How Hackney cuts


3:00 pm - July 13th 2010

by Kate Belgrave    


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Have started to spend time with people in poorer boroughs who are likely to be affected by public sector cuts. Will post interview extracts while several of us work on longer pieces with video, and go back to people to see how they’re getting on:

I talk to Anthony Rhoden at a Saturday afternoon Hackney Unites clinic for people who need free workplace and employment advice. Two Russell Jones & Walker solicitors are there as advisors, as well a TUC and local union rep.

A longtime (now unemployed) chef and restaurant worker, Rhoden says that he is a Unite organiser for bar and restaurant employees -‘there’s a lot of problems in the catering industry – there were lots of problems even before the recession. It happened to me all the time – wouldn’t get paid, or wouldn’t get all my pay. People don’t know they have rights. You get bullied all the time.’

In a recession, though, people count themselves lucky to have a job, even if they’re abused in it. That’ll be nowhere more the case than in Hackney. Hackney’s unemployment figures are already the worst in London, with a June 2010 TUC analysis putting the ratio of people claiming jobseekers’ allowance to available jobs at 24:1.

‘There’s no work anywhere,’ says Rhoden. He looks at me oddly when I put to him the coalition’s idea of moving the unemployed to areas where there are jobs. Like me, he’s not sure such a place exists. It ain’t in an obvious vicinity, that’s for sure. Joblessness will be even worse in Hackney, and in places like Lewisham and Deptford, if the public sector is hit as badly as the coalition proposes to hit it. Councils and the NHS are the biggest employers in these areas – there’s almost nowhere else to go.

Rhoden says he wants to start his own catering business, but that he signs on for now. He lives in temporary accommodation in Wigan House (he’s lived there for three years, waiting for his old block to be rebuilt) and relies on a housing benefit to meet his rent of about £100 a week.

The conversation takes a turn for the disturbing when we get to the subject of this housing benefit and the government’s targeting of it: Rhoden refuses to believe that housing benefits will be cut. He doesn’t talk about campaigning against the cuts – he says that he never ‘gets involved in the politics. I’m not a political person. The politics never changes anything and it never helps us.’

Now I’m looking at Rhoden oddly. Very. I wasn’t expecting this – I was as primed as ever for anger and a tide of anti-Cameron obscenity, but had nothing up the sleeve for denial. I tell Rhoden that George Osborne has housing benefits very much in his sights, and that if Osborne wins, Rhoden may find his housing benefit entitlement takes a ten percent hit.

Rhoden shakes his head. He says again that ‘there’s no way that they’ll cut the housing benefit.’ I say I hope he’s right and that I hope he knows something I don’t. The truth is that I suspect that Rhoden is exactly the type of guy Osborne is after – and exactly the type of guy Osborne wants the everyone-on-welfare-is-a-scrounger brigade to get after – because he’s been collecting JSA for more than 12 months. If he continues to collect JSA, which he may have to if his catering business idea doesn’t fly, he could be looking at losing ten quid a week, even as a council tenant.

‘There’s no way that they’ll cut it,’ Rhoden says firmly. ‘There’s no way they will do that. They will leave housing benefit alone.’ I has absolutely no idea how to interpret this confidence. It could be innocence – if Rhoden doesn’t follow politics, he may not know that Osborne is after housing benefits. That’s hardly a happy thought – he’s unlikely to be the only one. I suppose it could be the misplaced hauteur the right forever bangs on about – Rhoden isn’t worried about benefit cuts, because he’s confident the state will forever pick up his various tabs.

Of course: there are plenty of people with high expectations re: handouts. One of the solicitors makes this point when she tells me that her firm was involved in a lot of final deal negotiations for well-placed City staff when the banks crashed.

‘The reality is that it didn’t hit them very hard,’ she says. ‘They negotiated good deals to leave, and then not very long after they left, they were negotiating good deals into other jobs.’ She says that by comparison, it can be very difficult to negotiate reasonable deals for people leaving the public sector.

She and the other solicitor say that from their perspective, very little has changed in the banking industry. They say that people are still awarded bonuses, but they just have them deferred so that they appear to be collecting nothing, or a lot less right now. ‘They like it like that. It looks like they’re not taking very much now, but they will just collect it all in the future.’

Some London lobbies and meetings this week:

Lewisham council: lobby against council cuts at Lewisham council buildings, Catford, Wednesday 14 July 5.15pm. Organised by the NUT.

Hackney Unites against the cuts: Wednesday 14 July at 7pm at the Trinity Centre, Beechwood Road, Dalston.

News of cuts at Lambeth, and proposals to try and keep local people in employment.

Southwark Unites will hold a meeting against the cuts on Monday 19 July.

Camden TUC meeting to organise against cuts was held on Monday 12 July – link has more information about Camden.

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Events ,Local Government ,Trade Unions

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Reader comments


Hi Kate – since the proposals appear to be capping housing allowance rates at £250 a week for a one-bedroom flat, £290 for a two bed, £340 for a three bed and £400 a week for a four-bedroom property, it’s not clear that Rhoden’s very reasonable £100 pw will be affected, is it?

2. Flowerpower

Hi Kate,

Nice to see some real on-the-ground-reporting. Problem is – no one would guess from your post that:

1. We’re not in a recession and haven’t been for 13 months

or

2. That according to the OBR, unemployment is headed downwards…. set to fall in every year of this Parliament.

cjcjc – the proposals are that all housing benefit rates will be lowered, and that after one year on jobseekers’ allowance, they will be cut again by 10%.

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/25/how-these-housing-benefit-reforms-hurt-poor-families/

Sorry, OK, so these are Labour proposals which the Tories are keeping.

The 10% one that is?

6. Flowerpower

There’s no work anywhere,’ says Rhoden. He looks at me oddly when I put to him the coalition’s idea of moving the unemployed to areas where there are jobs. Like me, he’s not sure such a place exists.

I just tried the main commercial website for catering jobs and found 1,245 vacancies within 5 miles of Hackney.

Not all of them would suit Rhoden….. but with a background as both chef and bar worker, lots would. They range from cooks jobs, via bartenders to coffee server. These are real, unfilled vacancies being advertised.

But I guess this doesn’t fit the narrative…….

cjcjc – Don’s right. The ten percent cut hits after 12 months on JSA in 2013, I think it is.

Flowerpower – tremendous to hear that the recession is over at your end. I will be round to yours with half of Deptford soon, to take up your kind offer of spare rooms.

Re: jobs – 1200 is a goodly number, but not if the rate of applicants is ten times that, etc.

There are other issues there, and they can certainly be unpalatable. People who are long term unemployed are often long term unemployed for a reason – illness, confidence, mental health issues – all sorts. I know that the right doesn’t wish to concede these points, but it needs to.

Back to work packages and support into work are often important. I’ve talked to people on JSA who suffer so badly from mental health problems that they can barely hold a conversation, let alone get it together to apply for work. Doesn’t matter whether or not that should be a fact – it just is.

The point I was making by adding the lawyers’ remarks about City exit packages is that the sense of entitlement to public money is not restricted to the lower orders who draw your disdain. Fred Goodwin didn’t think too hard about hanging onto his pension. Unfortunately, people collecting JSA are easy targets, and the coalition encourages us to take a hit at them.

“Sorry, OK, so these are Labour proposals which the Tories are keeping.”

No, these are Tory/Lib Dem proposals which are new and different from Labour policies.

OK – it’s just that your link referred to the March budget.

10. Flowerpower

Kate

People who are long term unemployed are often long term unemployed for a reason

You have a point there.

Rhoden says that he is a Unite organiser for bar and restaurant employees

Perhaps best not to mention that at interview.

Rhoden says that he is a Unite organiser for bar and restaurant employees

Perhaps best not to mention that at interview.

Why?

12. Flowerpower

@ 11

To a cynic like you Will the answer should be obvious. But then, you’re not an employer, are you?

Bit harsh that, Flowers.

This guy was committed to organising – and also made a point of saying that he thought good workplace relationships between management and staff could be beneficial to all. People can put together a good skill set as organisers. Thought you might be pleased that the man was doing something useful with his time.

Like the rest of us.

12.

Ah, so because a person executes his/her democratic right to organise within the union movement they must not say so if asked by a prospective employer?

Do you take your anti-union stance from Wal*Mart? It seems to me, and always has, that those companies who are so against unions are the ones who will exploit their employees the most. Though I must admit that from reading your posts over the months I can see why you would agree with that.

I can assume then that you would advocate that no one be a part of any union? If so, why? What are you so scared of?

Well, Flowers – have sent the link to Anthony, so hopefully he’ll show up here and pronounce on the lot of us.

16. tony walker

its the same everywhere but the annoying thing there is a scheme through the jobcentre to help unemployed people to set up a business. Because the jobcentre or DWP are poor at promoting themselves no one knows about unless the tories have already cut it. i dont know anything about it.

i have got an HNC, good qualifications and work experience and i have not worked since xmas 2006. i am 55 and dont expect to work again. i am lucky in that i dont have to sign on anymore which was really getting on my nerves almost literally. my health as improved since i stopped signing. The jobcentre wanted me to do voluntary work when i had been doing voluntary work for 18 months already in january. i live in leicester and i dont see miuch organisation locally.

17. Mike Killingworth

Come on Kate, you can do better than this.

There have been far more people seeking work in Hackney than jobs available for them for as long as I have known the borough, which is almost thirty years. Even in the good times employers have recruited elsewhere, for reasons touched on in earlier comments among others.

What else do you have to tell us – that one guy doesn’t believe that his housing benefit is going to be cut? It’s not exactly a news story, is it.

I’ll bet you a pint to a Perrier that even as I’m typing this there is an employer (quite possibly in the catering sector, come to think of it) who is making it clear to a young female employee that her job will be safe if she provides him with sexual favours. Surely a reporter of your Terkelesque skills can find her?

18. Flowerpower

Kate Belgrave @ 13

Don’t get me wrong, I think his union work is very creditable. But I think it would be a big mistake to mention it.

I think most employers, faced with two candidates of equal merit ,would reject the one who might become a pain in the arse.

@ Mike – LOL cheers there mate. Am dragging my sorry ass out this evening again to interface with further of the downtrodden, so will try and find something in short skirt for ya.

Hmm….when I worked in the catering trade and lived in Hackney I too found it difficult to get a job in the catering trade in Hackney.

Had to go all the way to the West End at times: another time, to Stratford.

Is this some sort of Green thing, like with the food and the trade? You know, you mustn’t trade or work over the boundary of the Borough you’re in or something?

Dear Kate,

Thank you for texting me I was on my way to Army training but, I am not to well I have sick building syndrome I am still waiting for your email.

Happy with the comments constructive in some ways thats journalism a bit of this and a bit of that still a long way to go. I was lucky to know you had written about me I was just browsing. Did you know I go to church and a practising C of E Christian. Thats the main as well as others for not being political.

If they change the benefit fine but they will never be able to prevent it that is what I mean. Please edit as you see fit.

Comments in the Gaurdian I am all over the place need to keep

reply please

Anthony Rhoden.

22. tony walker

Dear Anthony

i think that the jobcentre have a programme to help people set up their own business you would have to ask them.

Employment stiuation here is no better in some parts of this city though not as bad as Hackney – it all depends on the types of jobs created these dont necessarily go to local people sometimes firms bring their own workers in from elsewhere etc

tony in leicester

Hi Anthony,

Many thanks for coming on – the email address we’d texted bounced back, so I’ll give you a call and we’ll sort it out. All the best, Kate.

Dear Tony Walker,
Thank you for your email.

You will be pleased to know that I am already on a JCP programme for small businesses run by an organisation called Business Link which is countrywide. They would have one operating in your area, check out thier website.

A. Rhoden.

25. tony walker

Dear Anthony

i dont qualify for jcp help anymore as sitting pretty. Trouble is setting up a business in a recession is more risky than doing nothing! i dont have a clue what i will do and apart from doing art i can get very bored as that is the only work i have got to do but it takes so long and its expensive to go through college looking at other alternatives though not found any.

best wishes tony walker

Dear all,

Apologies needed because my last sentence was not quite finished. Please add up next to keep to give you the complete sentence.

Thanks.

A. Rhoden.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How Hackney cuts http://bit.ly/bk7tZ2

  2. Rick

    RT @libcon: How Hackney cuts http://bit.ly/bk7tZ2

  3. Teresa Cairns

    RT @libcon How Hackney cuts http://bit.ly/db2xcK

  4. Kate B

    One's latest effort on LC http://bit.ly/bdZJNN with the sort of fellow Osborne wants us to kick. May all Tories end badly. Very.

  5. apptme2theboard

    RT @hangbitch: One's latest effort on LC http://bit.ly/bdZJNN with the sort of fellow Osborne wants us to kick. May all Tories end badly …

  6. Mike Power

    Maybe Anthony Rhoden is just a fucking useless chef? http://is.gd/drqf4





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