Wednesday, February 26, 2014
THE threat of “sanctions” is hitting Andrew Blyth – and many of Exmouth’s job seekers – very hard indeed.
Unemployed for three years, and unable to afford the bus or train fare into Exeter to sign on, the 51-year-old former driver once found he had “no choice” if he was to avoid having his benefits cut.
He had to walk the “never-ending road of depression”, from Exmouth to Exeter city centre to sign on.
“I’ve walked it once,” he said. “And that was just too much.”
The 23-mile round route “took four and a half, five hours, easy”.
Describing himself as “a bit of a hard walker”, even he found it tough.
“It was horrible,” he said. “You’ve just got to put your head down and trudge it. I just went up to Topsham and then straight up the Topsham Road. It wasn’t the yellow brick road. It was a never-ending road of depression.
“You’ve got no choice. If I didn’t, it’s no money!”
When he first found himself out of work, Andrew “couldn’t believe” that Exmouth’s job centre had closed in 2008 and he’d have to finance his own fares into Exeter to sign on, once a fortnight, with no reimbursement for his fares from the city’s job centre.
“Getting through to that second Wednesday… for me to get that £4.10 return train fare, or the £7.20 on the bus, it’s hard to hold on to that when you’ve got all the other bills and pressures going on in life.
“I’ve told them how difficult it is for me to get there. I’ve told them that so many times, but they are not interested in that.
“And if you don’t go, at the drop of a hat now, they will sanction you and get you off benefits.”
When he can afford to take the train or bus, Andrew says it takes around two and a half hours to complete the journey, including signing on. He feels he could spend the time more usefully.
“I could be looking for – and getting – work ,” he said. “You waste so much time, and then the grief you get when you get there, and the grief you’re feeling when you leave, all that aggravation.”
That aggravation includes some of Exeter’s job centre advisors.
“A waste of space,” said Andrew. “Apart from telling you to change your CV, all they are interested in is getting you there, or getting you off benefits.”
Tom Ambrose, 39, from Exmouth, has been unemployed for nearly five months.
He went in to the Citizens Advice Bureau, to discuss – among other issues – the high costs of public transport in to Exeter to sign on.
“The person in question just shrugged their shoulders and said ‘Walk it!’ That’s a 23-mile round trip… great help!”
Tom says that instead of commuting in and out of Exeter he could be accessing “the library’s services to search for jobs, or checking shop windows in town”.
He’s found Exeter Job Centre’s advisors to be of some help.
“They do their best, but I know what I’m doing,” he said. “At least they keep you motivated.”
Clive Rabbitts, 51, from Exmouth, has been out of work “on and off” for eight months. Formerly in customer service, he’s also found the journey in and out of Exeter to be “a costly event”.
“You could be putting your time to better use by looking for work. And after you’ve been there, you don’t feel in any fit state to do anything, because it doesn’t feel a positive experience. It’s more demoralising than anything. The fact that I’m a positive person picks me up and I try to get work.”
Clive isn’t impressed with the job centre advisors.
“You know that they are subject to targets, they don’t really listen to you,” he said. “I’ve found Exmouth’s Glenorchy Work Club to be phenomenally better, and it appears that they can do it right and they are voluntary, retired workers!”
“I was quite young when Exmouth’s job centre went so I knew that it would be in Exeter, but it’s annoying the long trip you have to take,” said a 21-year-old female job seeker, who didn’t wish to be identified.
“Luckily I have a Devon and Cornwall rail card, so it costs £2.65 but, if I didn’t, it would cost £4.20 or £5.10 peak. If I have to catch the bus it’s £7.20. It’s really expensive.”
Instead of the lengthy journey, she says she could “be looking for work, looking in shop windows, asking people, handing out CVs, going online”.
“It wears you down after a while of going there, because your self-esteem goes. The longer you are there, you start to believe that you won’t get anything. People start treating you more nastily the longer you are there. It’s not a very nice environment.”
All of the job seekers we interviewed would welcome a “satellite” signing-on office in Exmouth, similar to the scheme operating in Okehampton.