I just cannot keep up with the costs
We visited the Parson Cross Initiative at Mount Tabor Church in Sheffield one Friday morning, and spoke to eight people who have had cause to use the centre’s food bank. Here, Keith tells how the freeze on benefits made it harder and harder for him to meet the cost of living.
I just cannot keep up with the costs. Paying for electric and gas and the TV and rent and all that – I cannot keep up with it.
I first came here about three or four months ago. I had a referral from my doctor the first time. You get a lot of support here and I have got to know more people here. It’s very good.
I am on Jobseeker’s Allowance, £98.70 a fortnight, but I am trying to get to pension credit because I will be 65 this year. When I go on to pension credit that should make a big difference.
I have been out of work for about ten years. I used to work for Stanley tools in Sheffield, sweeping up, then on machines, driving forklift trucks, on stamping machines, on a machine to clean planes and other jobs, and before that I worked in a small factory cutting files and tools. But I became redundant.
I have looked for jobs in Sheffield and in Barnsley and Rotherham, but when you went for a job years ago it was maybe you against one other person. Now it’s you against nine. I won’t stop looking though. I want to keep working but I need to get a job. I have gone for anything they have found. I had wanted to get a similar job to the work I came out of but that’s not going to happen now.
I started at Stanley when I was 17 and worked there for 37 years and before that I worked in the other job. But I’ve been out of work ten years. I have applied for hundreds of jobs since then. I would say it’s 400 to 500 jobs I’ve applied for. I’ve had some interviews and I nearly got one last week; there were two of us going for it but the other one got it.
The amount on Jobseeker’s Allowance has hardly changed but everything else goes up. You have to pay more for electric, gas, TV, rent, council tax. If JSA had kept track with everything else I would probably be alright but it didn’t. But nothing will ever stop me looking for work. I want a warehousing job or a supermarket job.
Some people here do make me laugh; they say they don’t want to travel to Barnsley – I say, ‘why not?’. But the employers pick younger candidates. They don’t pick me at 64 if they can get someone at 24. I’m not arguing; that’s just the way it is. I go on a lot of courses about CVs and job searching and they’re very good, and some have sandwiches on the course, but the Government should make sure Jobseeker’s Allowance keeps up with the cost of living because it hasn’t, and there should be more for people my age looking for work.
The bigger picture
Keith talks about the impact of the freeze on benefits. He says he would have probably been alright if Jobseeker’s Allowance had risen in line with the cost of living, but it hasn’t.
Last autumn, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released research projecting that the continuing benefit freeze would mean an extra 500,000 people being swept into poverty by 2020 – but it also identified alternative Government actions that could protect families – or individuals like Keith – from that rising tide.
The Parson Cross Initiative does amazing work, but preventing hunger cannot and must not be left to charities alone.
The End Hunger UK campaign identifies nine potential Government policies, all of which would help to reduce hunger and poverty, and all of which are based on the real experiences of people like Keith. Please take a few moments to look at those nine ideas, to contact local groups working to alleviate poverty in your area, and to speak to your MP to ask them to help end hunger.
Keith was one of eight people we spoke to on a recent visit to the Parson Cross Initiative, which works with community groups and churches in its part of Sheffield to help meet local needs. The project grew from, and is based at, Mount Tabor Methodist Church. You can read the other stories here:
What would it mean for your church, or for the church as a whole, to become a church of the poor? We researched this in 2016, and published this report.