22 Aug 2013

#c4newspopup: Cumbria’s hidden poverty

Channel 4 News has been popping up all around the country. In the beauty spots of Cumbria we found local people struggling to make ends meet amid soaring unemployment and benefit cuts.

The Lake District attracts thousands of tourists every year for its beauty, breathtaking views and hospitality, writes Kris Jepson.

But Channel 4 News has visited a Cumbria which is hidden from the tourists sampling the delights of the Lakes: a Cumbria where people can’t find jobs, have little to no income and who say they are victims of a new benefits system which punishes the wrong people.

David Greenall is a chef. Only he can’t find a job, despite the county’s reliance on the tourism sector.

Two years ago he lost his job after a successful career in mainland Europe and working in Lake District hotels. He was born with curvature of the spine and over the years five of his spinal discs eroded. He went “on the sick”.

This year, with changes to the benefits system he was told he is fit enough to work, something he claims he is not. He had his disability benefit taken away.

The police put Channel 4 News in touch with David when we filmed at Barrow food bank. They had arrested him and cautioned him the day before because he had stolen food from his local supermarket.

David told Channel 4 News: “I came into Morrison’s yesterday because I was desperately hungry, and I just helped myself to food.

“I tried to walk out the supermarket without paying for it. I felt embarrassed. Ashamed. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it and I was so ashamed I got caught.”

He told this programme that he’d come to the end of his tether after weeks of trying to get a job and weeks of having to rely on friends to help him.

He added: “I’ve been begging off people just so I can get something to eat. The theory is you should go out and find a job. But physically and mentally I know I can’t cope.

“The police have realised that I need help so they came down today and brought me a load of food, they went to the food bank for me. I was just living on cups of soup and things like that.”

The food bank handouts in South and West Cumbria have tripled in the last year. Barrow food bank leader Ann Mills told us they are bracing themselves for when the summer season ends and people with temporary jobs are let go.

She said: “Cumbria is a very big tourist area. They get accommodation plus wages. But at the end of the tourist season they get made redundant. So they may not have accommodation and they’ve got no job. So you can see how quickly people get in to a lot of problems.”

She told us one of the main issues at the moment for her clients is sanctions on benefits.

Chris Milburn used to be a fork lift truck driver. He told us he has applied for hundreds of jobs, but only had one interview in the last two years.

He was forced to go to the food bank last week for the first time because his benefits were stopped – a sanction because he had not applied for the required 14 jobs a fortnight.

Leader of the Conservatives at Cumbria County Council, James Airey, claims there are jobs in the area, but local people just don’t want to take them.

He told Channel 4 News: “The Lake District is here, near to Barrow, near to Ulverston, right on our door step. A lot of jobs are out there, yes they’re low paid but we find Polish and eastern European people quite happy to come and work in our hotels and in our agricultural sector as well. I would ask the question why aren’t local people taking those jobs?”

People like Ethan Simmonds in Whitehaven disagree, claiming there are not enough jobs for the local unemployed.

He has been forced to walk four miles to his nearest food bank because he cannot afford a bus ticket. He is considering leaving Cumbria because he cannot get a job.

He said: “I’d love to have a job, I’ve worked most of my life. If I don’t get a job I’ll have to move away to try and get a job.”