The Injustice of it all
One of the things I do, and have done for a long time, is to have an involvement in SARC – the Southampton Advice and Representation Centre. It is a place that I am enormously proud to be involved with, but also a place which makes me angry, purely because of the excellent work it does alongside some of the most disadvantaged people in the City and how that work is limited and threatened by “Austerity”, that sacred word which represents something which, if we don’t stick to it all rigidly, we will be collectively going to hell in a handcart.
Am I allowed to mention Hell on here? It’s a word I was told off for using when I was a child, but this is a theological place and Hell is a theological concept, or for some an actual place. Whether it is an actual place or just a concept is not a question which occupies a great deal of my time. But it seems an appropriate word to use here, because it describes forcefully the situation that some people find themselves in. These are people, more and more of whom need help, while there is year on year less funding available to help them.
At a recent Trustees’ meeting, the Centre’s manager reported that we were having to go back to 4 days per week opening. We had gone to 4 days per week opening when funding cuts began really to hit home, the staff of the Centre choosing collectively to take a drop in hours, rather than see redundancies in a relatively small but highly committed staff. They’re like that – wonderful people who care deeply about what they are doing, who they are doing it for, and who they are doing it with. All that is more important than what they get paid.
But then we had applied, alongside a number of other advice agencies in the City, for additional funding unexpectedly available to re-expand services, even if only temporarily. This was successful. It covered all too short a period of time, but it did mean that we could help more people more quickly, people who are in serious need. But what sort of people are we talking about. The Centre does two kinds of work:
- Industrial tribunal stuff when individuals are taking their former employees to task for wrongful dismissal or similar.
- Benefits Advice, including at the moment representation at numerous appeals over tribunal findings for PIP –Personal Independence Payments and similar.
It is only when you hear of the work in a place like this that you realise firstly just how cynical and manipulative the worst sort of employers can be, sacking people after 1 year and 11months because you have to be employed for 2 years before a wrongful dismissal case is possible.
On a more pragmatic advice, you also hear of the poor quality of many decisions made by the current range of benefit terminals. It cannot be right that so many decisions are overturned so easily by a sensibly and well-prepared case. It leads one to question the quality of the original decisions, and whether this should be challenged more formally.
We also heard at the last meeting, though, of a coming together of the Advice Agencies across the City, working towards a proposal for a unified and co-ordinated approach to their work. It is clear that organisations which often used to be at loggerheads or dismissive of each other’s operation are now co-operating in ways one never might have foreseen. This is one very positive element of the current situation.
Contact David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org