Jimmy Stirling's DWP Diary: I feel like my community is closing down

63-year-old Jimmy Stirling has had ups and downs – and a birthday – over the last couple of months

I AM Jimmy Stirling, a 62-year-old unemployed graphic designer, photographer and musician, single grandfather and social housing tenant living in Glasgow.

I receive Jobseeker's Allowance of £50 per week and have a very small pension payment of just under £25 per week. I do voluntary work for my neighbouring community and look after one of my granddaughters for two days per week.

I was recently conscripted to take part in the UK Government's Community Work Programme, where I would be forced to work for my Jobseeker's Allowance, which I see as slave labour. This not volunteering, this is not being paid a wage, this is conscription.

I am against this terrible programme and this is my experience in trying to avoid a six-month, 30-hours-per-week sentence just to juggle the government's statistics to make them look good.

Below is my latest diary update. You can read the others here.

6 February 2017

My birthday and suddenly, nothing happened all the time.

15 February 2017

My work coach was back. The weekly visits that were intimated at the end of last year don’t seem to be happening; I am still on the fortnightly cycle. 

I chided my work coach over the fact that I didn’t receive a birthday card from the DWP. He told me that the only time that would happen would be when I reached 100 years old. I told him that if the government had its way, I would still be signing on at that age.

It is that time of year when prices go up. My gas and electricity has gone up by £7 a month. This was still the cheapest option for me after making price comparisons with other suppliers. 

My phone and broadband has risen by £2.25 a month and it is still the cheapest one that suits my needs. The TV licence is also going up a few pence, too. These costs have to be met from my Jobseeker's Allowance. Of course, there is a freeze on this allowance, so there are no little extras to cover these rises in prices.

The water rates are supposed to be going up, but that should be covered in my allowance - or will it?

24 February 2017

I took my youngest granddaughter on a bus trip to Balloch on Loch Lomond. It dawned on me that the DWP was closing the Alexandria Jobcentre. I googled the distance between Balloch and Dumbarton as this would be the nearest DWP office if Alexandria gets closed.

The distance was over four miles. This could mean a nine-mile-walk round trip for those who have to sign on - a long way if you are not steady on your feet or use a stick, and a long way for a single parent with a youngster to walk on a winter’s day.

1 March 2017

Regular signing day, straightforward. My work coach will not be there for my next signing on day.

As I had to sign on in the morning, I had to rearrange for an afternoon visit to have a new boiler fitted after noon. I got back home around 11.25am and I saw the workmen working on two other homes. I even said "hello" to one of them. 

I waited for a knock on the door to let them in to do mine. At 2.30pm, still no knock and most of the vans had gone. I contacted my housing association to let them know I was still waiting and asked if my boiler would be replaced.

They checked and told me that the workmen could not gain access. I said that wasn’t true, I was at home at 11.25am. It was their word against mine, but I know for sure that no one came to my

door. Now I have to wait for a new date. I had to empty cupboards, the previous day, to allow them access to pipes. I have to say, I was more than a tad annoyed.

2 March 2017

And now for something completely different.

Through writing this column for CommonSpace, I was invited to take part in a discussion in The Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh after a screening of 'I, Daniel Blake', Ken Loach’s highly acclaimed film about a man who suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune when he finds himself out of a job and caught up in the revolving doors of the government’s and DWP’s revolving stage.

Linda Irvine, Jimmy Stirling, Peter Kelly, Paul Laverty. (photo courtesy of Duncan Cowles)

The event was organised and run by Declaration and a link to the participants and outcome of the evening can be quickly read here.

Needless to say, I was chuffed to bits to be asked to take part and could easily identify with the hero’s plight. I really enjoyed taking part in the discussion and I hoped people didn’t mind me just being myself. It also lifted my spirits too, and made me feel worthwhile, which was part of the whole subject of being just a nobody in the film.

But, pride comes before a fall. The following week I was approached by a new neighbour who asked me to remove all the plants that I grew which were in a small patch of garden in front of her window as she didn’t want plants because she had asthma and was scared of "beasties". 

Readers may be aware, I was told to do something similar a year ago, by another neighbour. I have yet to do this as I am waiting for the soil to lose some of its heaviness due to the wet weather. Once again, one must suffer for their "art" of growing plants - which helped feed me and also brought pleasure for passers-by and sustenance for bees and insects.

So, from being on a high I was quickly brought back down to earth, pun intended.

15 March 2017

Early signing on day, the Jobcentre was still closed when I arrived. My regular work coach was not around so, pleasantly, I got the civil and respectful lady again.

17 March 2017

My new boiler was fitted. I will have to wait to see if it is going to save me on gas bills as it is supposed to do.

27 March 2017

Due to the decent weather, I managed to get into my garden to prepare it for transplanting and azalea and to large hosta plants. This was so I could leave the front garden devoid of any plants that my downstairs neighbour had stipulated previously.

28 March 2017

Dug up the azalea, it had a huge root ball and I carried it to its new resting place. Some soil dropped from the root-ball and landed on my neighbour’s grass. He came back and started shouting at me because a smattering of soil had fallen on the grass. 

I told him, just let it dry and it will brush away. He then told me that I was a f***ing doughball and that he would "do" me. He then told me that he didn’t want any of my family to cross over the grass, nor any "strangers".

He then watched me dig up the other two plants and watched me transplant them. This done, I contacted my housing association to let them know I had to suffer threatening behaviour just for carrying out a task that he demanded.

All I want is unfettered access to my little part of a communal garden without threats.

29 March 2017

Signing on day. My work coach asked me how I was. I told him I was totally scunnered. He asked why, but I wasn’t about to really let him know.

The previous week was a mixture of sunny weather and glum thoughts. With the threat of my Jobcentre closing, I also discovered over the week that my Orange email facility was closing and that I would have to transfer all my accounts with an Orange email to another provider. My local fish and chip shop closed. My local post office is closing. My local bank branch is closing. My little area of the city is suddenly becoming "rural". The pinch seems to be hitting many.

It is the Easter weekend coming up. I will spend it among fellow musicians in the north west of Scotland. I will certainly make sure I enjoy it.

Picture courtesy of Jimmy Stirling

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.