Interview with Tameside Against The Cuts (TATC) – an anti-austerity activist group who have campaigned against the brutal regime of cuts and sanctions to Welfare, outside Ashton-under-Lyme Jobcentre Plus office (JCP) once a week over the last 4 years also providing advice, food parcels, empathy and solidarity.
By Ashley Walker and Margaret McAdam.
At the corner by the JCP entrance, I saw members of TATC and was immediately struck that these were not seasoned politicians or professionals but a group of working class people doing whatever they could to help other working class people. It was a damp, cold and overcast Thursday morning. I heard no-one complain and there was no questioning of their commitment to stay. One man approached and asked if there were any food parcels left and although there were none he was signposted to where he could get help.
As people left the JCP, TATC spoke to almost everyone, asked if they were ok, offered a leaflet with information and advice, and provided general support and solidarity.
I went on to interview Charlotte Hughes, a founding member of TATC, about the impact on the working class from the government’s attacks on the benefit system, in order to contrast the reality of the devastation caused, with the ‘reform and efficiency’ rhetoric the government uses to justify and legitimise the abuse and ill treatment of poor working class people.
-What are the most common problems people face with the government’s continuous attacks on the benefit system?
Poverty, food poverty, malnutrition, fuel poverty, increasing mortality rates, illness, food banks in hospitals, people unable to afford luxuries, the whole community is suffering.
-Do universal credit and the benefit cap create the worst problems?
Yes, but also the two-child limit, and the many other cuts like the reduction on housing benefit for young people and on top of all this local councils are taxing people in receipt of benefits.
-Do you think that food banks have become normalised and institutionalised by the state to get rid of our social security safety-nets?
Absolutely. The Trussell Trust is an NGO established in 1997 by Tory donors. Food banks are an excuse allowing the government to expand austerity and poverty, and it doesn’t matter because you will be fed at a food bank! We should be challenging the opening of food banks. People were having a tea-party at the opening of a food bank in a hospital! We are a rich country and yet people are forced to use food banks where access is limited and good nutritious food is not provided. It is a form of class cleansing to get rid of people, just like not building social housing.
-To what can you do for those who turn to you for advice and help?
Surface level – we cannot change their lives nor meet their basic needs. Advice, solidarity, and food lets them know they are not alone. We’ve had a few people commit suicide and therefore it is so important to help people. This is why we need to be there every week, to encourage people to fight the system and empower people to help themselves.
-How can an independent working class unemployment movement emerge today?
People need to be more active. Poverty pushes people into survival mode and breeds a lack interest in politics. There is a need to return to big unemployed movements. Unions must fight more, educate members and reverse the anti-trade union laws.
-A hundred years ago the Russian revolution transformed a backward country like Russia into an advanced industrial country. What do you think a revolution today would do for the unemployed?
I have been wanting one for many years, so many people are distracted with modern technology, so one way to build a revolution is to use technology to its full extent and get young people on board. Education is key, people want stability, homes, food and basic necessities. Workers councils would be a better way to help people.
-Why did Tameside Against the Cuts decide to demonstrate outside the Jobcentre?
A sense of panic had begun over Council tax and Bedroom tax. We knew this was wrong, so we would demonstrate one day at the council offices and one day at the Jobcentre. We knew Tameside was a pilot area for Universal Credit but were unsure about what to do, however we knew we had to fight the injustice. My family and others have suffered injustice, and from research I knew this was the start of dismantling the welfare state.
I knew young people would be victimised, then the attacks on pregnant women and the suicides made us realise we could help people by staying outside the Jobcentre. People talk to us about the severity of what is happening, all of someone’s income is taken away, and people are made homeless by removing their housing support.
Ashton is one of the worst Jobcentres and with local Jobcentre closures people will have to travel further.
-How do you feel after 4 years of campaigning?
We have never lost our faith in people despite everything we’ve seen, we know our enemy better and gain strength from that.
There are moments when we wonder why a person had to die, but it’s changed our lives and made us stronger.
-What is most important for people and organisations to do to help?
Most important is to join the demo and talk to people. Five minutes with someone can prevent a suicide. You can learn about the reality facing people and show basic humanity.
We have been called liars and have been abused but time has proven that what we said would happen has happened.
A small health issue can change everything in a persons and family’s life, sometimes people say they don’t need help initially but over time as the impact worsens, this changes.
So, that’s a snapshot of life in 21st century Britain from outside the Ashton-under-Lyme Jobcentre.
Food-banks are 21st Century soup-kitchens that relieve the government of any obligation to end poverty and hunger today – we must build a campaign demanding a system with a real safety net to end poverty and help those in need, and put an end to an abhorrent, humiliating, stigmatising and inhumane system.
We must build a movement of workers, those in work and those not in work, to fight against this brutal and cruel erosion of the social security system and safety-net that is driving people into hunger, homelessness and suicide.
We need a campaign that can link with JCP workers and fight for a system that provides for all who are in need.
Originally published @ Socialist Voice #30.