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

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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

What the 2011 Census belatedly tells us: home ownership levels down since 2001, private renting up by 50%

Photos July 2008 029Better late than never: ward-level data from the March 2011 census has finally been released in, er, 2013 (it takes two years for the Office of National Statistics to crunch all the data).

What does the census data tell us about how society has changed since the previous census in 2001? The big news in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, like so many other parts of London, is the steep growth in private renting in the last ten years: up from 16.8% of households in 2001 to 24.5% in 2011.

One in four households in Blackheath Westcombe ward is now rented from a private landlord: a decade ago it was just one in six. Read more of this post

Don’t believe what you read about millionaires in Council Houses

CIMG1500Superb piece on the Red Brick blog last week about the latest absurdities of Tory Housing policies.

The proposal, trailed in the Guardian earlier this month, to cap “rent subsidy” at a household income of £60,000, (which would mean that a couple on £30,000 each could see their rent rise by about £70 a week) is seriously flawed for three reasons.

Firstly, it would disincentivise work, and discourage anyone in social housing from getting on in life.

Household income of £60,000 may seem like quite a lot (it is certainly more than my household earns in a year), and may seem like a sensible threshold for rent subsidies to be cut off at. However, a family with Mum and Dad both working on average London earnings of about £25,000 each would only need one grown-up child living at home and earning £10,000 a year (working part-time while studying, for example) to hit that threshold. Such families are not, by any stretch of the imagination, rich. But under the Tories plan they would either have to take a pay cut, move their earnings into the black market – or abandon their council home if they can no longer pay the higher rent. Read more of this post

The economy, “fatherless families” and the tale of the goldfish

Saturday 1st May, 2010 …12.30p.m and Roy Preston looks at his watch…

‘We’re done now, Pat; I’ll get the car and we call it a day……’
These words have been uttered ever so often since Roy, Rita Stephen and I mounted a Labour Stall in front of Marks and Spencer’s at the Royal Standard these past few weeks as the campaign picked up. The difference today is we were packing up for the last time before the 6th of May, our D-Day! It was with mixed feelings that we said our good-byes. As Roy drove off and I headed for the bus stop, I knew he wa asking the same question as me ‘Have we done enough?’ ‘Will our efforts be crowned with success?’.
We have indeed done enough… and that set me reflecting on our activities in Blackheath Westcombe ever since Alex, David and I became Labour candidates. We have been at the doorstep through thick and thin, even in the thick of the snow at the close of 2009 and early 2010! It has been gratifying having residents recognise Alex as having solved this, that or the other problem in the course of his duty as a Labour Councillor. Alex has been what residents would describe rightly as a ‘visible and effective Councillor.’
As my mind went through the various campaign activities, I thought of the Hustings organised by the Westcombe Society at Mycenae House on 17th April, 2010. My curiosity to meet candidates from the other parties took the better of me, overcoming the terror of sitting in front of the distinguished audience. Gordon Baker, the chair for the evening’s proceedings (bless his heart, for he must have known how terrified I was) did all possible to set us at ease, and one after the other, us candidates proceeded to let the distinguished gathering assess our capability to be their representative for the next five years.
Needless to say, I could only hear bits and pieces of the proceedings; one thing though that I heard perfectly clear was a reference to ‘Fatherless families’
– probably because I am the Women’s Officer for the CLP of Greenwich and Woolwich, but more so perhaps because I am too familiar with the negative connotation behind that accolade. Surprisingly, I was slightly bemused as the reference seemed to suggest that such families do so out of choice.
Shall we be more charitable and consider some of the causes:
– Death of the breadwinner
– Illness or incapacitation
– Physical or emotional abuse leading to a breakdown of the family unit
– Divorce through no fault of mother or children of such unions
– Rape
– Countless and many countless reasons…….
We should pause and reflect over which is the better of two measures to mitigate the negative effects of any of the above reasons for such ‘Fatherless families’
(i) Support from government to prevent a spill-over into society due to extreme poverty and hardship of such households, or
(ii) A reward system for households who are fortunate enough not to be hit by the axe of any of the above misfortune.
In my opinion, the government should go a step further beyond ‘support’, and teach those who ‘wilfully’ create fatherless families’ a lesson from those who get it right.

I reflected also on the debates…in particular the last one about the Economy.
Not because Maths and Economics were my strongest points in school, but because of the similarities I could draw from management of the budget of my own household in these harsh economic times.

To my mind, now more than ever when I have to stretch meagre resources, must I make sure that the nutrition of my family is not in jeopardy; now more than ever must I ensure that I am still able to run between school gates and after-school-clubs (and don’t come cheap!) Paying for school trips, purchasing extra resources to help with homework etc should be a priority even in the tightest of family budgets. This is no time to cut such resources, for therein lies the future of the children, and indeed of the whole family!!

In a sense, listening to Gordon Brown last Thursday made me see how right he was in his plan for managing the economy of the UK in these difficult times.
Much more needs to be pumped in to maintain frontline services-to get the vital sectors like the NHS, Education, and the Police running smoothly. It makes common sense to me, that keeping these sectors running at all cost is indeed an investment in a future generation that we cannot afford to fail.

As Thursday, 6th May, 2010 approaches, let us remember the tale of the goldfish who wanted a change of environment from its aquarium – let’s not avoid jumping onto the dry land of disaster!

Pat Boadu-Darko