Every day the Transformation Team works with people in communities across Glasgow, supporting them as they work on what matter most to them. That might be making sure that the older people in their community have a place to go where they’re welcomed so that they’re less isolated and have a better quality of life. Or perhaps what matters most is making sure that everyone in their community is well fed and children aren’t going hungry during the holidays. In another place a church might open its doors so that anyone can come in, get a cuppa and find a safe place and someone who’ll listen to them, whatever it is they need to say.
For us, all the different pieces of work, all the projects, they’re all different, but they always have people at their heart. Groups the length and breadth of the City and beyond do amazing work, positively impacting on thousands of lives – I think it’s fair to say they have their priorities right. Inevitably, though, these groups of committed, hardy souls run up against other priorities, and usually one in particular: money. People in crisis because of a benefit sanction, or a broken washing machine, disabled and ill people denied state support and told to look for a job, parents struggling to afford the cost of a school uniform for the start of the new term, all cast upon faith communities who do what they can in the face of shrunken budgets.
Which brings us to another priority: efficiency. As a money saving and efficiency measure the Department of Work and Pensions has decided to close 7 of 16 Job Centres in the Glasgow area and the Transformation Team, our colleagues in Faith in Community Scotland and partners in Priority Areas and Church and Society have been working with the communities that will be most affected.
We’ve heard from local people their fears about what will happen to them, their families and their communities when these closures happen. I’ve shared a cuppa with a young man who lives literally next door to his local job centre. He has a health condition and is signed off work, and only needs to go to there to hand in his doctor’s line. Rather than a short walk around the corner, he’ll have to get a bus to Shettleston every week – money he can scarcely afford. Or the woman who faces the prospect of spending her limited funds on a 90 minute 2-bus journey with her primary school-aged son to sign on – the alternative being to walk nearly 4 miles round trip. Or risk losing her benefits.
I’ve spent time with the foodbank volunteers who know the realities of the current system. They’re bracing themselves for an increase of people seeking their help, showing love and compassion to individuals and families who often get short shrift from the system. Those volunteers in the foodbanks have spent the last 5 or more years hearing horror stories from people who’ve been left destitute because a bus was late, or someone was ill, or a letter was never sent out, and they are filled with dread and sceptical of assurances that these plans won’t lead to an increase in sanctions and that people will be treated fairly.
But those volunteers will do what they do best: they’ll continue to prioritise vulnerable people and pick up the pieces.