The Greenwich Foodbank: helping those who the Coalition forgot

Foodbank 4

Just before Christmas a group of eight councillors visited the Greenwich Foodbank‘s headquarters in Eltham. We were all impressed by the hard work and determination of its volunteers, led by Alan Robinson who showed us around.

Although a foodbank had been set up by two churches  in Thamesmead in 2009, demand shot up after the coalition’s welfare cuts started in 2010, with people from all over Greenwich and Bexley boroughs beating a path to its doors. With help from the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity that helps foodbanks across Britain, a new borough-wide foodbank was set up in October 2012 by 45 Greenwich churches (including St John’s in Blackheath, which acts as a collection point for donations).

The Greenwich Foodbank is a very well-organised operation that gives out three-quarters of a ton of food and other goods each week. Increasingly, toiletries are given out as well as food: Office of National Statistics figures show that unemployed people on the breadline  are going without soap and shampoo to afford to feed themselves. People can only receive a week’s food if they have been given a voucher by an authorised person working at the sharp end: in Social Services, the NHS, Police, Probation service, or the voluntary sector (need is the only factor: the Foodbank helps people regardless of their religious faith).Foodbank 2

Normally, no-one is allowed to redeem vouchers more than three times: the Foodbank is determined to help people out of poverty, not make them dependent on handouts. As well as giving out food, the Foodbank has put together a cookbook (many of its clients are used to fast food, and find it hard to make a nutritious meal out of the ingredients the Foodbank provides). Giving out food helps alleviate some of the immediate effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is not a long-term cure on its own, which is why the Foodbank acts as a “signpost” to other services so its clients can find a long-term solution to whatever problems they face.

But no-one should be pleased that more and more Foodbanks are starting in Britain in 2014: everyone should afford to feed themselves and their families without the indignity of going to a Foodbank. Dave Wilcox, a veteran labour councillor in Derbyshire who helped his local foodbank get lottery money, recently wrote of his “sadness in success”. Like many, he hopes that one day foodbanks will run out of customers, return their money to the lottery, and that everyone will have enough money to buy their own food rather than need handouts. How right he is. Read more of this post

Coalition Consequences: Benefits Cap hits those in private rented accommodation hardest

coalition consequences logoI have posted before about the impact of the Coalition’s welfare polices in Greenwich, and Blackheath Westcombe ward in particular, and about the cuts in housing benefit which could force many people – including families with children – to have to move out of areas like Blackheath and Westcombe Park.

Since the “Benefits cap” came into force (it is being phased in between 12th August and September 30th 2013), we are beginning to see what the real impact is on families in the borough.

In a nutshell, the government’s new policy is that total benefits cannot now exceed:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)

  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them

  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with themold dover road

According to figures from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, about 340 families in the borough are affected by the Benefits Cap. Of these, the council is already advising 110 families – of which 68 (well over half) are in private rented accommodation, not council or housing association homes. Read more of this post

1992 and all that

_56628427_labour_party_poster_-_it's_time_for_labour_1992_electionThe spring of 2012 has so far seen the British media dominated by the anniversaries of two shocking historic events: the invasion of the Falklands (30 years ago) and the sinking of the Titanic (a century ago).

In the Labour blogosphere, a third disastrous event worthy of commemoration and reminiscence has emerged: the General Election of 1992, whose 20th anniversary fell on April 9th (midway between the Falklands anniversary on April 2nd, and the Titanic’s on April 15th). Read more of this post

Tackling the loan sharks

IMG00374-20120322-1539When out delivering newspapers for Ken Livingstone over in Abbey Wood last week, I was shocked to find a flyer in the entrance to a block of flats, offering residents cash loans at an interest rate of 1,300% (I have removed the name and phone number of the company concerned to spare them any blushes).

This does appear just about legal, as it does at least say prominently what the interest rate is, and it does say clearly how much someone borrowing £100 would have to repay over ten weeks – a whopping £145, almost 50% more than they actually borrowed. Read more of this post

What’s to be afraid of at St Paul’s?

Walking through the ‘Occupy London’ protest at St Paul’s one evening last week, what struck me was not how large it was but how small – a small crescent-shaped areas around just one corner of the cathedral. Smartly dressed in a new suit, I could easily have been mistaken for a banker. But I encountered no hostility or abuse, and saw no aggression of any kind – indeed the Camp is a place of bookstalls, neat tents. The only raised voices I heard were an animated discussion between two Rastafarians about whether or not the Occupy London protest was on a par with the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989.

I could see no graffiti – only posters tidily sellotaped up on the columns on the shopping arcade of the Post-Modern development alongside,Paternoster Square. Apart from some ordure left by a police horse on a pavement, I saw no rubbish, heard no loud noise, and saw no sign of access to and from the cathedral, or any other adjacent building, being impeded. City workers and Vergers in white tie from the cathedral walked by without any impediment. Just yards away from the tents, a sports retailer and a branch of an upmarket deli (called Paul, oddly) were trading as normal (so much for shutting down the capitalist system). Read more of this post

We are all vigilantes now

There will be many feelings a week on from the start of the riots. Anger that large numbers of people feel so detached from society that they feel the need to loot and commit arson. Surprise that, for one night at least, the police appeared to have lost control of our streets. Exasperation that areas of London that are already deprived – Tottenham, Peckham, Hackney and Woolwich – will now be further stigmatised by the riots, and will now have to overcome that stigma to attract investment.

Commenting on this kind of social unrest is, as always, a minefield for politicians. For Labour, raising concerns over government policies that may encourage more people to join such rioting can be misinterpreted as sympathy for criminals.

Equally, as the Government is realising, it is difficult to simultaneously take credit for restoring peace on the streets, praise the police, and  ignore their warnings that cutting police numbers will make future disorder more likely. While both the police and politicians were recently dealt a blow by the phone hacking scandal, the police retain a bedrock of public trust which politicians have completely lost, possibly for ever.

But there are clearly some questions for the police to answer. Locally, as late as the early evening of the Monday (August 8th) the police said that they did not expect any trouble in Woolwich – with hindsight, not a good call as a few hours later there was serious unrest in the town centre. There clearly are questions about the shooting of Mark Duggan earlier this month, and the way the police communicated with his family and friends afterwards. Read more of this post

Why we’re marching

MARCHBANNER1On Saturday March 26, people from across Britain will come to London to tell the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government how their cuts are damaging our communities. The coalition claims there is no alternative to massive cuts in the public services we all rely on – in the police, in help for those forced out of work by the recession, in the health service, in school teaching assistants, in childcare – and many many other vital public services.

The Tories and LibDems claim the cuts are necessary to get Britain’s public finances back on track. We do need to cut the deficit – but what they’re doing is too fast and in the wrong place. The cuts will damage the local institutions we all rely on to live in a decent society. Cutting so many jobs will slow down the economic recovery, and restrict economic growth in the private sector – George Osborne had to reduce the forecast for economic growth from 2.1% to 1.7% in today’s budget because of the effects his cuts will have on the economy. Meanwhile, prices are rising, and it’s getting harder for everyone to make ends meet. Read more of this post