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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005
    Living Ghosts
    Ryzard has clocked up enough work to qualify for benefit. He first came here several years before Poland joined the EU and he has the paperwork to prove he has paid UK tax and national insurance for four years. When he became homeless, he went to claim jobseeker's allowance and was told it would take at least five weeks to process his claim. Four months later, they ruled that he was entitled to nothing. They gave no explanation.

    Nick Davies' latest piece of investigative journalism, for Society Guardian is as shocking and prejudice-challenging as his previous work. "A day with Ryzard is like a journey through a secret city," he writes of his time with one of London's many migrant workers. Most of them are skilled; some are highly skilled. They're rightly infuriated at the idea that they have come to London to claim benefits - "as though they really would leave their friends and families and travel across Europe to claim jobseeker's allowance worth £8 a day":

    They have come to work, to send money home to protect their families from the raging unemployment the free market has bestowed on their country. Some of them have succeeded. One of Ryzard's friends is now running his own building company.

    But many fall foul of corrupt job agencies - put to work at wages way below the national minimum; hired for work and simply never paid. And many have been beaten by a ridiculously inflexible and unsupportive system: "they are told they can't have a full-time job unless they have a bank account, and they cannot get a bank account unless they have a permanent address, but they can't have a permanent address unless they have a full-time job to pay for a deposit and rent in advance." Davies' journey around the capital takes him to where these skilled, decent, responsible human beings are forced to end up living: sharing sofas under trees in obscure parks, existing almost entirely in the hidden corners of Heathrow Airport. These places signify the extent of our country's hospitality to these folks.

    Davies' piece is timely as it reminds me to get on board the Living Ghosts campaign the first week in Advent. A Church Action on Poverty campaign which provides the opportunity "for church leaders to show their outrage at the government system that leaves some asylum seekers totally destitute in the UK."