Speaking for Ourselves

The EMIN bus tour across Europe - reflections by a UK volunteer

The EMIN bus tour across Europe - reflections by a UK volunteer

Areej Osman

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - The EMIN bus tour across Europe - reflections by a UK volunteer


I needed to access Job Seekers Allowance when I was looking for work. As a single person you get £73.10 a week which I felt was not enough to eat, travel and have a social life whatsoever in London, so I needed to change my lifestyle, when I eat, how many meals a day and who to see and where.

In addition to the inadequate allowance you get, there is this ‘hostile environment’ for the people accessing job seekers allowance. You have to report to a work coach fortnightly and in some occasions weekly and you are asked to apply for 5 jobs per week.

The question is, are these applications you are making worthwhile? I personally think it is rather a waste of time. In a competitive city such as London, to get at least called for an interview you need to put in a strong application which takes time. You can’t do 5 applications in a week. Another reason is that that you dedicate some of your time to volunteering to gain more experience in the UK labour market as most of unemployed people do. 

For all these reasons it appealed to me to participate in the European Minimum Income initiative (EMIN) campaign as soon as I heard about it. EMIN is a campaign supported by the European Anti-Poverty Network. This May, the EMIN campaign organised a bus traveling between 32 European countries within 64 days to campaign for better social support systems in Europe. There are huge differences between social support systems in different European countries i.e. in Denmark you can get €1,300 a month compared to €80 a month in Bulgaria.

I met the bus in Leicester, the UK on Tuesday and Wednesday 22 and 23 May 2018. Since the start of the bus tour on 17 May, it had already had about 1000 volunteers come on the bus. As it traveled through Europe, people from Finland, Iceland, Ireland, UK, Norway and yet more European countries were getting on and off the bus to raise awareness about minimum social income in Europe and to collect signatures along the route to change policies nationally and Europe wide. 

When arriving in a city the bus riders would be welcomed by local campaigners who organised a programme to support the cause.
In Leicester, the programme included presentations by many participants, one of whom is Professor Donald from Loughborough University. This particular talk was very interesting to me because it confirmed my experiences of Job Seekers Allowance not being enough. 

Professor Donald stated that “minimum standard living in the UK today is more than just food and shelter it’s about the opportunity you need to actively participate in the society”. Their research concludes that what a single person needs to live adequately in the UK should be £194 per week. 

He pointed to four examples of how the need is not matched in the welfare system. One example was the way the “safety net” doubles from your 65th birthday; the second issue is the benefits freeze, which means the amount you get in real terms does not change regardless of the inflation. For example, if you got £73 in 2012 that would have been equivalent to £78 in today’s money; regardless of this you still only get £73 in 2018. His third focus was on families where he thinks that there is not enough difference between the amount that big and small families get. His final thoughts were on mandatory rent and council tax contributions which are lowering disposable income. 

He then expanded on four areas in which he thinks that the social support system in the UK does not match the need for it. Based on his studies, he says that the welfare system nowadays is based on the idea of defending the state against the claimant. The concern of the state is how can we get people out of the system?  How to get them to cater for themselves? With no focus on a very crucial question which is: do people get enough to support them while they are in need?

The campaign collected nearly 500 signatures in two days in Leicester including that of the Mayor of the city. The evening was well spent at a community center accompanied by the Red Leicester Choir singing lovely songs about social equality, good health and education for all. 
After this thought-provoking experience, I believe more than ever that our social support system should be amended to match the needs of the individuals who are valuable members of the society.