Exmouth’s jobless are walking 23 miles to sign on

06:55 17 February 2014

The long walk to Exeter job centre. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref exe 1664-07-14TI

The long walk to Exeter job centre. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref exe 1664-07-14TI

Archant

THERE are calls for Exmouth to have its own “satellite” job centre where the unemployed can sign on rather than trekking 23 miles once a fortnight into Exeter city centre.

The Open Door Centre – an umbrella organisation working with local churches – says a satellite signing-on facility would make a ‘huge difference’ to the town’s unemployed, and it would ‘gladly’ offer an appropriate venue.

And a local councillor says he’s so concerned about Exmouth’s jobless that he plans to bring a motion before this evening’s full town council meeting, asking for the town’s job centre to be reinstated.

The news emerged as the Journal investigated the current plight of the town’s job seekers – estimated to be around 370 people – who are struggling to cope as the benefits system tightens.

Some job seekers are so broke that – unable to afford public transport – they are walking in to Exeter to sign on, once a fortnight.

The 23-mile round hike can take at least five hours to complete, including signing on.

Some are even taking out payday loans to pay for childcare costs while they’re away from their families.

Exmouth’s own job centre was closed early in 2008 in a cost-cutting exercise. Since then all the town’s job seekers have to sign on at Exeter.

Helen Burgess, the Open Door’s Centre manager, says the situation is getting worse for the town’s job seekers, with harsh penalties for those who fail to sign on in Exeter.

“We are seeing an increasing number of people presenting to us having been sanctioned [denied benefit] because they’ve not been able to make it to Exeter to sign on,” she said. “The journey is a huge burden and source of stress for many.”

The current return fare to Exeter is £7.20 (bus), £5.70 (train, peak) and £4.10 (train, off-peak). Even if they can afford the fares, job seekers receive no reimbursement from the job centre for their travel costs.

“Some are walking to Exeter and back, to save money,” said Helen. “Others are borrowing from friends and family or selling personal items. Some have to go to payday loan companies. It’s not just the costs of public transport. For some, they also have to pay childcare costs while they’re away from home.”

The lengthy journey is also adding to stress for job seekers.

“It’s demoralising,” said Helen. “For many, the journey to the job centre is spent worrying and, on the return, they feel fed up because they don’t feel they’ve achieved anything.”

Last week, Steve Gazzard, the Lib Dem councillor for Exmouth Town Ward, said that he intends to bring a motion to tonight’s full town council meeting (Monday, February 17), asking for Exmouth’s job centre to be reinstated.

Another option could be to have a satellite job centre office, once a week in the town, where job seekers could sign on. A similar scheme has been operating in Okehampton for 18 months.

“We’d be fully supportive and could gladly offer a venue,” said Helen Burgess. “I believe a local, more personal service that is easily accessible would make a huge difference to Exmouth’s job seekers.”

The town’s job seekers would welcome it, too.

“There’s got to be something in Exmouth,” said Andrew Blyth, 51, who’s been unemployed for nearly three years, and once walked in to Exeter to sign on.

“I can struggle around in this weather, but it’s people that are older, you’ve got to think about. And there are people with mental health issues that are probably not being thought about. That must be a nightmare process to go to Exeter to sign on.”

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Tom Ambrose, 39, who was made redundant two years ago and has been out of work for four months. “Exmouth is one of Devon’s biggest towns, so why no help? There’s plenty of empty shops that could be used.

“It’s just stupid.”

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