Stockton: The anguish of zero-hours work

Tanya Lawson is crystal clear on her message to the election candidates: “Abolish zero-hours contracts.”

Tanya, pictured below, now has three part time jobs but had struggled to put food on the table and to juggle the demands of the Job Centre with the jobs she did have.

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“How are people to live a decent life when they do not know how many hours they will do? I know people who have gone to work and been sent home because there is no work. How are they to pay bills and keep food on the table? I know people who have lost their homes…

“I was on anti-depressants and had counselling. It led to ill-health, the stress of it all. Since I have had three jobs I have come off the anti-depressants but before I was not feeling like I was living. I felt for a couple of years like I was just getting through the day.”

People are struggling to put food on the table, when they have a job – or even two or three jobs

We’re in Stockton High Street in North East England for the Voices For The Margins event but Tanya is airing a concern that has been raised elsewhere too – see our report from Hull, here.

Thrive, a local community organisation that supports people against poverty, has set up a gazebo and stall and volunteers are asking passers-by a simple question: What would your message be to the election candidates?

The responses are many and varied. In the space of a few minutes, two passers-by raise abortion, Trident, Brexit, sanctions and unemployment. Most people, however, have written their messages on sticky notes, which fill one of the tables.

Here are a few of the messages:

“Improve living standards – raise wages, so no low-wage jobs.”

“People should never be sanctioned when they have children.”

“Stop sanctioning everyone! And sort it out!!”

“Why take off the poor and give to the rich?”

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“Less drug dealing on the streets.”

“A sensible living wage is essential. Cleaning streets.”

“We need someone like us to stand.”

“Thornaby gets forgotten. More parks. We need tighter immigration.”

“The most important issue in the General Election is the NHS.”

Kath Carter agrees with that last one. She says: “I want somebody to save the NHS. There are a lot of people without money and they will not be able to afford medical treatment. The NHS was built to look after the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – not to be profit-making. Why should businesses take it off us and take the profits?”

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Kath, pictured above, says the election needs to be about much more than Brexit.

“You cannot make soup without stock, and we the people are the stock,” she says. “They are planning for years ahead with Brexit, but what about now?”

I would bring back some compassion and kindness and work with the poorer areas.

The NHS is also Sally’s priority.

“You try to make an appointment and you cannot get one for a month,” she says. “I’m supposed to be going for tests and I cannot get in to do that.”

She says it seems that unless someone is terminally ill, they are denied ESA.

Her mum Laura adds: “It’s her health I’m thinking of. I’m voting, but I’m voting no confidence in any of the parties. They’re not doing anything for anyone.”

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Above: Sally and Laura (names changed)

Laura says Stockton has changed in recent years. It once boasted one of the world’s biggest markets, but now many shops have closed and the market has shrunk, she says.

One of the market traders still there is Hussen. What is his top issue, we ask. He says there are not enough jobs given the level of immigration. His daughter gained a Masters degree two years ago but has been unable to find work, he says.

Tracey Herrington, project manager at Thrive, also took part. Asked what her message would be to the new Government, she said: “What are you going to do about tackling poverty and inequality?. We have a lot of children in our community going hungry, we have a lot of families who don’t have gas and electricity and we’ve got a lot of people without any aspirations because there are no real jobs out there.”

In-work poverty is also a big issue, says Dylan Eastwood, a Thrive volunteer.

“People are struggling to put food on the table, when they have a job – or even two or three jobs,” he says.

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Above: Dylan Eastwood

He says more help is needed for young job-seekers. “Make it cheaper to travel and to learn and to do courses where you don’t have to pay out a lot of money for them,” he says.

What should politicians do differently, we ask. How would you be different, if elected?

Dylan: “I would bring back some compassion and kindness and work with the poorer areas. I would attend meetings in the area. A lot of politicians can say really good things but do not do enough. It’s about backing up your words with actions.”

Tanya: “Communicate more and mix with people on the ground. Have more sessions where they can work with local people and get things out in the air. We feel they are so far away from us in Westminster.”

 

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