The proposal to close some local social security offices in Mid Ulster, Newcastle and Ballynahinch has caused anxiety and upset to many… among staff and service users alike.
Down News spoke to Sarah Ennis from Newcastle who is signing on for Job Seekers. She is a highly skilled data analyst yet cannot find a job locally.
Sarah explained: “I have worked in the data analysis industry for twenty years and have been with a number of top companies such as British Airways, the NHS, and Kellogs.
“I have now been out of work since June this year and had to sign on. For some reason I always seem to come in second at interviews. It seems that employers want designers and programme analysts all rolled into one.
“I’ve gone to employment agencies too and you just don’t seem to get feedback from them as to how well or badly I have done. It can be quite devastating at a personal level when just not getting any feedback at all. I’m sure this can be very bad for young people who find themselves trapped in this unemployment loop.
“Basically, if the Newcastle SSO closes I will have to go to Downpatrick. This will incur a £6.80 return on the bus and my benefits already have been assessed at a level which is the minimum to live on. Now I am expected to find a sizeable part of my benefits to sign on. It is unfair.
“I have a partner who has a small income and I don’t actually get Jobseekers Allowance. My allowance is assessed on his income.
“I literally would have to time buses to get to the appointment time and basically be hanging around Downpatrick – or possibly Kilkeel – for hours. It is all very demoralising. I have worked all my life.
“It seems I can claim part of the bus fair if I go to an interview somewhere. So the harder I try the more difficult it is to get a job. It is a Catch 22 situation. This is no incentive to get people back into the workplace. ButI appreciate for many Jobseekers is just a way of life.
“After a year on the dole I will be slipped in to Steps to Work probably. The whole process is very depressing. I’ve worked all my life and was at one stage in the highest tax bracket.”
Sarah appreciated her skill set was quite narrow, but never-the-less she did say that she was prepared to re-skill to find a job.
She added: “It is very stressful being unemployed. The system just grinds at you. Most days you just don’t even know what day it is.
“The staff at the Newcastle SSO have been personally brilliant and helpful. But people in rural areas are very much disadvantaged. I can’t afford taxis to interviews or regular buses tp town. I have looked at different options for getting out of this morass I am in. I’ve considered setting up in business, re-training, taking any type of work. In this present economic climate these options are not great.
“So I am supporting NIPSA in its campaign to unify the benefit users, the staff, the public and every who wants to fight these SSO closures. I hope the Adjournment Debate at Stormont organised by the Mid Ulster MLA opposing the closures has some effect on Minister Paul Givan who needs to take aboard the plight of people looking for work.
“This is really a taboo subject no-one wants to touch. It is humiliating and depressing on the dole and that should not be one of the desired outcomes. We need our SSO offices left in situ in Downpatrick and Ballynahinch. The plight of the disabled, those with mental health issues, single parents, and many others is being put at risk for the sake of a heartless, bureaucratic ideology.”