From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Compulsion and Penalties

Last week we looked at the coverage the Sentinel provided for the Fowler Review and the Social Security Act of 1986.  Any changes to the welfare benefits system had huge implications for people living in Wester Hailes, where unemployment was a real issue of concern, often running much higher than the national or city average.  Official information about upcoming changes was often worded in difficult to read language, and people sometimes found it hard to work out both whether they would be affected and how they would be affected.

Local residents needed to know how changes would impact on them.  The Sentinel provided an information role, for example in 1980 reporting on how entitlement to Supplementary Benefit was going to change in their November edition.  But the paper also had a role in campaigning and in encouraging others to protest about detrimental changes.  In 1996, the Job Seekers Allowance was on the horizon.  The Sentinel featured an article that both highlighted the main changes but also covered the wider debate around the reduction in rights for those facing unemployment, saying it was

“A new system all about compulsion and penalties.”

The report pointed out that a quarter of a million people would be worse off within the first 12 months of JSA.  And that whilst 200,000 people were unemployed across Scotland, there were only 22,000 jobs being advertised in job centres.  It was a gloomy forecast, and the report likened the situation to the very old days of the Poor Laws.  You can read the report in full here.

Despite the continuing negative media image of Wester Hailes residents, the reality was not a community of work shy benefit claimants, but of people managing on the tightest of margins, wanting to work but caught by a depressed economic climate where jobs were few and far between.  As with so many issues, the community sought their own remedies rather than waiting for action from outside the area.  They found imaginative ways to generate local employment training and job creation.  And projects that could help address some of the effects of being on a limited income were started.  Right back in April 1980, the Thrift Shop opened its doors, aiming to sell a variety of new and second hand goods.  You can read the article here.

Aware that for young people the changes to the benefits system had been particularly harsh, Wester Hailes established the Young Tenant’s Support Project in 1995 to provide practical help and advice to young people who had to start out on their own.  The project offered free furniture, training and development of core life skills.

Other projects were set up in response to the continuing benefit reductions.  In 1997, the Sentinel reported on food co-operatives in the local area which aimed to offer healthy food at affordable prices.  One food co-op pointed out that in reality

“a family of four on a low wage, or in receipt of Income Support must budget for around £3 per family meal”

The new Welfare Reform Act 2012 will start presenting Wester Hailes residents with increasing challenges from April next year.  Many of the support organisations that were around during previous benefit changes have ceased operating due to funding cuts.  Those left will face an increasing workload at a time of reduced funding and an uncertain future.  How will people manage?  It is telling that a report released last week looking at trends in local high streets shows that one of the major growth areas has been the increase of loan shops, both pawnbrokers and payday loan stores.  In the Westside Plaza, Wester Hailes’ main shopping area, there is currently a pawnbrokers, a Cheque Shop, The Money Shop and Brighthouse, criticised by Barnado’s last year for its high rent to own costs. It would appear that times are good for businesses aiming at the low income market.

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