Loosening poverty’s grip: ideas in the North East

Those who have experienced poverty know what needs to be done

What causes people to be swept into food poverty, and how do we all prevent it?

We recently visited Byker in Newcastle and spoke to people at Byker Pantry, a community-focused project that helps people to significantly reduce their food bills.

Both The Chronicle in Newcastle and The Guardian nationally have reported on the project in recent days, but here also are the perspectives from two of the local residents who use the pantry:

Sue

I’ve been living round here for 16 years and poverty has got worse because of the benefit cuts and sanctions. I have used food banks twice, when we had no money to live on, but now we come here twice a week, to this pantry.

They need to look at the system and make it easier for people to live. The money is not coming in but prices are all going up and by the time you’ve paid all your bills you’ve nothing left to live on. I live on my pension which is not much, I live with my granddaughter, and my daughter lives next door.

Universal Credit stinks. It’s not right. It’s not enough to live on. My granddaughter is 25 and is the carer for my daughter. She went on to Universal Credit and they said she would not get anything so we are struggling. We’ve been to see about that, and apparently she will be paid something next month, but we are just having to wait.

Rent has gone up, everything has gone up, but incomes are not going up. If they could increase incomes a little then people would be able to live properly instead of getting trapped in poverty. They should come and talk to people here, but everything is decided down south.

I used to have PIP as well but they stopped that in January, so I am about £300 a month down, so I’m keeping my granddaughter and me on just my pension each week. I don’t think the benefit system is working. They’re not doing enough to help people, you just seem to get into more debt because you don’t have the money coming in so instead of getting out of poverty you get pulled further in.

……..
img_9724 (2)Kayleigh

People are working hard and trying hard and it’s not right that they’re not getting the support they need.

I’m not on Universal Credit yet but I’m dreading going on it. My brothers are on it and have been waiting nine weeks to get their benefits sorted. They’ve had letters threatening them with eviction and have had pennies to live on for a week. The system isn’t working properly. The DWP keep making mistakes and when you ring you get passed from pillar to post. It’s not right.

I’ve an 18-month-old daughter and a ten-year-old son. I’m on income support, child benefit and child tax credits and once I’ve paid the bills and repaid loans I don’t have much to live on.

This place is a lifeline, and it’s not just the food; it’s the people. I like this place because it’s a nice community and I can get cheaper stuff. Nothing is too silly to ask here, and I think if a lot of people did not have this place then they would not eat. This place is great because it makes things more affordable. I was able to get 44 nappies for 88p the other week for my little girl. But places like this shouldn’t be needed.

The benefits freeze has affected people here. The amounts we get have not changed but prices are all up. The Government could help people more by being realistic. They do not understand. Sometimes you can be scraping together just to get a carton of milk. If we had a little more we could live a bit more fully, go for some days out and make more decisions. Child care is also really expensive, and that makes it harder for parents – especially single parents – to get back into work. It’s easier when they get to school but if there was more support when they’re younger and child care didn’t cost so much, we could get back into work more.

What’s the answer? There needs to be more help for people. They should come and see us and live on our budget for a week. That would make a massive difference. They would understand that we are all trying; we just need a bit more help than we’re getting.

 

The bigger picture

Sue and Kayleigh identify issues that will ring true for many. Both note that incomes have failed to rise in line with living costs, tightening the grip of poverty. 

In December, Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its latest annual report, UK Poverty 2018, looking at the current causes of poverty in the UK, and setting out viable solutions.

The benefits freeze is forecast to end in 2020, but ending it this year instead would keep 200,000 more people out of poverty, and increase the incomes of 13.7 million people by an average of £270 in 2020/21. As Kayleigh says, “If we had a little more, we could live a bit more fully.”

Our welfare system was established because our compassionate society believes in looking out for those in need. The system should ensure people can keep their head around above water but at the moment it isn’t. As Kayleigh says, it’s not right that people aren’t getting the support they need.

The introduction of Universal Credit has exacerbated and compounded many people’s difficult situations. That’s why many organisations, united in the  End Hunger UK campaign, led a campaign in 2018 to Fix Universal Credit. The changes proposed there would help millions of people, but further actions are also needed to really unlock poverty. 

There is excellent work going on in Newcastle, both to address the immediate need of people in food poverty and also to tackle the underlying causes. We’re really grateful to Mike and Ann Leddra, who run Byker Pantry, for chatting to us, and also to Food Power Newcastle, for introducing us to Mike and Ann and some of the local members. You can learn more about Food Power Newcastle on their facebook page.

 

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