This article appeared in the Evening Telegraph: 25/03/2019 [Online], Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/ewan-gurr-unemployment-figures-are-not-all-they-appear-to-be/ [Accessed: 2019, Mar 26]
Theresa May has not had much to be positive about lately but if there is one political grenade she has been able to lob over the dispatch box in response to Jeremy Corbyn each week, it has been employment figures. At Prime Minister’s Questions on the 27th February, she said: “Under a Conservative Government [we see] more people in work than ever before [and] unemployment at its lowest level since the 1970’s.”
This week, the UK Government announced a further decrease in unemployment to 3.8%, which one national newspaper heralded as a “jobs miracle.” Unemployment figures, however, link directly to the claimant count and I am meeting a growing number whose experiences with the Job Centre have led them to sign off. They show up in no statistics and we translate their absence as a decrease in unemployment.
I recently had dinner in Glasgow’s east end with my friend, Alexander Codona, who lives in this way. Alex, 53, was claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit until 2016. After an undignified and intrusive encounter with the Department of Work and Pensions, however, he decided his dignity was more valuable than what he received from the Job Centre and he signed off.
Glasgow has shut more Job Centres than any other local authority in the United Kingdom due to the drop in the claimant count and Alexander’s nearest Job Centre, in Parkhead, was one of them. His Jobseeker’s claim was transferred to Tollcross, which is double the distance from his home and, due to a clerical problem at one point, he was not receiving any Jobseeker’s Allowance. He was, therefore, starving.
At the time, Alex was attending the Work Programme which was a 2.5 mile walk from his home. He had eaten only two meals in almost three weeks and explained this to the staff. One day, he was so exhausted that he collapsed outside the office and, instead of calling an ambulance, staff phoned the police. As a result, Alex was arrested and spent a night in the cells.
Alex now survives by signing up to local events in Glasgow where lunch is provided, he goes to three different soup kitchens each week and he gets up early each day and goes to his local library from opening to closing time just to keep warm. This is the hidden face of poverty, people unable to thrive but only survive, and caught in a bizarre paradox in that they exist and yet are non-existent in any empirical sense.
Alex has no bank account, no ability to vote in elections or referenda, no access to any benefits and no access to legal aid. He said to me this week: “I am in effect a non-person.” Finally, he adds: “The Government has not decreased unemployment by driving people into employment but by driving people underground.”