“Leaving the EU might make my life shit, but it’s shit anyway,” Martin Parker, a 62-year-old jobseeker says, bluntly. “So how much worse can it get?”Over three years, his jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) has been sanctioned on six separate occasions. ‘Sanction on top of sanction’, he says. ‘Like a layer cake’.’Contact author
On the outskirts of north London, sitting in his rented box room (“the size of a cell”, as he puts it), Parker could be said to represent a section of the country the remain camp failed to reach. The voters who weren’t swayed by fears of the economy failing – not because they didn’t believe them – but because, as Parker puts it to me: “I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Through the 1980s and 90s, Parker worked as a precision engineer, making aircraft engine parts and suspension units for tanks. But work dried up and he bounced between signing on and taking casual work: from computer programming to office work. His last job – selling studio glass in an art gallery in Piccadilly – ended in 2011 and he’s been out of work since.
“Unemployment, benefits … it doesn’t resemble how it used to be,” he says. “You could do a short contract job and you knew you could sign on after ‘cos it was simple. Nowadays, it’s so hard … Their approach isn’t to support you. It’s to get rid of you.”
“Get rid of you”, to Parker, has come to mean stopping the money he needs to live on. Over three years, his jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) has been sanctioned on six separate occasions. “Sanction on top of sanction,” he says. “Like a layer cake.”
The misdemeanours varied: an “inadequate” CV; being late for an appointment (“I was always early,” he says); or a failure to provide information. “Petty things”, Parker says. “Things you hadn’t actually done or things you were supposed to do but they hadn’t told you.”
At one point, his JSA had only been reinstated for 19 days before it was stopped again. But in 2014 the final hit came: he missed a Jobcentre interview – the letter informing him he had to attend arrived on the same day, he says – and was handed a three-year benefit sanction. Or a “156-week termination” of JSA, as the official notification put it.
As the sanctions started, he says, “everyone piled in”. By 2011, with his rent rising and his housing benefit also suspended each time his JSA was stopped, he gave up his two-bed flat and moved into a shared house: eight adults crammed over three floors. “We’re all squashed up,” he says. “It’s like being suffocated.”