On Sunday I needed to figure out how to travel from Thamesfield in Greenwich to Bexley Heath Jobcentre on foot, so I did a dry run and it nearly killed me. At 6:40am on a Monday morning I steeled myself for a second walk into Bexley Heath (via Erith) and that went much better. I timed both walks, the first took me about four hours each way, the second attempt reduced my journey by two hours. I ‘Googled’ the distance this morning, Google Search maintains that the journey from Abbeywood to Bexley Heath should only take one hour and six minutes, I did try Googling the distance from Thamesfield to Bexley Heath Job Centre, but Google appears not to know where Thamesfield (in Greenwich) is.
For some reason unemployed people residing on the council estate of Thamesfield (North Thamesfield, South Thamesfield etc…It has it’s own bus route), frequently find themselves sent to the Bexley Heath Jobcentre when in fact their nearest jobcentre is in Woolwich. All well and good if you have the money but Thamesfield is in a borough which has the fifth highest unemployment rate in London. It’s a place where young couples have consciously made the choice whether to feed the children or feed themselves. A place where no one has to try to get fashionably thin or fit either. On my journey back out to Bexley on Monday morning, I espied a pallid looking young woman with unfashionably rock hard muscular calves, she clearly walked a great deal.
Walk through Abbey Wood to Low Road and you will encounter the one and only Sikh Temple where the local community traditionally provide a communal meal after worship. Walk further still and you will encounter several working mens’ clubs (still functioning), a little further and you will encounter Battle Road and then Pembroke Road passing into Fraser Road which leads you past the near defunct town of Erith, and up towards Bexley Heath. Bexley Heath is a wonder and a puzzle, with it’s beautiful, pristine churches, carefully cultivated front gardens, comfy middle class homes, and a whole brace of bargain basement stores and charity shops selling second hand clothes at severely reduced prices.
It doesn’t bristle with anger in quite the way that Northumberland Heath (just down the concrete road) does. But then I struggle to wonder why, because it’s patently obvious that the poverty infecting and affecting other parts of Greenwich has also made its mark here.
Having finally arrived at the jobcentre, lost my temper with an admin manager and been tossed out into the cold, I re-entered once more, meekly, (if you know me you’ll know how hard that was!). There are over 44 desks on the Universal Credit floor and I find myself seated at desk 42 right alongside another equally irritated claimant (a young man spoiling for a punch-up with a security guard, whilst seated in front of a claims’ advisor).
Three days ago (in place of having a meal since I’m short on cash at the moment) I read an article about the murder of Ben Fasina, one of the murder defendants (22 years old) claimed he earned £3,200.00 a month dealing drugs. Today I read another article in the Evening Standard based on Lambeth’s Councils prior research, stating that drug dealers were earning on average £19,000 a year dealing drugs (twice the minimum wage).
Universal Credit so I am told is no longer an entitlement, paid for when you are working, but an optional right, predicated on your own aggressively demonstrated enthusiasm to work, no matter if the work is temporary (leading to you claiming benefits three to six months later) or casual and therefore unreliable. To remain deservingly poor you must nowadays forgo your dignity and your pride and be prepared to jump through as many hoops as the government chooses on a whim, to create. This is all well and good for patient, longsuffering and much older folk who have lived through more than one set of tough times, and raised children in them and through them, but in South London? With the young? This approach just isn’t working.