteers here need an award. There are people come here every day cooking, and they don’t get any appreciation. MPs take all the credit but never come here.
What would make things better?
Michael Webster: “We have all been in difficult situations, living in doorways, going days without a shower. Some people get some money and brag about it. But I want more money to go to places like Great Ormond Street. I would love politicians to focus on those people.”
“I think MPs get paid far too much. Fair enough the Prime Minister – they get all the wrath if something goes wrong. But MPs we do not know or see should get involved more in the community. They should come to places like this. Be real. Come and sit with us and talk to us. We need MPs who are outgoing, friendly, who listens, and someone who is real. An ideal MP would be someone who has had a rough time and knows what life is about and has changed their life for the better and become successful. Or someone who is not judgmental and listens to everyone.”
Stuart Laville: “If we leave the EU we will get more. There are homeless youngsters, 16 or 17, who do not get enough help. There is no support for youngsters. I’m 24; I have not had my own place for six years…. Stick to your words. Make England independent then help people – help people who are homeless and help mental health services. Don’t take money away from the NHS when we need it.”
Viktor Newland: “I had a lot of money at one time, but I spent and lost the lot. And now I’m here. It does not matter what you say. All they do is shout and bawl. It’s been that way for years.”
*Mary Nelson is a pseudonym.