The Lewes Divide

On the 9th of November Lewes for a Living Wage arranged a screening of I, Daniel Blake at the Depot, followed by a panel discussion. The event was sold out and most people stayed and took part in the discussion. Dino Bishop introduced the event on behalf of the Depot, which is a Living Wage employer.

The panel was:
Claire Duc Secretary, Lewes Chamber of Commerce
Nikki Plummer Business manager, East Sussex Credit Union
Linda Lamont Lewes for a Living Wage (chair)
Debbie Twitchen Manager, Landport Food Bank and Chair of Tenants of Lewes District
Jonathan Spencer CEO, Bevern Trust, a Living Wage employer
Jane Perry Professional researcher and member of Trinity Churches.

The film itself is both moving and factual, with scenes typical of what is happening to people here in Lewes. People are wrongly refused benefits when unwell, and payments can be withdrawn if exacting conditions are not met. Most appeals on Employment Support Allowance succeed but the process puts desperate people off.

For example in the film a young woman is so hungry after making sure that her children do not go without that she tries to open a can of baked beans to eat them raw at the food bank. Her daughter is teased at school because her shoes have fallen apart.

Lewes for a Living Wage launched its well-researched leaflet about poverty in Lewes, and the film and discussion have brought awareness to a different level. In some areas 25% of families with children face income poverty – but households in difficulty are spread all over Lewes often in private rented accommodation, their situation like those in the film but usually invisible to neighbours. Our three food banks help nearly 200 people every week.

In some ways it is worse to be poor in Lewes than in other areas, as many shops, including charity shops, are so expensive – the Lewes Divide is felt very strongly by those on the wrong side of it.

Nikki Plummer said: "The film was so lifelike and realistic that it is scary, because we see it every day. People feel dehumanised, they lose their pride. There are now homeless people living on the streets in Lewes, which was scarcely seen before – it is the signal of a crisis."

Jane Perry said "The people going hungry are not "them" – they are our neighbours and citizens of our town and of our country. We can each respond by saying this is not good enough – and we will not go away after this event and remain unchanged. We can campaign, for example via End Hunger UK, and we can act in practical ways locally."

Many people including our audience want to do more to reduce poverty and its effects. We need action – our leaflet The Lewes Divide has a list of things to do and contacts.

Businesses are responding to the Living Wage: in Living Wage week, we can announce that Marston Barrett jewellers has signed up to pay the real Living Wage of £8.75 per hour, joining over 20 in the Lewes area.

For copies of the leaflet contact us via leweslivingwage.blogspot.co.uk or 01273 470940